Monday, February 26, 2007

Bad name, great baked goods

I wanted to pass on a quick tip. I've found good road food.
In Fairplay, if you're hungry, visit Beary Beary Tastee Bakery (600 Main Street Fairplay, CO 80440 (719) 836-3212) The little yellow bakery has a cheesy name, but the owner/baker makes everything from bagels to scones from scratch every day. I got a blueberry scone ($3) and it was delicious, heavy and loaded with butter.

Gala festival of gourmet gluttony

My Sunday was nuts.

The Colorado Springs Chorale Chefs’ Gala, my favorite foodie event of the year, was on Oscar night!

I nibbled on scallops and elk, then sprinted down the hallway to the hotel bar to see who won for best screenplay.

I'll give you my hurried take on the gala.. but first, here's the report from our food editor, Teresa Farney, who also was a judge in the competition....

The Rocky Mountain Ballroom at the Broadmoor West was filled with the aroma of truffle oil, foie gras and seared scallops, Sunday evening as chefs and caterers whipped up some of their best dishes for The Colorado Springs Chorale Chefs’ Gala.

Here’s a look at the chefs who took first places in three categories. They each received $500. One prize of $500 was given for Best of Show.

Appetizers: Shad Shelton of the Garden of the Gods Club for his Seared Scallop with Truffled Sweet Potato, Foie Gras, and Date-Port Butter.

Entrees: Alan Sirull of the Antlers Grill in the Antlers Hilton for his Barolo Braised Beef Short Ribs with Foie Gras, Fig-scented Farro with Pearl Onions Agrodolce.

Desserts: Jeremy Garcia of The Cliff House at Pikes Peak for his Kashmir Fantasy with Florentinas: Almond Dacquoise, Spiced White Chocolate Mousse, Green Tea Gelee, with Florentina Cone.

Best of Show: Alan Sirull
People’s Choice: Michael Benton and Brother Luck of the Cheyene Mountain Resort for their Elk Tenderloin with Spicy Chocolate Sauce with Raspberry Goat Cheese Strudel, Whipped Vanilla Celeriac, and Candied Pecans.
Remaining winners:

Second place - Barry Dunlap of Garden of the Gods Gourmet for his Smoked Quail with Poached Pears.
Third place - Eric Viedt of The Margarita at PineCreek for his Smoked Beef Carpaccio “Sushi” style with house-cured Kim Chee.

Second place - Matt Richardson of the Cheyenne Mountain Country Club for his Braised Veal Cheeks with Stone-ground Mustard Demi-Glace, Herbed Polenta Cake, Braised Carrots, Tomato Confit, Chevre Crumbles and Micro Green Blend.
Third place - Scott Savage and Doug Blazavich of The Cliff House at Pikes Peak for their New Zealand Venison Chop: Lingonberry and Juniper Berry Glazed Venison, Acorn Squash Bread Pudding, Cipolini Onion, with Cassis Jus.

Second place - Jamal Davis of The Metropolitain for his Chocolate Torte with a Red Tea Mousse and Blood Orange Syrup.
Third place — Stephanie Sloan of Divine Table Catering & Cakes for her Taste of the Tropics Carrot Cake with Passion Fruit Ginger Sorbet and Cheese Cake.

Thank, you, Teresa....

I gotta say, even though I was distracted and frenzied, there was some fine eatin'. I loved those seared scallops from
the Garden of the Gods Club and the moist carrot cake from Divine Table, but my favorite of the night was a dessert from The Broadmoor's Lake Terrace dining room: Peanut Butter and Toast.

It was actually a square of something like a cross between fudge and ice cream, beside a small oval of French toast, topped with ice cream. I'd never had anything like that outside of a dream.

One of the things I love about the Chef's Gala is that not only does it attract most of the usual suspects -- The Margarita, The Cliff House, Blue Vervaine -- it also brings out some great restaurants that fall outsdie of the Fine Dining realm.

This year, I was delighted to see English Dockside, a casual place on North Academy that's won our Best of the Springs award for Best Seafood for a few years. Mr. English's southern-style crab cakes were a big hit.


One of the things I've always liked about this event is that it's been relatively easy to get the food. Lines form behind each booth, so wait for what you want and you won't wait long.

But this year, a bunch of nuckleheads formed a giant line on one side of the tables and tried to make it into a giant very slow-moving conga line ... Bad idea. Some chefs were sitting there with two dozen filled plates for the taking, while others were working as fast they could to keep up with the line. Then some other chuckleheads took up positions at the other side of the tables and started a competing conga line there.

I left to catch the rest of the Oscars, so I never found out what happened when the two competing lines crashed in the middle, but I'm sure it wasn't pretty.

Seems they need one of the organizers as crowd control to teach the people how to wait in line.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Dining search turns into reality show

OK, I know this whole vote-for-a-critic-thing is silly. But we're very serious about hiring the right candidate. So if you're voting for your favorite critic candidate on, please read not just the pizza blurb but the previous full sample review as well.

If you're reading the samples on this site, please click on the January archive to get the early entries.

So, what do you think of this process?

Have I gone off the deep end sticking Groucho noses on all the candidates?

Monday, February 05, 2007

No. 5 rewrite

Carlos’ Bistro

Owner Carlos Echeandia’s necktie is thrown nonchalantly over his left shoulder. At first, it seems the fashion accessory is meant to be kept from spilling on the plates he brings to the table. When asked about it, he says, “I wear a tie to be formal, but if it is over my shoulder it means everyone is welcome even if they come in jeans or shorts or ties. All are welcome just as they are.”

The attention to detail Carlos shows in the placement of his necktie to receive diners finds its way into the menu and onto the plates.

It seemed almost silly calling for reservations one night during yet another snowstorm, but we were glad we did. The bistro was busy. As Carlos walked us to our table, we expressed surprise at the number of diners. Lunch had apparently been busier. “We ran out of soup and the chef had to make another,” he said. “I think what he made was even better than the first. It is a thick, tomato-based soup flavored with roasted pepper and basil.”

He also recommended the Tuna Tartare appetizer. We opted instead for the crab cake which had a depth of flavor with chunks of well-seasoned, pan-seared crab atop a bed of greens over which ginger and soy sauce had been drizzled. A spoonful of red pepper aioli was splashed on the crab cake.

My husband ordered a cup of the soup and I had the spinach salad. I made the wrong choice. The salad was good, full of large pieces of crispy bacon, sun dried tomatoes, red onion, pine nuts and a too-large mound of sprouts. Except for the latter, the ingredients complemented each other. I had immediate order envy, however, when I tasted the soup. I couldn’t convince my husband to trade. He did refrain from licking the bowl Even if the soup had not been so delectable, the salad, on the heels of the greens with the crab cake, was redundant.

My Seared Sea Scallops trumped his Grilled Pork Chop, though. The cut-with-a-fork scallops melted in my mouth. My husband’s pork, which sat in a shallow pool of rendered apple brandy, was moist, thick and tasty. They may have come from the same kitchen at the hands of the same chef, but the scallops were the more successful offspring.

Not only was the food delicious, but its presentation was lively and fun. Thin threads of brown sauce decorated the plate. The scallops were the points of a triangle whose middle was filled with grilled vegetables and a creamy risotto. On the side stood a Parmesan cheese crisp anchored in a dollop of pureed sweet potato.

The restaurant has a full bar and nice wine list. After pouring our wine, our server neither showed us the cork nor left it on the table. This was a minor misstep and there were no other lapses. The pacing of the meal was comfortable and his unaffected interest in our satisfaction was an enhancement to the evening.

For dessert, my husband and I shared a crème brulee. The thin caramelized-sugar top cracked like an egg-shell when jabbed with a spoon to reveal the vanilla-speckled cream. A medley of berries and mound of whipped cream were almost superfluous. This was a light, rich and decadent way to end a truly enjoyable meal.

