Home Cooking versus Restaurant Options in Colorado Springs

My recent food adventures have been limited to simple variations on the grains-beans-greens theme punctuated with occasional excursions into the Colorado Springs restaurant scene. While simple home-cooked meals are always satisfying, we don’t always have time for them. Too bad it is nearly impossible to get legitimate food in a restaurant!

The most satisfying meal is based on whole grains. Brown rice, quinoa, or even homemade bread are all good choices for the grain. Combined with soft, pressure-cooked, onion-and-cumin-spiked beans and simple steamed or seared greens or a sturdy orange vegetable (see my many posts on carrots and squash), grains make a fully satisfying meal.

Several restaurants in New York City (most notably Souen) serve spectacularly simple, cheap, satisfying meals of whole grains, beans and steamed vegetables. In Colorado Springs and Manitou, it is possible to get a good organic salad or a more-complicated–and not organic–approximation of grains-greens-beans, but anything more requires home cooking. Here are the places I go in a pinch:

Mountain Mama Natural Foods
This health food store is on Uintah street just West of downtown Colorado Springs. There is not an official place to sit and eat, but curbside picnics are fine in warm weather. The deli sandwiches are made on house-baked, whole grain bread (which is sweetened with honey, but otherwise vegan) and stacked with fresh, organic vegetables, including shredded carrots, sprouts, onions and avocado. The Italian-seasoned tofu sandwich, available wrapped in the produce cooler by the fruit, should be eaten with sesame blue chips and shared by two people. Whole wheat bread and blue corn provide satisfying, though ‘processed’, grain base, with fresh, organic raw vegetables a nice change from cooked greens and tofu a hearty replacement for whole beans. The sandwich is around $6, but you’ll probably spend a few more on chips, kombucha and maybe organic dark chocolate.

The Mate Factor
The Mate Factor, by Soda Springs Park in Manitou Springs, offers another variation on the raw-vegetable sandwich. Their tofu and vegetable wrap is made in a whole wheat tortilla, with lettuce, tomato, green olives, red onions and baked tofu. It comes with shredded cheese, which they are happy to omit for vegans. The vinaigrette dressing is vegan also. Who knows if this thing is organic?! It is, however, tasty and fresh. The Mate Factor also serves organic green Mate tea, hot and with re-fills. Though it doesn’t stick to your ribs like hot cooked grains-greens-beans, the tofu wrap is a good light lunch. Vegan carob-chip cookies make good dessert. The wrap is just over five dollars, with tea less than two and the cookie just under two also.

Adam’s Mountain Cafe
Adam’s, also in Manitou, is the only place I know of that serves organic, plain brown rice. Get it next to the garden salad with sesame-crusted tofu, and red lentil dal if you are extra hungry. The brown rice isn’t half as good as homemade, pressure-cooked brown rice. But, the salad is pretty amazing, with raw carrot spirals, red cabbage, cucumber slices and pea shoots and a creamy sesame-ginger dressing or a more oily lime-chipotle dressing. Adam’s is the only sit-down restaurant I believe really tries to use organic ingredients. They also offer cooked vegetable and grain dishes, such as Tibetan vegetables over brown rice with tamari, garlic and ginger. Meals get up to around fifteen dollars, or even more with added tofu, here, but the quality is dependable and worth the money.

King Chef Diner
Why am I even mentioning this place? They say the fake sausage is vegan, but I don’t believe it. Grains are limited to white-flour tortillas, or hash browns (those aren’t really a grain, they are made out of POTATOES). However, the green chile is spicy, vegan and very ‘green’. The walls will also blind you with their boldness, and the waitresses look like they just rolled out of bed after two hours of fitful, drunken half-slumber.

