There are other adventurous restaurants in town. Ambli, Summit and Ephemera come to mind.
There are other consistent restaurants in town. Think The Keg, Marigold, The Margarita at Pine Creek, The Famous, Cowboy Star.
There are other restaurants that are great value, like Dos Dos, Patty Jewett, Shuga’s.
How adventurous? How about yak ragout or rabbit fricassee, a couple of highlights from The Warehouse’s new spring menu?
How consistent? The tender and juicy buffalo ribeye and the well-named Warehouse Fork and Knife Burger, along with all the other menu items, can be counted on to taste the same today as they did a few months ago.
But given the cost of dining out these days, it’s the value that really stands out for me.
I go for happy hour with my wife, and we can get a couple of Bulleit Rye Old-Fashioneds and a couple of phenomenal appetizers and get out for under $50 — with tip. An anniversary dinner with a duck confit, Icelandic cod and a couple of nice glasses of pinot, and we’re still getting out for around $100. That used to be easy to do. Not so much these days.
“We’re trying to do great food but make it approachable,” says chef-owner James Africano, joining me at the bar in his impeccable white chef’s coat, contrasting with the backward WH baseball cap. “There just aren’t enough birthdays and anniversaries.”
James is a chef’s chef. Over the years, he’s given a fortune in food for arts and other nonprofit events, and he’s taken a number of culinary awards, though he’s almost entirely self-taught.
“I learned from a bunch of old mean guys yelling at me,” he says with a laugh. “It was the early ’90s. It was a different time, when people didn’t need to be nice to one another.”
James’ school of culinary hard knocks took him from Tucson, Arizona, to Colorado Springs’ Embassy Suites, where he met his wife and co-owner, Shaundy (who handles the business end of the restaurant). From there, he briefly moved on to the warmer climes of Maui at the Grand Wailea before moving back to Colorado Springs, where he cooked at The Villa at Palmer Lake, Phantom Canyon Brewery and Pelicans.
He started working as executive chef at The Warehouse Restaurant in 1998, then went down to New Mexico to work at Ted Turner’s Vermejo Park Ranch. There he fell in love with elk, buffalo and more exotic meats.
In 2015, their friend Chef Brent Beavers called and told James and Shaundy The Warehouse had closed. The couple saw this as the opportunity of a lifetime, and so it has been.
James kept some of the former Warehouse’s menu favorites, leaned into the Colorado cuisine, with locally sourced ingredients, and lowered the prices. It was all about that sense of approachability he talks about.
James certainly lives the brand when it comes to approachability. Even as he supervises a tight kitchen, he makes time to greet most of the diners, remembering names and making real connections.
Like most restaurants, The Warehouse suffered horribly during the pandemic. COVID killed the restaurant’s lunch, probably permanently. When restaurants reopened, James hung old, restored windows between the tables for safety. Even as restrictions lifted, James kept the windows. They worked as an art installation.
But he recently had to take them down.
“We needed to fit in more tables,” he says. “The recovery has been good for us, and I’m really grateful for that.”
The Warehouse’s hours and days have remained contracted (4-10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.) But unlike many restaurants, The Warehouse continues to soldier on with its sensational happy hour.
Cocktails are $6. Wine is half off. Drafts are $2 off. And the apps and dips are half price — and these are some outstanding apps and dips.
For the spring menu, James has added nice surprises. One that I particularly love is the grilled heirloom radish and butter, a profoundly simple dish that James and Shaundy discovered in France. It’s a common dish throughout the country, often referred to as a “French breakfast,” though the French tend to eat it throughout the day as a snack.
“They do it with just the raw radishes and butter, but I didn’t think our crowd would go for that,” James says.
So he dressed it up by grilling a colorful mix of radishes and serving them with herbed butter and grilled sourdough. These veggies are crunchy and delicious.
Another stand-out on the spring menu is the sweetbread plate, which actually has nothing to do with breads, and it’s not very sweet. Definitely for the more daring diners, these lightly pan-fried organ meats (coming from the thymus) are tender, rich, succulent, delicate treats, especially when dipped in James’ zippy Dijon cream sauce.
You also must try the yak ragout (stew). James served yak years ago at The Warehouse and had become familiar with the Tibetan beasts at Ted Turner’s place. He was recently re-introduced to yak by food journalist and friend Matthew Schniper, who had him do various preparations (from steaks to burgers) to get a better sense of its flavor profile.
“It’s got a great musky flavor, more umph than beef,” James says.
That mix of the exotic and the affordable has helped The Warehouse to thrive.
Weidner Field, which opened two years ago right next door, also has had an impact, but so far it’s been minimal. James doesn’t complain about the music and soccer fans looking for sports bar food, such as jalapeno poppers or wings. But neither has he added poppers or wings to the menu.
I wonder if he’s considered morel mushroom poppers and pheasant wings? Could score big with the more high-brow of the soccer crowd. It would be adventurous, certainly consistent, and it could be a great value on the happy hour menu. That would be right up The Warehouse’s alley.