Considering the artistry of the dishes, it’s interesting that the walls of Carlos’ Bistro are adorned with “starving artist” style paintings. When the food arrives it’s easy to dismiss this minor character flaw.

Carlos stopped by the table several times to make sure we were “happy” – his word. At the end of the meal, he walked us to the door. It wasn’t just the methodically misplaced tie that commands attention, it's the warmth and sincerity he exudes. It won’t be just the food that brings us back to Carlos’ Bistro – it’s Carlos himself, because you sense he would not serve anything less than brilliance.

Carlos’ Bistro

1025 S. 21st.St. 471-2905


Service: Excellent

Prices: Entrees range from $14 to $35

Menu: Continental cuisine with a trace of Asian and Mediterranean influence.

Vegetarian items are available.

The Space: One-level opening dining room with a small bar area and patio. Unimpressive décor.

Hours: Open 11-3 for lunch; dinner 5 to 9 daily. Closed Sunday.

Other: Reservations suggested.

Overall: Four-and-a-half Plates

Five Plates: Everything clicked including service, food, presentation, ambience

and overall enjoyment.

Four Plates: A near miss of a completely enjoyable dining experience.

Three Plates: Lacking an essential component. Food may have been on the

mark, but service was slow or inconsistent.

Two Plates: One or two things may be worthwhile, but overall needs


One Plate: Sometimes hunger trumps standards.

No. 19 rewrite

Not Peak Performance at Summit

The Broadmoor’s latest restaurant, the cosmopolitan Summit, is not quite up to peak. We were highly impressed upon our arrival by the Valet’s prompt scamper on such a cold night and the warm, friendly welcome by the Hostess and staff. The restaurant is beautifully yet casually decorated in warm hues and soft lighting, and despite its location at the Broadmoor, it’s not a bit snooty or pretentious—casual attire, even nice jeans won’t get you tossed out on your ear!

Our waitperson, Crystal, arrived immediately and was extremely knowledgeable about both the wine list and the menu. The wine list was not too lengthy (about 60 bottles) and had a good range of choices at all price levels, with about 20 wines offered by the glass. After a lively wine discussion with Crystal, we learned that the Summit offers mostly Pacific Northwest wines, Charles Court specializes in California wines and the Penrose Room prefers French wines, but you may order wine from any of the Broadmoor’s restaurants for your dining pleasure. Crystal, who is studying to become a sommelier, was extremely helpful in choosing the perfect wine to complement our dinners. The menu is “al a carte” and three courses for two people should average from $80.00 - $125.00 without alcohol. Not terribly painful!

The service was attentive, pleasant and perfectly paced--the “peak” performance you would hope for and expect of a restaurant that wants to compete for one of the area’s best.

The Summit’s contemporary gourmet menu is fresh with inspirational cuisine. Well-done menu descriptions of the dishes grab your attention. You can choose from a special list of seasonal creations or the Summit’s signature dishes, or mix and match. We started off with appetizers; I ordered the seasonal Bacon-wrapped Shrimp and my husband had their signature Seared Tuna Carpaccio. The presentation and sauce on my shrimp was excellent, the shrimp were good-sized, but a little over-cooked and chewy. The tuna was excellently prepared—barely seared, thinly sliced, and presented with a bright green asparagus garnish for interest and color, although wonderful, the portion was also thin.

Next, up—salads. My husband was pleasantly surprised by the untraditional Caesar Salad. It was made with fresh baby greens rather than the typical, boring romaine, and was adorned with several silvery, white anchovies. I wanted the seasonal Beet Salad but wasn’t enthused about the strong blue cheese. The waitperson didn’t bat an eye saying they would be more than happy to prepare it without the cheese—I like that in a restaurant—flexibility! The colorful salad of diced fresh beets in little “boats” of endive leaves was simply elegant. To make up for the lack of the blue cheese the salad was presented with a side of grated Parmesan.

I stayed “seasonal” by opting for the Butternut Squash Ravioli over the very tempting choice of a Hangar Steak and Fries and was richly rewarded. The ravioli may have been a hair overdone, and the squash filling a little on the sweet side for my taste, but a delight overall. My husband’s signature Roasted Halibut was gastronomic eye candy to view as it was presented but was over-cooked and dry. Both seafood dishes we tried were overcooked to the point of dryness for the halibut and toughness for the shrimp. Advertised as the Broadmoor’s “best” and newest restaurant, we were a little disenchanted. Perhaps it was Chef Bouquin’s night off, or just an off night.

The true disappointment of the evening for me, however, was the dessert. I ordered the Crème Brulee, my favorite dessert of all time, and although the presentation was spectacular, the taste and texture were, sorry to say, terrible. It was presented in a shallow, wide dish and was only about ¼-inch thick, grainy, hard—not unlike a hard-boiled egg yolk. A few spoonfuls were more than enough and it went uneaten. On the other hand, my husband’s Apple Tatin with Caramel Sauce was superb. He once again cleaned his plate and loved the apple chip with a good-sized dollop of whipped cream on the side. The topper of the night came when our car was already warm and waiting by the door when we left!

Overall take: The service, from valet to valet, and everything in between was flawless. With just a little closer attention to the individual dish preparation, this latest Broadmoor restaurant should rise to the Summit!

Phone: 719-577-5896

Address: 19 Lake Circle

Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 5:30-9:30; Friday-Sunday, 5:00-9:00. Closed Mondays.

Parking: Valet Parking at no cost to guests (except gratuity).

Rating: One to five stars, with five being flawless, one a place to avoid

Overall ****

Ambience *****

Service *****

Food ***

Price ****

No. 24 rewrite


Shout it from the rooftops: The Omelette Parlor is Colorado Spring’s best homestyle breakfast place. Not a morning person? Cold and gray outside? Never you mind. It’s always summer on the farm here and the hens lay golden eggs—the better to make delectable omelettes, of course. (And skillets, pancakes, and Belgian waffles.)

Consistently voted “Best Breakfast”, “Best Omelette”, and “Best Hot Cakes” by readers of both the Independent and the Gazette, the O.P. delivers. Meet the stars of the omelette show:

The Godfather: Italian sausage, green peppers, onions, mozzarella, marinara

The Great Chili Cook Off!: cheddar cheese, pork green chili

11-Miles or Almost: “almost” crab, avocado, Monterey Jack

Others include W.J Palmer, Founder (the baked potato omelette I ordered and very much enjoyed); Manitou Springs V.F.D.; and I quote, NO MEADOW MUFFINS HERE (diced green chilies and cheddar, with sour cream on the side). Humor and a local history lesson wrapped in a breakfast treat Julia Child would have endorsed? Hallelujah, I love homecookin’.

Served with every breakfast entrée is a whole-wheat English muffin, fruit, and country-style potato medallions that taste like they were fried up in Grandma’s big black skillet, perhaps by Grandma herself.

The menu also boasts some glorious pancakes that arrive fluffy, hot, and thirsty for syrup, and a made-from-scratch Belgian Wonder Wa-full you might have to share with yourself later on, for lunch. And if you can’t make it happen on your first visit, do come back to try the skillets, especially if you’re in a lumberjack competition afterwards. With options of chorizo sausage, red peppers, rib-eye steak, green chili, and various cheeses, Mount Elbert, Alamo, and Cowboy Hall-of-Fame, among others, are hearty, colorful, and HUGE.

Breakfast is served all day, but traditional lunch offerings abound. Sandwiches piled deliciously with fresh veggies and meats, with nicknames like Kissing Camel and The Bronco, and salads packed with all sorts of creative goodies—snowpeas, guacamole, or hot bacon dressing—are good choices. There’s also homemade soup and green chili by the cup or bowl.

Of course, skeptics clamored for a negative word about this place, so what the heck? I’ll gripe a little: the outside signs are run-down and need touch-up paint. The ancient children’s booster seats should be replaced. The women’s bathroom floor was missing a tile or two, and yes, the omelettes would have been even better had they arrived to our table piping hot. Otherwise, the service was accommodating, the coffee flavory. There were murals on the wall depicting the secret lives of hens and roosters, and the price was right. Allow me to cast my vote into the big Colorado Springs hat and concur: The Omelette Parlor rules the roost.

