INSIDER EATS: Lifting Shadows
Linking places with the dramatic events that have unfolded there is common. Consider the cases of Roswell, N.M., Waco, Texas, or Woodstock, N.Y.
For residents of the Pikes Peak region as well as those that breathlessly watched the coverage worldwide, the neighborhood of Mountain Shadows has joined that infamous league, its very name now conjuring all the fear and devastation of this summer's Waldo Canyon fire.
At the fire's peak, more than 30,000 people –- plus scores of businesses and restaurants –- were evacuated, and tens of thousands more were affected in other ways. But it was the Mountain Shadows neighborhood that bore the brunt of the fire's wrath, losing 346 homes and two lives.
Today, signs thanking the hard work of firefighters and first responders still hang on buildings and fences, but new signs advertising design and construction services for residents are also appearing. And in shopping centers that closed in June, you'll find life blooming in the form of a growing restaurant scene featuring thriving survivors and a few new players.
During the fire, the community banded together to collect more than 1 million pounds of food for Waldo Canyon's responders and victims as a way to show our love and support. After the fire, it's a touching parallel to think that these northwest restaurants may play a part in nourishing the wounded Mountain Shadows neighborhood back to full spiritual health and will perhaps remind the community that it is more than just its burn scars.
Blue Sage Cafe
5152 Centennial Blvd.
By nature, catering businesses are mobile operations, delivering finished foods to make your event special without burdening busy customers with the behind-the-scenes work of planning and preparation. So operated Blue Sage Creative Catering Solutions until June of 2011, when they opened this tucked-away lunch cafe at 30th Street and Centennial Boulevard that makes their behind-the-scenes into a center-ring attraction.
Past the windowed storefront, there are few walls. Behind the counter in the wide open kitchen, diners see chefs washing and chopping their salads, hear and smell the sizzle of meat. The latter are mostly provided by Ranch Foods Direct, which in itself makes the casual cafe fare like Blue Sage's 1/2 pound burgers shine.
The creativity of the cafe alone, though, can take credit for concoctions like their unique Spicy Jif Burger ($8.85) with its freshly-baked bun, peppered bacon, smoked gouda and stone-ground peanut butter. Yes, peanut butter, which is crushed along with hot secret spices to make the most surprisingly perfect burger condiment – and one of the best burgers in the whole city. Like all sandwiches, it comes with homemade, peppery waffle chips and the day's special salad.
The Jif Burger is a constant, but much on the menu changes based on what's seasonally available. Fall brought soup specials of Winter Squash and Colorado Chili, for instance, and both were great paired with the Southwest Chop Chop Salad ($8.38 for soup and salad), packed with slices of smoked turkey and black beans with an avocado ranch dressing. You can also choose soup and a half sandwich ($8.38), including the Spinach, Artichoke and Feta Panini with a hearty spread of olive tapenade.
Dickey's Barbecue Pit
1466 Garden of the Gods Road
Northwest Colorado Springs sure did need more barbecue close to home. Now that nationwide-franchise Dickey's Barbecue Pit has landed on Garden of the Gods near Great Harvest Bread and Trinity Brewing, they need more space! Walled in wood and corrugated metal, the Western-themed dining room is packed for lunch, every table sporting at least one of the restaurant's Big Yellow Cups. The 32-ounce cups are reusable and the cups' online fan club offers special discounts.
Every Dickey's franchise is independently owned and operated, and these new owners are friendly and hands on in terms of customer service. Here that customer wields strong powers of personalization with the choice of nine barbecue meats, three sauces and 11 side dish options on plates running $7.50-$12.
Good choices include classics like the beef brisket, which is chopped “Texas style” to order, and new favorites such as the Spicy Cheddar Sausage, which is punctuated with chunks of the bright orange cheese. The turkey, on the other hand, was moist enough to melt between the fresh buns of the Big Barbecue Sandwich ($5.50, add $3 for two sides). On the side menu, barbecue purists can go for the fried okra, green beans with bacon, and classic beans, while modern eaters will love the Jalapeno Beans and the onion-ring/onion-string hybrid Fried Onion Tanglers.
Despite its corporate background, Dickey's feels down-home, even a little hoe-down with its blue-checked table cloths. Part of that homey hospitality includes dessert, so don't leave without your free cone or cup of vanilla soft serve ice cream. A perfect balm if your tongue still burns from choosing Dicky's spicy sauce on your meal.
Texas T-Bone Steakhouse
4659 Centennial Blvd.
Some steaks are high-brow, served in truffle oil or topped with crab and bechamel sauce, and that's all well and good. For more everyday eats, however, I crave a steak served simply, with grill marks and to temperature on a plate with a baked potato in an environment like Texas T-Bone, where you not only can but are encouraged to throw your peanut shells on the wooden floor. A bucket of the nuts comes with every table, and every table has a view of at least one of the steakhouse's dozens of flatscreen TVs.
Located on Centennial Boulevard north of Garden of the Gods Road, this Texas T-Bone Steakhouse is one of four: three in Colorado and one in Nebraska. The successful formula of “sports bar melded with steak worship” is hard to beat, and those looking mostly to kick back brews and watch the game can eat at the free food buffet most evenings with a drink purchase.
The steaks are where it's at, though. They're sourced wholesale from Swift in Nebraska and butchered on site. Both the strip steak and the tenderloin sides of the titular T-bone ($21.45 for 18 ounces, $25.45 for 28) were cooked to perfection, as was the 16-ounce sirloin ($18.45), which can be served plain or drenched in a Jack Daniels sauce. Those who prefer fins to hooves can partake of Norwegian grilled salmon ($16.95), which is handled equally skillfully.
Texas T-Bone dishes up blue-collar steaks free of pretension, but they're also not afraid to innovate. Diners use a pencil to fill in their build-your-own-salad side dish or entree, choosing the greens, 5-10 toppings, cheese and dressing. Burgers ($8.95) are similarly customizable. Also, side dishes include modern, trendy options like baked sweet potato (available with marshmallows and caramel sauce for $0.95), sweet potato fries and steamed vegetables.