Sorrisos kicks out addicting mountain-town Italian 


We left Colorado Springs for Woodland Park on a morning filled with snow, when the wet wind, armed with a knife, dogged every step. Magically, the City Above the Clouds had out-elevated the storm and at the end, there was Sorrisos, and we were rewarded.

Later that week we left Colorado Springs on a dark, frosty night, when the mountainous rocks hunched over the highway, and the high-beams sunk into the black. At the end, there was Sorrisos, and we were reclaimed.

The source of our salvation is 22-year-old Chelsea Crandell, a graduate of Paragon Culinary School. "It's pretty scary, honestly," says the young chef and owner. "It's been absolutely insane. I've managed a couple of places before, but this step to ownership is exciting, and stressful, and I don't sleep and I don't eat."

She tastes, though, as the simple food found in the former Casey's Dog House (where Crandell also cooked) rings with clarity and strength. Mozzarella is pulled and seasoned at Sorrisos. All pastas, except the macaroni, are made by the kitchen twice a day, and you can bet the tomato sauce is fresh, balanced and ripe.

Your meal will probably start with the server pouring olive oil into a square dish, then adding balsamic vinegar and a dash of fruity cracked pepper, all meant for a basket of crumbly and soft house focaccia cut into thick sticks. They look like biscotti, and feel like a night on the town.

You might follow that with thick rounds of fried mozzarella ($6.50), the crackly golden crust giving way to oozing dairy. The accompanying marinara was splashed with cream, tasted like Parmesan cheese, and lingered in my mind like cocaine. I ate the cheese, then I ate my fiancée's cheese, then I ate the sauce with a spoon, and then I ate the spoon. Then I wept.

(While we're on the topic of spoons, servers weren't always good about bringing silverware and plates and the like. One also thought she needed to ask us something every time she appeared at the table. She was also probably younger than the owner, so all's forgiven.)

With its pile of crisp greens, shaved red bell pepper and Parmesan curls — beautifully dressed in house Italian dressing, and laden with (moderately mealy) heirloom tomatoes — the included garden salad definitely stood out. You could also get a clean and simple broccoli soup, or a spicy carrot soup spiked with cinnamon.

The dark yellow, bacon-habanero mac-and-cheese ($9.50) blew me away. Crandell combines a béchamel with bacon, onions, garlic and peppers before adding cream and Parmesan, overwhelming the senses into sublime submission. Or you could do the lighter caprese chicken sandwich ($11), which also suffered from moderately mealy tomatoes, but was otherwise perfect, as was a textbook five-layer lasagna ($12.50).

Stuffed mushrooms are usually watery and weak; Sorrisos' crab-stuffed mushrooms ($5) next to a creamy dill sauce, were the polar opposite. Chicken Parmesan ($13.50) ended up coming in deconstructed piles, with, like most of the food, a modest portion size that might surprise some Italian lovers, but still supplies all the jazz. And I'd personally like the carbonara ($11.50) better without the cream, but it still made for a lovely Alfredo-type dish.

The house cannoli ($6.50) brought a runny filling and thin shell, if you like that kind of thing, and it might be the only plate here one could possibly quibble with. I wouldn't sell everything I own and move to Woodland Park just to continue eating at Sorrisos, but less than that ...

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