900 East Fillmore Street, Colorado Springs, CO 80907



Open Daily, 6am – 2pm

Estimated cost per person: $6 – $10.

No. 3 rewrite

"Famous Dave's"
This is superb barbeque! The menu has a wide variety to choose from and all entrees are excellently prepared with just the right amount of sauce so not to be over powering. The "sweet and sassy" salmon is the best in town. It is grilled until it is fully cooked but not dry. It is succulent with the juices, spice, and sauce making your mouth water before each delicious bite. The pulled pork sandwich is very tasty, not the usual bland fare. You can add your choice of several different levels of spicy barbeque sauces that grace each table. Another excellent choice of entree is the tender spare ribs. All that needs to be said is, you eat too many because they are so good. And we can't forget the barbequed chicken that is very tasty and cooked to perfection. My favorite sides are the Wilbur beans with chunks of pork, and coleslaw with pineapple and a hint of horseradish. The green beans were cold and didn't have much favor. The mashed potatoes and potato salad are fairly good. The corn muffin, on every plate, is sweet and yummy. There isn't much on the menu for vegetarians so you will have to ask for special attention but the staff is excellent at helping in any way they can. The flavored lemonade is very refreshing but does not have free refills. Our waitress forgot to mention this when she suggested it and, at $3 a glass, it is not a good bargain at this moderately priced restaurant. Any dessert is okay, nothing to rave about but you probably won't have room for dessert any way. For a “Colorado Springs Casual dining atmosphere,” with fabulous barbeque, the place to be is “Famous Dave’s” off Academy on Highway 83 at 8330 Razorback.

Friday, February 02, 2007

No. 22 rewrite

Just a quick and inexpensive airplane ride from the Colorado Springs Municipal Airport away, among other destinations, lies the ever expanding, brightly lit tourist trap that is Las Vegas, Nevada. I personally visit Las Vegas regularly, not to gamble or to gawk at the showgirls, mind you, but simply to eat. In general, any tales of culinary enjoyment which I've been able to bring back from Sin City would sadly have no equal here in Colorado Springs. There is, however, (at least) one exception and that exception would be Famous Dave's Legendary Pit Bar-B-Que.

Started in 1994 by entrepreneur and barbecue enthusiast Dave Anderson in Hayward, Minnesota, Famous Dave's quickly did become famous for the quality of it's food, winning several awards at barbecue competitions across the country. Dave built on his quick success by expanding to nearby Minneapolis in 1995 and, as of January 2007, there are Famous Dave's locations in 37 states (including one right here in Colorado Springs). Despite all of this recognition and renown, I was personally unfamiliar with Famous Dave's until just recently during one of my many and aforementioned trips to Las Vegas.

As I said before, I go to Las Vegas to eat, an endeavor which either requires a heavy amount of research and pre-planning or friends that live in the area. Thankfully, I'm blessed with the latter, locals who also love to eat and are quick to recommend restaurants that either they have tried themselves or that their co-workers rave about. To tell the truth, I'm much happier when we all go sight-unseen to one of the "co-worker recommended" sites because it satisfies two necessary elements for me: first, I'm in for a culinary adventure and second, the group has a built-in scapegoat if the place doesn't turn out as you would like it to. My first-ever trip to Famous Dave's turned out to be one of the sight-unseen variety, recommended by a random co-worker of Andy, one of my eating companions. The others who would join in on this barbecue lunch run were Andy's wife Andrea and my brother-in-law, affectionately known as "Big Al."

Pulling into our parking space in front of Famous Dave's, we saw an exterior that wasn't remarkable, but that wasn't uninviting either. The appearance of a wood "barbecue shack" was obviously was was intended and the slogan "Legendary Pit Bar-B-Que" above the front door let us know exactly what to hope for. Once inside, I noted that the interior definitely continued with the "barbecue shack" theme - wood paneled walls with "whimsical" items and signs hanging all about, old blues and R&B playing on the PA, nice big wood tables and chairs and large comfortable booths. I personally found the atmosphere comfortable and inviting, something which likely had a lot to do with the music; I found the selection darn near perfect for a barbecue joint and, come to find out, so does Famous Dave. All of the music is hand-picked by the founder and is straight from his personal CD collection. He and I need to get together someday to discuss food AND music, but I digress. In addition to the interior items which I've already mentioned, Famous Dave's also boasted the one piece of "atmosphere" which I feel is necessary in all barbecue establishments (and one which can make up for shortcomings in other areas): the pervasive and mouth-watering smell of smoked meat.

With this wonderful, meaty smell filling our nostrils and lunch-sized voids in our bellies, our group took our seats in the booth that we were led to. Upon opening the menu, I realized that making a choice wasn't going to be as simple as "chicken or ribs." The offerings at Famous Dave's are diverse and include soups, salads, fish, barbecue sandwiches, two kinds of chicken, hamburgers and, as you would expect, ribs, both the diminutive (yet sweet) baby backs and St. Louis style spareribs, the baby back's meatier cousin. Wanting to take in as much as we could of what Dave's had to offer, we decided to first try the sampler appetizer platter which boasts barbecue spare ribs, chicken wings, chicken tenders, catfish fingers and onion strings. As a whole, the quality of the food on the appetizer platter was very good, my personal favorite being the catfish fingers, small portions of sweetwater catfish, breaded and crispy fried. I liked them so much, in fact, that I may have made eating my actual lunch too much of a challenge. Speaking of which, our lunch choices were delivered to our table not long at all after we had collectively polished off our appetizer.

When you open the menu at Famous Dave's, you will see (unless you're completely distracted by thoughts of smoked meats, which would be understandable) that Dave himself has some advice for you. It reads: "never eat anything bigger than your head." Now, I can't be sure, exactly, but I'm thinking that all of what I ordered all tolled may well have been slightly larger than my cranium an. I know for a fact, though, that what two of my companions ordered certainly was larger than their individual heads. More about that in a bit though. My lunch choice came from the "classics and combos" section of the menu, and was the rib-n-meat combo (I chose barbecue chicken to compliment the spareribs). Al had the same platter with the addition of a "hot link" and Andy and Andrea decided to split the "XXL ribs," what Famous Dave's calls "The Big Slab," a 12-bone full slab of St. Louis style spareribs served either wet or dry (sauces are available at your table which range from mild to sweet to hot and I'll offer my opinions on them in a bit). All of the platters came with a corn bread muffin (mine was just a bit dry), corn on the cob (sweet, juicy and flavorful) and a choice of two side items. I chose potato salad (which I enjoyed) and "Wilbur Beans" (which were pretty basic) while Al went with the "Drunkin' Apples" and the famous fries, neither of which I was able to sample. Other sides on the menu include green beans, garlic red-skin mashed potatoes (which I'll surely try on a future visit) and creamy coleslaw. I can't exactly recall what sides, if any, Andy and Andrea chose due to the fact that, when the monstrosity which they ordered was delivered to our table, all activity ceased and we just stared in awe. It was certainly the largest slab of pork ribs I'd seen in my lifetime and when it was set in front of tiny little Andrea, Dave's advice from earlier came to mind. It was a good thing for her that she would have help from Andy, as the XXL slab was, indeed, "larger than her head."

