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The Exchange reboots with stellar baked goods in big, bold new space 

click to enlarge MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
The Coffee Exchange is dead. Long live The Exchange.

Along with its Trolley Building neighbor Streetcar 520, The Exchange has re-booted in recent months. As part of that effort, it dropped the “Coffee” from its name, because “Holy crap people love our food,” says co-owner Andy Schlesinger, also noting open mic and salsa nights, Sunday waffle brunches and new Colorado Springs Stitch ’n Bitch evenings. His point being the spot has grown into so much more than just a coffee shop in the five years since he took it over.

He also recently took on a partner, Kim Outlaw, who’s in charge of the coffee and wider booze menu that remains in place, plus “atmosphere,” so it’s she who deserves credit then for an impressive design overhaul. Having taken over a former salon and added a second floor, The Exchange tripled its seating capacity and went from feeling light-starved and narrow, to spacious and sun-drenched. Its whole street-facing wall features glazing, with roll-up doors, while a central bar’s suspended from the industrial rafters, with plant-lined shelving at a ladder’s reach and bottles below. Customers can sit at one half of that bar, at tables around two sides of it, on the front patio, or in an upstairs dining area for a view down on the whole bustling scene. It all feels like a cool space I want to spend more time in. Kudos.

The extra square footage has afforded the ability to offer a wider food menu, currently of breakfast and lunch offerings plus small plates, with a half-dozen or so dinner items coming soon with expanded hours. Schlesinger also hired a head baker, Kylie Helmuth, who dishes pretty fabulous pastries, as evidenced by our cookie dough brownie (holy shit, rich, sugar crack, get-that-away-from-me...no-I-want-it-back), double-chocolate muffin (hello my moist, toasted cacao-flavored lovely) and coconut pastelito (puff pastry goodness with a sweet middle reminiscent of a coconut macaroon).

And what Helmuth’s not making, Schlesinger’s wisely buying from local Delicias Bakery, who we continue to commend regularly in the Indy because wherever we find baker Joshua Aldarondo’s goods, they speak up and stand out. Here, the Cuban hamburger roll and flatter Cuban bread sport a thin, light crust, ideal for pressing, says Aldarondo. “It should be an airy bread, nice and tender but with a bite to it,” he adds, noting the right fat-sugar-salt balance to the dough. I could eat that bread alone, happily. But that would deprive me of the satisfaction of the fine Frita Cubana, a beef burger cut with chorizo and pork, seasoned with saffron, cumin, paprika, garlic and onion, and topped in shoestring fries.
click to enlarge The Frita Cubana chorizo-beef-pork burger. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The Frita Cubana chorizo-beef-pork burger.
The Cuban-style Pan Con Bistec is thin-sliced top sirloin marinated in mojo sauce, also dished with the crunchy potato threads, tomatoes, mayo and optional fried eggs. Mine sounded better when described for its mojo ingredients, like garlic and the tenderizing sour orange and lime, than it performed, chewing a bit tough and needing a bit of salt and pepper to pop. (Maybe under-marinated or just an off execution?) Get either sandwich with a perky, cumin-rich, balsamic black bean and corn salad, or a pretty traditional, dill-strong, egg-rich, creamy potato salad. And definitely start with an order of kick-ass, crusty empanadas, a beef, cheese and chicken mixed trio to dip into another punchy vinaigrette. Or get a single, larger Chilean ground beef empanada, also stuffed with hard-boiled egg and olives — added hot sauce at the table makes it shine.

If by now you’ve noticed we’re mostly discussing Cuban food, recall that Schlesinger hails from Miami, so he represents that scene as accurately as he can — “I like doing authentic, I’m not a fusion guy,” he says — along with touches from Peru and Argentina, and Chile, where he was born. His family fled Nazi Germany and members of his extended family settled in countries that accepted Jewish refugees. He grew up visiting them, and falling in love with many cuisines and, of course, Cuban coffee, which he learned to make at age 7, he says. Honoring his Israeli kin,

The Exchange even makes its own pita bread for a hummus plate.

For all I like about Schlesinger’s story and sincerity with The Exchange, my one sticking point in the past, and now, is his choice to predominantly serve really dark-roasted coffees (yes, a true Cuban thing, as I’ve experienced), mainly local Barista Espresso’s Sicilian roast. To me the Sicilian’s always tasted overly toasty and scorched, basically burnt, even under sips of the cloying lattes. It’s just not my style in a world where lighter roasts present so much more character, like discernible aromas and undertones of fruits or chocolate.
Location Details The Exchange
526 S. Tejon St.
Downtown
Colorado Springs, CO
635-0277
Coffee/Tea and Coffee Shop
I ask Schlesinger if it’s just me. He sticks to his guns, saying it’s his preferred flavor, as well as his longtime customers’. But I do learn The Exchange stocks and is willing to fresh-grind a couple lighter options like an Ethiopian or Brazilian bean for latte drinks for us fussy folks. And if Barista’s Milano roast is on drip, it makes for a good lighter option for just a cup of coffee. The Exchange also began serving a new Barista/Bee’s Knees CBDs French press coffee (25 milligrams/ounce) utilizing CBD from that Pueblo business — refreshingly, it sips on the smoother, medium-roast side.

So, yeah, although they’re no longer The Coffee Exchange, they’ll hold focus on coffees as a big part of their business. I may not think of them first for coffee in the future, but as per Schlesinger’s intent, I’m sure considering The Exchange’s food options and baked goods more than I previously did. The atmosphere alone will bring me back.

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