Rico’s/Poor Richards
This place is downtown Colorado Springs on Tejon Street. Here is the complicated and not-organic version of grains-greens-beans. Upon discovering their Seared Greens and White Beans, I became obsessed with them and ate them twice a week with corn chips on the side. They were less than five dollars, though now cost close to eight. After being hired in the kitchen and learning to make the greens and beans myself, I still consider it one of the more legitimate meals available in town, although the ingredients are not organic. The corn chips are not natural, which can be proved by simple inquiry of staff as to their ingredients. Brown rice is available, though microwaved. Elizabeth David wondered, in her English Bread and Yeast Cookery if it would be acceptable to bring one’s own bread to a restaurant. If it were, I would bring my own bread to eat with Rico’s beans and greens. Poor Richard’s offers part-whole-grain pizza crust (spelt), with hummus and a choice of vegetables (avocado pizza!).

Various Falafel Shops
The falafel shops I go to are Arabica Cafe and Taste of Jarusalem, both downtown Colorado Springs. They offer good hummus, raw vegetables, bean-flour falafel and white pita or rice. If only the grains were whole and the ingredients organic, these places would be ideal. Even so, they offer tahini sauce that provides a sesame fix, and satisfying beans in the hummus and falafel. Dolmas are wrapped in hearty green grape leaves. For less than ten dollars you can get a plateful. Arabica cafe specifies one meal as ‘vegan’ on the menu. The vegetable and falafel plates at Taste of Jarusalem are vegan as long as you don’t get the yogurt sauce (tzaziki).

El Tesoro
Located downtown Colorado Springs next to the library and Pike’s Peak Community College. Happy hour caters to students with cheap house margaritas. They offer cooked greens (spinach) in a burrito, but a better option is combining sides of the vegan pinto beans with blue-corn tortillas and fresh guacamole. Corn chips and salsa come with the table. The bean tacos, available without cheese, are filled with the same pinto beans, or black beans with lettuce and some zucchini on the side. But, they cost 8-10 dollars (lunch and dinner prices vary) plus more to add guacamole. The sides of beans and tortillas are just two dollars each, with guacamole ‘market price’ of around six dollars for a whopping bowl-ful.

La’au’s
Another taco shop, a few blocks north on Tejon Street near Colorado College. The tacos are good, with vegetables, beans, guacamole and corn or tomato salsa. The atmosphere sucks. Tacos are just a couple of dollars each. Get mini-bottles of Sol beer for the mood. Flour tortillas are made in-house, but of white flour. Corn tortillas and fried tortilla chips offer whole grain corn. The vegetables are a blend of onions, peppers, zucchinis; good but not organic.

Smiley’s
Morning oatmeal with thawed frozen blueberries. Up on Tejon Street. The oatmeal is sweetened with something like brown sugar. The best part is the pile of blueberries. Thick mugs of coffee. All the drowsy CC kids go there for breakfast at noon on the weekends. They also have homemade wheat bread, though it obviously contains a good portion of refined white flour too. For a pseudo-vegan treat, get it toasted with no butter and soak it with honey. Oatmeal, toast and coffee for two will run you about 20 dollars.

Wooglin’s Deli
Rarely go here. They do have Wimburger’s sourdough rye toast and beany, vegan red chile. Odwalla carrot juice in the drinks case stands in for a vegetable. Chile, toast and carrot juice should be less than ten dollars. There are booths to lurk in and vats of hot coffee, too. Located a few doors up from Couture’s laundrette up on Tejon Street. Carrot juice while you wash your clothes? Then you will have a fantastic tan to go with all your favorite shirts!

So it is apparent the options in town are very limited when it comes to getting a balanced meal. The best choice is to cook food yourself, with fresh organic produce, dried beans and whole grains. But an occasional trip out to one of these places will provide entertainment and a reminder of just how good home cooking is.

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One response to “Home Cooking versus Restaurant Options in Colorado Springs

  1. Enjoyed all your comments about the local restaurant scene—Glad to say I have tried most, but not all , of these places myself, and agree with your opinions. Now I am going to sit down to a concoction of left over garbanzo beans, brown rice, slices of polenta, and fire-roasted diced tomatoes—how’s that for home cooked grains???

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