My only service complaint for the entire lunch is this: despite the fact that I had ordered my ribs "dry," they came out wet. As I soon found out, though, this development would not ruin my day since the "Rich and Sassy" sauce which graces the wet-style ribs by default was just about perfect for my taste, slightly sweet with a smoky flavor and not too much ketchup-type flavor. Of course, I'm aware that there are likely as many (if not more) opinions as to what makes a fine barbecue sauce as there are barbecue grills in this country and, if your tastes differ from mine, Dave's likely has you covered. At the table sit a variety of sauces in addition to Dave's original Rich & Sassy including "Hot & Sassy" (I liked this one quite a bit), "Texas Pit" (not too bad), "Georgia Mustard" (not for me, thanks), "Sweet & Zesty" (my hands-down favorite) and, finally, "Devil's Spit." I have to say, despite the name, I didn't find this sauce to be enjoyable at all. Don't get me wrong, I love spicy and hot, but on the day I visited, the Devil's Spit tasted a bit too much like an unholy marriage of vinegar and tabasco for my liking. With that said, I have to say that the variety of sauces which Famous Dave's makes available at their tables should be more than enough to be able to make even the pickiest Barbecue fan quite happy.

Back to the food, though, which certainly didn't disappoint the eager eaters in our group. I found the ribs on my platter to be tender and flavorful and, to be honest, I wished I had ordered more once I was finished with them. The barbecue chicken was also nice and tender but it lacked a depth of flavor beyond the crispy skin which I found only slightly disappointing since a quick hit with one of the many available sauces (Sweet & Zesty) made up for that shortcoming. Al also felt the same as I did about his ribs and chicken and the hotlink which he ordered disappeared itoo fast for me to taste which led me to believe that he enjoyed it quite a bit. Andy and Andrea both loved their massive rack of spareribs and had enough left to feed themselves for a day or two even after offering samples to both Al and I. Sadly, following our massive platters, we were all too packed full of foods to even think about trying dessert. This really is a shame since the bread pudding and the pecan pie both piqued my interest. Other dessert items on the menu include an ice cream sundae and a hot fudge Kahlua brownie. Just so you know, Famous Dave's does offer lunch specials, has a children's section to the menu and, if you'd like to take their delightful fare home, they offer "Family Style To Go." All of their meats are available by the pound (except chicken-they sell them roasted and whole), ribs by the slab and sides available by the pint or quart (except corn bread muffins-, available by the half-dozen or dozen). Granted, you can't judge an entire chain by an experience in one single location but my experience at Famous Dave's on Rainbow Road in Las Vegas, Nevada made enough of an impression on me that I'll surely look to frequent the Famous Dave's on Razorback Road here in Colorado Springs. I should throw in that I considered the prices at Famous Dave's in Las Vegas to be quite reasonable but, like it says at, pricing and menu items vary by location so I can't speak to the prices here in the Springs quite yet (but I doubt that they'll break the bank). To put it simply, I felt the meal I had at the Las Vegas Famous Dave's was a good value.

Famous Dave's (Las Vegas) Grade: A-

Local Information:
Famous Dave's Legendary Pit Bar-B-Que
8330 Razorback Road
(just off Highway 83 near Cracker Barrel)
(719) 265-9534

New No. 52

Because of a Spam-Block issue, this submission didn't appear until now. Ed.

Fabulous Cocktails, Brilliant Menus, Delectable Eats, Cozy Spots —that's what MacKenzie's is all about.

MacKenzie's Chop House Restaurant
719 635 3536
128 S. Tejon St. Colorado Springs

How it rates out of 5 X's
Food Quality XXXX
Service X½
Comfort/Ambiance XXXX
Parking X
Website XXX
Overall rating 2.7 of a 5
Price range $$ ½

My initial sense entering Mackenzie's—I must be back in sweet home Chicago. I recalled the rich, warm dining rooms Downtown; I conjured images of the late, Mayor Daley swaggering in.

My first introduction to MacKenzie's was during summer of 2005. I met a blind date at a tavern up the street, and after a beer, we decided to take the next step—dinner. We walked to a handsome, historic building on South Tejon and descended to the sub level.

Unknowing of their repute for fabulous cocktails, we sipped Cosmopolitans, ($8). I affirm them the best I have yet to taste; a perfect mix of Ketel Citroen Vodka with precise additions of cranberry and lime juices.

Since that "first date" at MacKenzie's we continue to drop in for just appetizers, multi course dinners, and light Sunday suppers. It is also a pleasurable lunch spot.

Consistently the proficient kitchen assembles fresh, high quality ingredients, and presents it vividly. The extensive menu is brilliant and well formed. Executive Chef, Espiridion "Pete" Moreno, and his associates, design a weekly "fresh sheet". Their "specials" are innovative culinary creations worth investigation. Traditional meat lovers craving aged steaks, chops, and poultry favorites will void disappointment.

I advocate sharing appetizers to taste a variety of unique starters. I fancy the Prince Edward Island Mussels sautéed in an aromatic bouillabaisse, (10.95). The lightly fried Calamari comes with an incredible marinara that incorporates roasted red pepper coulis and fresh basil, which I could easily consume with a spoon, ( 9.95). Carpaccio is velvety, paper-thin slices of beef tenderloin drizzled with garlic infused olive oil and complimented with rosemary crostini, capers, onions, elephant garlic, and Montrachet crouton, (9.95). Crab Cakes are flavorful; however, I found them crumbling as they fought the fork, ( 12.95).

You will find seven delectable salads to select as a starter, or entree. The classic Caesar is just that, an ideal classic, (4.95). I go for the Bleu Wedge; a generous, chunk of iceberg topped with aged bleu cheese and tangy dressing, ( 5.95). The Spinach Salad is very good; however, I prefer one a tavern up the street offers, (7.95).

I relish the Cioppino, a balanced, full-bodied roasted red-pepper/tomato broth that respectively worships the Alaskan king crab, jumbo sea scallops, shrimp, and mussels, ( 22.95). Basil-Poblano Tortellini sounds risky, but I encourage you to cherish the tender pasta filled with cheese and mushrooms, and dressed with an extraordinary cream sauce of roasted poblano chilies and basil.

MacKenzie's presents a variety of superior cuts of beef to prepare exactly the way you like it. Go ahead and enjoy the aromatic Center Cut Pork Chops topped with smoked Gouda and caramelized onions, ( 15.95/19.95). Alternatively, try the savory Rack of Lamb, (cooked medium rare), with a raspberry-chipotle demi-glace, (22.95/29.95).

Assuming you enjoy dessert, I propose the light and airy Tiramisu, ($7). Chocolate Cake for Two with fudge icing and chocolate chips served a la mode is marvelous, ($10).

Select seating in cozy spots to suit your mood or occasion. Large, private booths fill the dining room; tables for 6-8, and booths envelop a rocky fireplace; tables and booths frame the sleek bar; the patio houses 15 tables; and private dining rooms are available.

My gripes are unreliable service and obnoxious, loud Swing music. I object to a hostess delivering and plopping my plate on the table, as she attempts to beat a 50-yard dash record. I object to the bartender serving tables in the dining room, only to neglect the duty when his bar business develops. I object to a waitress tethering her wild mane at the counter as she proclaims she's hung over. I object to the absence of a manager to observe blunders and assist promptly.

I protested my disappointments and skipped MacKenzie's for two months; however, I soon began to crave the exceptional food and cocktails. Judging from my last two experiences, the dining and bar service has greatly improved. My most recent visit was 13 January 2007.

Next week's review… Authentic Mexican in Colorado Springs.

Lunch: Mon-Fri
Dinner: Nightly
Payment: AE, Visa, MasterCard, No Checks
Reservations: Highly recommended
Full Bar: with extensive wine & martini lists
Private Dining: 3 private rooms for 10-60
Drink Specials: 4-7 pm Mon-Fri, Sunday 1/2 price Martinis & "Wine Lovers Wednesday"
Patio Dining: weather permitting
Sunday Brunch: Easter & Mother's Day
Holiday Dinners: Thanksgiving & Christmas Eve

Thursday, February 01, 2007

No. 35 rewrite

Best Pizza in Town?

Rotelli strives to prove it

I am originally from Baltimore and my husband is from New York. We know good pizza. We have lived in many places, but wherever we have lived, we have always searched out the best pizza in town. So, when we arrived in Colorado Springs a year and ½ ago, we began asking the locals, “Where is the best pizza in town?” Rotelli has been the answer of late, but we were hesitant…Rotelli is a chain restaurant, and we have continually found that the best pizza is always at the locally own places.

But, one cold Thursday night I headed out to the Rotelli at 3240 Centennial Blvd in the King Sooper Shopping Center. I was with my husband, my daughter and my parents who were visiting from Baltimore. We were greeted immediately at the door by a friendly hostess who seated us in a roomy booth. (Booths always go well in a pizza joint!) The place was comfortable, softly lit, with a modern yet classical décor; not your typical pizza joint. As we were studying the menus, our vivacious waitress, Janelle asked us for our drink order. My husband and dad wanted a beer and she suggested an Italian beer, which turned out to be the perfect choice. My daughter was thrilled with the choice of Pepsi products and mom and I stuck with water, although Janelle gave us a hard time for not having a glass of wine from their lovely wine menu.

We were really craving pizza, but, took a glance at their well-rounded menu which included unique appetizers, fresh pasta dishes, warm inviting soups, a generous salad selection and cold and hot subs. Despite the vast choices, we decided on just one of their appetizers; Calamari. It came out hot, with delicious marinara sauce although it was a little too heavily breaded for my taste, but it was tender and enough to share. Next time I think I will try the Portabello Shortstack as the booth across from us did…it looked tasty. When it came time to order our pizza, we were faced with a tough decision. The gourmet pizza selections like the Hawaiian and Al Fresco were all enticing, but we finally settled on and ordered a pizza with pepperoni, sausage, onions, mushrooms and green peppers in a 22” size as suggested by Janele. With the other pizza, we stuck with ½ cheese and ½ pepperoni in the 16” size so that we could really taste the pizza without all the fanfare.

The wait for our dinner was a little long, and Janele did her best to entertain us while we waited adding lots of laughs to the night. But, the delay was worth it! The finished products were fabulous. The 22” pizza (which is hard to find anywhere) really was much bigger than the 16”. My parents, who travel extensively, said it was one of the freshest pizzas they have ever eaten. The cheese was wonderful, definitely top quality; the kind of cheese that pulls as you bite into it. The vegetables were fresh, not canned, and the sauce was sweet and wonderful, the same as the sauce with the calamari. But, as every aficionado of pizza knows, it is the crust that matters. This crust lived up to my expectations of a superior pizza which of course is crusty on the outside and soft on the inside.

We had no room for dessert even though Rotelli had scrumptious, rich selections such as Mile High Apple Crumb and Chocolate Decadence. We actually we took home ¾ of the pizza which we ate cold for breakfast…yummy.

Our check was $76.00 that included a generous tip which was a little on the high side, but the four bottles of Italian beer added to our check. If you really want to go cheap and take the whole family, head out on a Tuesday night and get a Large Rotelli Cheese Pizza for only $6.54, no limit! I would definitely go back again, as it was a pleasant restaurant to eat in with high-quality fare that really seemed like a small local Italian restaurant.

Was it the “Best Pizza in Town”? I’ll let you decide.

The Specifics:

Rotelli has two locations:

3240 Centennial Blvd, located in the King Sooper Shopping Center, Colorado Springs, 520-5600

15910 Jackson Creek Pkwy, Monument, located in the new Home Depot Shopping Center 484-0011

Opened 7 days a week, call for hours

Plastic: yes

Child Friendly: Yes, a nice children’s menu

Carry out and delivery is available

Insiders Hint: Look for coupons in area value magazine

Bon Appetit!

NEW: No. 51

My apologies to the author that somehow this didn't get posted earlier. Ed.


Walking up to the door of Macaroni Grill I’m always struck by the yummy, smoky smell. My mouth is watering for the Chicken Marsala, which I know to be the best in town. I love the sauce that’s used on the chicken, with the mushrooms and the caramelized, roasted garlic! This night, however, with a small group of friends in tow, we decided to each try something we had never had before. We began our meal with the fried mozzarella. The mozzarella was crispy, contrasting with the creamy inside. The sauce was a bit on the tangy side, but was a nice compliment for the dish. It was a very small portion for four people. It would have been nice to have 4 slices on the plate instead of 3 so that we could have had one slice per person. The bread was excellent, as always; warm and soft on the inside and crusty on the outside. The Caesar salad was the right blend with crisp lettuce, garlicky croutons, and tangy dressing. One friend decided to try the sausage and bean soup and said the sausage was great, but the beans overwhelmed it.

Onto the entrees. I had a dish that had been recommended to me, Shrimp Portofino. The shrimp, pine nuts, and mushrooms were a good combination of flavors and textures in the dish. I think I would have enjoyed this dish more if it had not been lukewarm. The spinach was a bit tough, but had the shrimp mixture been hot when it was poured over the spinach, it would have wilted it a bit more.

Another friend tried a new dish, seared scallops with a lettuce, feta, prosciutto salad with a citrus dressing. The scallops were outstanding and perfectly cooked. The combination of feta and prosciutto, along with salty breadcrumbs, was a bit too much salt for the dish.

The Honey Balsamic Chicken dish was outstanding, but then I’m partial to balsamic anything. I love the way the sauce reduces down and coats anything it comes in contact with. The only drawback to that dish was the broccoli, that was served along side of the chicken was difficult to manage because of the size.

Last, but not least, was the Chicken Parmigiano. That dish was enjoyed by all and could have easily fed all of us at the table.

The service was hit or miss on this particular night. Our server was fairly attentive and did offer to reheat or replace my Shrimp Portofino. On the other hand, when filling water glasses, it would have been better to refill all of the glasses and not leave some empty.

We did for the most part enjoy the meal. We enjoyed the soft singing at the table next to us and the conversation and laughter of a girls’ night out, but next time I’m having the Chicken Marsala!

South Macaroni Grill

Lake Avenue

No. 45 rewrite

La Casa Fiesta Mexican Restaurant and Cantina

“Peso Little – Get So Much!”

Nestled in the heart of downtown Monument is a restaurant that used to be one of the area's best kept secrets, a little place called La Casa Fiesta Mexican Restaurant and Cantina. Judging by last year's expansion to accommodate the growing number of customers, La Casa Fiesta's secret is out.

The folks at La Casa Fiesta consistently deliver on their promise of "Southern New Mexico style Mexican Food served in a warm, friendly family atmosphere." Whether you’re one of the many regulars or visiting La Casa Fiesta for the first time, the staff will welcome you as if you were a part of their family. You can enjoy your meal in the cozy dining room, and when warm weather decides to return you can admire the mountain views from the open-air patio.

We visited La Casa Fiesta on a weekday evening. The place was pleasantly busy, but not nearly as crowded as it tends to be on the weekends. We were seated at once and immediately served a basket of warm, crisp tortilla chips accompanied by two versions of fresh, homemade salsa. Much as I enjoy this restaurant and all it has to offer, I find the salsa consistently disappointing. Granted, I have a preference for salsa that's a little more complex, but on this visit the mild salsa resembled chunky tomato sauce dressed with a touch of unidentifiable seasoning. Still, it was an improvement over previous recipes that tasted like Campbell’s Tomato Soup sprinkled with a dash of garlic. The spicy salsa, usually full-flavored with hints of chile pepper, lime and fresh cilantro, was overpowered by diced white onions that rendered any other flavors indistinguishable. I didn’t see a flake of cilantro, and frankly, it just wasn’t that spicy.

No matter what your tastes are, you can find something to like on the diverse menu. In addition to different varieties of burritos, tacos and sizzling fajitas, La Casa Fiesta offers several different salads (including shrimp salad), charbroiled New York strip, fish fillets and chicken strips. My Chicken Chimichanga quickly arrived stuffed with tender, moist slow-cooked chicken that was lightly seasoned. The deep-fried tortilla was a little chewy and not as crisp as I would have liked, but it was still quite edible and tasty. The whole thing was topped with zesty green enchilada sauce and melted cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses. Fresh diced tomatoes, shredded iceberg lettuce and sour cream rounded out the plate.

My guest opted for the fish taco combination and declared it delicious. Presented in double flour tortillas, the tender and flavorful fish was served in a yogurt-based cream sauce. These tacos are usually topped with shredded cabbage and pico de gallo, which my guest asked to have served on the side – a wise decision in retrospect. Suffering the same fate as its spicy salsa cousin, the pico de gallo’s subtler flavors of green pepper, tomato and lime were obliterated in an ocean of onion. Smooth, yummy refried beans topped with melted cheeses and fluffy, light Spanish rice completed the fish taco combination.

Soft drinks, tea, and coffee are standard drink fare, but you can also order beer and mixed drinks from the bar. Margaritas are served by the glass or in a 32 oz. carafe, frozen or on the rocks, and are available in regular, strawberry or peach flavors. My guest ordered the standard house margarita and found it well mixed, neither too strong nor too weak.

Desserts include fried ice cream, sopapillas and apple chimi – all usually very good. We chose the flan and it was simply scrumptious. Firm without being overcooked, the smooth and creamy custard swam in a light caramel sauce that was neither scorched nor watery. Whipped cream and a hint of cinnamon complemented the already-full flavor. For a small extra charge you can add Kahlua or Bailey’s to the flan, which we’ve done before with wonderful results.

Families are always welcome at La Casa Fiesta. The little people in your group can choose either traditional Mexican dishes or favorites such as chicken fingers and French fries. And as indicated by the restaurant’s catchy slogan “Peso Little – Get So Much,” the prices won't break the family budget, either. Luncheon specials served between 11:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. average $6.00 - $8.00 each, and the larger dinner menu offers items ranging from $7.00 to $13.00.

La Casa Fiesta's recent renovations expanded the dining room area and added a beautifully designed outdoor seating area, which can be enjoyed even during cool weather thanks to patio heaters and a retractable rain shield. Unfortunately, the expansion did not include enlarging the rather small parking lot. During peak hours you might have to park on the street, but La Casa Fiesta's fresh, home-style Mexican food is worth the minor inconvenience. Give it a try and then share the secret of your favorite new dining spot with everyone you know.

La Casa Fiesta Mexican Restaurant and Cantina

230 Front Street

Monument, Colorado

(719) 481-1234

Hours: 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily

Reservations: Available only for large groups.

Credit cards accepted: Master Card, Visa

Attire: Casual

No. 41 rewrite

Barbeque at the Bird Dog

I’ve been hearing for weeks about Bird Dog BBQ so when I noticed the article inviting people to send in their reviews I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to see what the fuss was all about. I looked up the address on the Internet, called a friend to meet me there and off I went on a barbeque adventure. The restaurant is in a strip mall, and although I might be leery of eating some foods in a strip mall, the best barbeque can sometimes be found in the least likely places.

I opened the door and was greeted with the wonderful smell of smoked meats, which immediately put me at ease. If you love barbeque, you're familiar with this wonderful smell. Bird Dog BBQ is a counter service establishment. I hadn’t been prepared for that, but I’m a girl who can roll with the punches. The upside of counter service is that you don’t have to worry about bad table service. The restaurant has a smallish dining room with seating for about 64 at both tables and booths. The tables are covered with pictures of customers’ dogs which helps to give the place a welcoming, neighborhood feel. There were a couple of TVs on showing reruns of Seinfield which was a nice change from the usual sporting events offered at every other place with a TV.

The menu is chock full of your barbeque standards: pulled pork, chopped or sliced brisket, ribs, baked beans, coleslaw as well as a couple of surprises such as prime rib and a Shotgun Spud (baked potato overflowing with chopped brisket). For this visit I kept to the tried and true standards. I ordered the 3-meat plate to get as broad a picture as possible for this article. I chose pulled pork, turkey and ribs with sides of fried okra and coleslaw. My dining companion ordered hot links, sliced brisket and half a chicken with sides of baked beans and a baked potato. Our plates were handed to us at the cash register and upon seeing them we knew we had over done it. There were mountains of meat and sides on each plate!

All the meats were moist and tender, and were served dry (without sauce) allowing the customer to use as much or as little of either the hot or mild homemade barbeque sauces. The ribs were smoky, flavorful and nearly fell off the bone. The meat was blackened on the outside and pink on the inside like a good smoked meat should be. The meat on this pork rib was so tender that it nearly melted in your mouth. The ribs were succulent and perfect. I’m not a big chicken person generally I find chicken dishes to be overcooked and dry. This chicken however was the most moist and tender I’ve ever tasted. The subtle smoky flavor was an enhancement of the chicken, it didn’t take over and distract from the texture and juiciness of the meat itself. The hot links were impeccable, spicy but not overwhelming and bursting with flavor; probably the best I‘ve had. I’ve tried hot links at barbeque places from Colorado to Memphis and these were outstanding. The pulled pork and brisket were more than acceptable however; I would have preferred them on a sandwich instead of as entrée items. Neither meat lacked anything but there were more interesting menu offerings. Of all the meats we tried the turkey was the only let down. While it was juicy and tender, it was really lacking any distinct flavor. This was disheartening as everything else had been so consistently pleasing. Customers having control of their own barbeque sauce means one never has to worry about the sauce overpowering or drowning the meats.

The homemade barbeque sauce is offered in both mild and hot. Each sauce has a thick, sweet molasses base it’s a little bit tangy and has a hint of spice, with the hot sauce offering a bit more spice. Neither sauce is vinegar based so if that’s your idea of the ideal sauce this isn’t for you. The sauces are thick enough to coat, but not so thick they would overpower the meats. I found the sauces perfect and rotated my way though both with each bite as I couldn’t decide which I preferred.

In any meal the side orders are as important as the entrees. A great entrée can suffer when surrounded by sides that are not complimentary or are lacking in flavor and personality. The baked potato was medium sized and not over or under done. It comes with butter, sour cream, cheese or any combination of these. There’s nothing special here, it’s just a baked potato, but it was cooked well and is complimentary and that counts. The baked beans were tangy, and delicious with chunks of brisket baked in for additional flavor. The sauce for the beans was thick and at the same time both sweet and spicy. My companion enjoyed them so much that for most of his meal he dipped his meats into the baked beans instead of using any of the wonderful barbeque sauce provided. The fried okra was good, but not as exciting or delicious as it would have been made from scratch. Next time I visit I'll order a different side, I prefer something a little more exciting than I found the okra to be. The coleslaw was wonderful. Recommended by an employee at the counter, it was creamy and sweet with loads of cabbage and carrots.

The only truly disappointing part of our meal was the Texas Toast. Each meal comes with Texas Toast; however, I would have preferred not to have this on my plate. It was not as thick or tasty as real Texas Toast, but was rather the same size, consistency and flavor as inexpensive sandwich bread.

With all that we tasted we had no room for dessert. They offer a peach or apple cobbler and brownies without nuts each for only $1.00. I don’t feel too bad about missing dessert because is gives us a reason to go back.

The service as mentioned above is counter service; however even counter service boils down to service. The quality of service here was hit or miss. While placing our original orders the service was prompt and informative, if not overly friendly. Later, I went to request to-go containers and I had to compete for attention, not with other customers but with employees. This is a common problem in a great deal of businesses, when service staff gets distracted talking to friends or co-workers the service level takes a hit.

Overall, I found Bird Dog BBQ to be a clean, fast barbeque joint. The service is quick and the food is flavorful. Portion sizes should satisfy nearly everyone, with most taking home leftovers. Pricing is comparable with other barbeque restaurants in the Colorado Springs area. If you enjoy barbeque, you should go visit the folks at Bird Dog BBQ.

Bird Dog BBQ offers catering, kids meals, family meals and meats by the pound.

Bird Dog BBQ

5984 Stetson Hills Blvd Suite 200

Monday – Saturday 11:00am – 9:00pm

Sunday 11:00am - 8:00pm

Prices: $4.25 – 11.00

Credit cards and cash welcome

Checks are not accepted

No. 27 rewrite

The Golden Bee

I’m very particular about the way my meat is cooked and where it comes from. For example, just the thought of lunch meat makes me nauseous– the way it’s cut into slimy slabs and packaged in weak cellophane. Eeew! I love meat, but it has to be fresh, not crammed in a can of Progresso “Rich and Hearty” soup, and when I order it, I don’t want it drenched in crimson, mooing off my plate. You get the idea.

So when my husband suggested we go to The Golden Bee for their piano bar and Rueben sandwiches, I was a little leery. I pictured those thick, nasty sandwiches on the Carl’s Jr. commercials where the meaty mass plops down from the screen with a “Whoomp!” and all the juices, dressings – and whatever else they slather on it – kind of leak out. But he assured me this wouldn’t be the case.

We entered the restaurant at around 7:00 p.m. (which is highly recommended so you can get a seat right away and not stand in line for hours or whenever the first table opens up). I was pleasantly amused by the décor – something straight out of a jazz bar from the Roaring 20’s with dark woods, dimmed lights, dark paint and wallpaper with a slight sheen. The camel-colored piano was on a stage front and center.

Our waitress came over and tossed sticky bees at us which clung to our sweaters and stuck in our hair. We ordered beer and it was delicious. Straight from the tap, foamy and cold. Then came the Ruebens. They were thick with meat, like in the Carl’s Jr. commercial but not nearly as offensive. The meat was confined mostly to the bread and the sauce didn’t drip all over the place when I picked it up. As my husband chomped away on his Rueben sandwich and the yummy, super crispy and tart chips served with it (salt and vinegar chips), I nervously peered at my sandwich and carefully took a bite. To my surprise, it was delicious! The meat was perfectly cooked, not underdone in any way, and the combination of flavors of the corned beef, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing-mixture was delightful.

From across the table, my husband smirked, “I told you you’d like it.” And he was right. As I filled my belly with the best sandwich I’ve ever had, the pianist began playing upbeat melodies, transporting us back into history. With song books in hand, we sang in unison (or not – I’m not the best singer) and made happy memories in The Golden Bee.

Munch on this: The Golden Bee serves much more than Reuben sandwiches; check out their menu at

It’ll cost ya: About $9-12

What not to wear: Fancy gowns or suits. The Golden Bee is casual – feel free to wear jeans and a sweater or a nice shirt.

When can I go? The Golden Bee is open 11:30 a.m.-1:30 a.m. daily

The hotel is at 1 Lake Ave.

No. 36 rewrite

The Margarita at PineCreek

Food is my life; it makes me tick, smile, and at times, my pants a little too tight. I dream about food, plan trips around food. I wake up hungry and go to bed thinking of what I'll cook up tomorrow. I don't want to settle when it comes to food and dining; its too important to me so why should you? Instead of telling you why not to go somewhere I want to tell you why to go.

Lets start with the Margarita at PineCreek. To define this restaurant in one word is near impossible. I thought this was only a special occasion spot but I was wrong. Lunch, dinner and Sunday Brunch pick your indulgence. There is truly something for everyone and every occasion.

The unique stucco building has been the north side destination for over 30 years, a rarity in this town. Lunch is offered in a casual setting Tuesday through Friday and like dinner it's prix fixe. For $9.50 you can mix and match your meal and even have seconds! You are greeted by the owner Pati, whose presence is felt throughout; and quickly seated in one of the many cozy alcoves. We are told the daily specials and before we can process the information a loaf of homemade cracked wheat bread fresh out of the oven is set before us. Smother it with the side of pimento cheese spread and you could live off this alone. The greatest thing about this restaurant is its ever changing; you never get bored of the typical menu and occasionally your favorites pop up now and again. The soup and salad combo is a great start, the daily bisque soup is creamy with bits of caramelized mushrooms and a hint of sherry; go ahead and have a second bowl. You might be lucky enough to have the baked chili relleno special which also comes with a soup or salad. A nice light crust accented with a tangy ancho chili sauce and baked to perfection with bubbling Monterrey jack cheese. Vegetarians are more than welcome to sample entrees and an assortment of chef salads, all a meal on their own. We sit back enjoying the afternoon sunlight filter through the pine trees and without notice, a warm slice of pound cake baked that day is placed in front of us. A bargain it is and with cooking like this we wonder if we have to step outside and back into the real world.

There is one thing wrong with Sunday brunch, it isn't offered everyday. Then again, I suppose we can't take 3 hour brunch breaks everyday either. On a warm day you might want to sit on one of the the garden lined patios and feast but on a snowy day you'll still be spoiled inside. There is actually a menu for this day with several offerings starting around $8.50, half portions available upon request. There are no wrong decisions so go with something like the crab eggs Benedict($15.) with moist lump crab meat, lemony hollandaise and tender asparagus. Huevos Rancheros appear on almost every table overflowing with creamy beans, meaty green chili with bits of roasted hatch chiles and topped with two just set poached eggs. For those sleepyheads who arrive late in the day there are a few lunch items such as the crisp house smoked salmon cakes($10.) served over greens. While you make your decisions and anxiously await what is probably the best brunch deal in town, you are treated to fresh fruit and homemade coffee cake, topped with warm bits of pecan struesel and drizzled with melted butter leaving you yearning for more. Feeling festive? Take a look at the brunch drink menu, pomegranate vodka lemonade could end your weekend on just the right note.

Dinner sets itself apart from lunch and brunch and succeeds in satisfying every taste bud. Hungry once again we gave dinner our undivided attention. The warm glow of candles and Mexican lanterns set the mood. The Margarita specializes in a five course dinner for $35 a person, priced just right for all you get. For a lighter appetite you might consider the three course option for $27 and still plenty of food. On weekend and summer nights swing by and order a la carte in the lounge or the sunset patio where the ambiance complements the tasty treats. The ever changing menu may sway you to try the artichoke agnolotti appetizer. Like everything in this restaurant its handmade pasta and filled with the perfect proportion of artichoke, garlic, and cheese; topped with bright arugula pesto and a preserved lemon brown butter completely worth licking the plate for. If you are like me and my companions we share everything like the butternut squash tamale appetizer with pulled pork and an apple maple butter. Each ingredient good enough to stand on its own. Steaming bowls of soup with crusty bread arrive followed with a crisp and lightly dressed salad. The transition from each course is smooth and leaves just enough time to linger between plates. One of the hosts checked in to see if we are taken care of and offered a change in wine while we waited for the entrees. The wine list is smaller than some restaurants but constantly in rotation and non-listed specials are offered daily. On any night the Margarita offers a steak, fresh fish, and a third option such as pork, chicken or duck. A vegetarian option is on the menu as well, and might include a grilled vegetable terrine and fresh pasta. The sauteed Corvina sea bass Provencal was a great choice served with artichoke hearts and wilted spinach, and accented with a citrus aioli. Meat eaters would enjoy the hand cut steaks like the soy mustard grilled Manhattan steak. Tender like a filet, flavored with enough marbling of a New York strip. Grilled medium rare to my liking and served with a soba noodle salad and tempura vegetables. The chefs put a lot of thought into each dish and since each is prepared to order they can easily be adjusted but trust them and leave your dinner in their hands, you won't be disappointed. After all that dessert still tempts us, especially when the house specialties include choices like, chocolate espresso mousse torte, blackberry creme brulee, and a pear and tallegio cheese tart with a honey walnut pesto. Crunchy, creamy, sweet and savory, indeed something for everyone.

The Margarita at Pine Creek

7350 Pine Creek Road



Tuesday-Friday 11:30-2:00


Tuesday-Saturday 5:30-9:00


Sunday 10:30-2:00

No. 14 rewrite

Rudy’s Little Hideaway

Location: 1721 S. Nevada Ave.

Hours: Tue – Sat 6AM – 2PM

Sunday 7AM – 2PM

Closed Monday’s

It’s true, something can be right before your eyes and still be called a hideaway and Rudy’s fits the bill. The 20 seat diner fronts a South Nevada Travelodge Motel, and goes unnoticed by the 100’s of cars passing by each hour. It’s not the easiest place to get into the first time you visit. The entrance is through the parking lot in the back of the restaurant. Don’t be shy, just walk in and seat yourself.

Red and white Christmas lights hang from the ceiling, Mexican rugs cover the walls, and soft Spanish music plays in the background, but even all this can’t hide the rough edges.

Breakfast and eye watering spicy green chili, along with an ever flowing cup of mediocre coffee, are what they are all about. Oh yes, and they serve lunch too.

Breakfast covers all the bases. The standard of eggs, bacon and hash browns cooked to order still come with a hint of grease and run around $4.00. There are half dozen omelets and as many breakfast burritos all priced around $5.00. Rudy’s green chili draws the people in. Hours of simmering ignites the finely diced jalapeño and Anaheim peppers in a pork base. The three ingredients meld together to form a surprisingly light bodied, but authoritative sauce. This chili has a true sense of ethnicity.

The Mexican Burrito ($4.99) is for those who truly enjoy Hot. The burrito bursts at the seams with two scrambled eggs, Chorizo sausage, refried beans, and jalapeno’s. As if that wasn’t hot enough, it’s then covered with a layer of green chili and cheese. Remember to ask for a to-go box. It’s that big.

If you’re looking for a lighter fair try Ron’s Special: an egg, made to order, on a bed of hash browns and covered in green chili. The hash browns are hardy and just crisp enough to stand up against the chili. There won’t be a dent in your wallet at $2.85.

Rudy’s puts a spin on huevos rancheros. The traditional ingredient of eggs, beans and a splash of red chili are all there, but the warmed tortillas are served on the side. If you run out of tortillas just ask for more.

Spicy isn’t for everyone and Rudy’s understands that. They also have a red chili (code for enchilada sauce) that packs its punch with flavor instead of heat. You can substitute the red for green at anytime; or, go ahead and mix the two.

The lunch menu covers everything from tacos to hamburgers to tuna salad (all around $5.00). The Combo Plate ($4.25) consists of a taco, one green chili & cheese enchilada, and one beef & bean burrito; none of which were worth writing home about. In contrast to the breakfast portions, the enchilada and burrito were anemic. The taco shell lost all crispiness as it sat soaking in the green chili used to cover the other items. It is obvious breakfast is their specialty.

Rudy’s 55+ Senior menu serves almost the full assortment of breakfast and lunch items just in smaller portions and a smaller price ($2.50-$3.50).

When it comes time to pay, you’ll either need to speak up or just go to the counter. The locals like to sit and chat so the waitress doesn’t bother them with a ticket. And, with just one visit, you’re already on your way to becoming a regular.

Rudy’s Little Hideaway gets……Hardy and spicy, napkins optional.

No 16 rewrite

Ultimate Buffet

It’s almost impossible not to feel giddy when you grab a plate from the stack at Ultimate Buffet and tack out into the sea of over 100 different foods.
The idea of Ultimate Buffet is East meets Midwest: fuse the all-you-can-eat Asian place with the all-you-can eat American place to create one unstoppable super cafeteria.
It sounded sketchy to me, but friends said it was actually pretty good. Ultimate Buffet, tucked in the sterile blocks of North Powers Boulevard near Super Target, charges a bit more, they said, so it can serve better food.
“They have sushi and real crab, which is impressive,” one said.
And as I surveyed the fray of steam trays, they appeared to be right. At every turn something enticing beckoned: hot sesame chicken flecked with red pepper and coated in a sweet, glossy glaze, skewered shrimp blackened on the grill, steaks, pork ribs, baked salmon and vast swales of salad.
Sure, it’s a buffet. You can’t expect the food to be stellar. But it’s all-you-can-eat – if you don’t like something, toss it aside and try again.
Choose whatever you like. Where else can someone make a meal of French fries, lychee fruit and California rolls?
When my wife, Amanda, and I popped in on a recent Saturday night, all around us the chowing classes were whipping up their own combos.
A tiny Asian woman ahead of me shoveled her plate full of fried sesame balls and kiwi slices. A man next to her ignored everything but the crab legs. A little girl passed with a plate so tipsy with chicken nuggets and jello that it looked like a great, jiggling game of Jenga.
The buffet has four islands of steam trays, a round salad bar, and a counter that does double duty as grill and sushi bar. Take-out style Chinese dominates. The sushi bar has tuna, yellow tail and egg nigiri (pieces) and crab and spicy tuna maki (rolls). One island is entirely American. The mostly Asian kitchen staff has done to the American food what Americans have perennially done to other ethnic cuisines: reduced it to a stereotyped caricature with little nuance and lots of melted cheese. Among those representing America, were fries, pizza, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and a sad but tough looking “ultimate pot roast.” The place also serves beer, wine and Japanese sake, but we didn’t see any one in the restaurant who had ordered any. Apparently the all-you-can-drink crowd goes someplace else on a Saturday night.
I counted 103 items in the buffet from clams to Kung Pao and my wife and I vowed to try them all. We circled the trays, taking a morsel from each.
This will be fun, I thought. Then I tried the food.
Unfortunately, with all of Ultimate Buffet’s variety, there is little worth eating.
The dishes were almost uniformly disappointing. The wantons sagged in a tepid coat of grease. The crab Rangoon was cold. The shrimp was somehow both too firm and too mushy. The pork ribs were over-cooked. The oysters were under-fresh. The fries were leathery. The pizza looked like cardboard. The steak had been roughed up by too much salt and marinade. There was no discernable taste difference between the bourbon chicken and the pork with bell peppers.
It took well over an hour to complete our tasting mission. With our stacks of empty plates in front of us, we agreed that Ultimate Buffet’s Powers location is a lot like Powers itself: vast, new, full of choices, but ultimately flavorless.
But here’s the thing, the place was packed.
Families chatted at tables. Kids skipped up the aisles. The big, dim hall had all the bustle of a school lunchroom. Diners navigated the buffet with such skill that they had to be regulars. What could possibly be bringing them back?
To be fair, in four trips to the buffet line, we did find a few things we liked. The poached sole and baked salmon were both light and tasty, and only slightly overdone. The hot and sour soup was as spicy and heartening as any good takeout.
Amanda said the “safe sushi” (imitation crab roll) stood on par with the prepackaged roll at the supermarket. But we couldn’t help but wonder, if you find only four things you like at Ultimate Buffet, and you can get them done better at several other places for about the same price, why wouldn’t you?
Then I looked at the families eating around us. At a table next door, two men talked while four kids, the oldest being maybe eight years old, entertained themselves with trips to the buffet. The cost for kids to eat dinner is 70 cents multiplied by their age. A 3-year-old costs $2.10. A 7-year-old, $4.90. The kids reveled in the choices: fried shrimp, pizza, two kinds of jello, self-serve ice cream – as much as you wanted, and if you didn’t like it, the plate was whisked away.
It was nothing like the dinners out I remember as a kid. Going to a restaurant was a special occasion. To make it affordable, my parents made it clear that there would be no appetizers, no desserts, and you better not order the most expensive thing on the menu or you’d stay home the next time.
At Ultimate Buffet, that conversation never happens. Kids can eat until they fall asleep in the booth. Chances are, they’ll find something they like. A gorge-fest of fatty foods may not teach them much about nutrition, but a family night out isn’t about teaching, it’s about finding a little bit of peace and ease.
If a buffet can deliver that, it really is the ultimate.

Ultimate Buffet
Address: 3727 Bloomington St. (Powers Boulevard and North Carefree)
Prices: $6.95 for lunch. $10.99 for dinner and all day on weekends. Drinks extra.
Dave’s take: bad food and lots of it.