While reporting this week's Sam Andy story, I scheduled my day to enable a breakfast, lunch and dinner in the city best known for its gorge and its prisons.
Thankfully, I found much more in Cañon City than meals prepared with a captive audience in mind. Two popular destination spots I sampled are well-entrenched for understandable reasons, and enjoy regular support from the Springs and beyond. My third subject only recently debuted, but has done so in relative style. They're presented here in the order sampled. — Matthew Schniper
Michael's on Main
605 Main St., Cañon City, 719/276-2233
Word is, a wealthy family from Florida that spends time in Cañon City put a lot of money into this eight-month-old, two-story café/gelateria/chocolateria/art gallery. And it shows in the sharp décor.
Not all the goods are made in-house (many chocolates are Swiss), and the caffeine hails from the Springs' Spanish Peaks Coffee. But my 16-ounce cappuccino ($3) was excellently made, and the single sampling I did try from this kitchen showed basic proficiency: The misnamed Biggie ($5.95) was actually rather small, but tasty enough as pastry dough enveloping egg, sausage bits, cheddar cheese and red onion slivers. Like other stuffed-pastry options, it came with serviceable home fries that could use a Tabasco kick.
FYI: Lunch brings sandwiches, soups and salads in the $7 range, and dinner tops out at $16 for a rib eye.
Le Petit Chablis
512 Royal Gorge Blvd., Cañon City, 719/269-3333, lepetitchablis.com
LPC has 22 years' history under owner/chef and Burgundy native Daniel Petit. He and his wife Michelle also run a year-old bakery expansion next door.
If one detail sums up the tireless precision within both outfits, it's Michelle's handwriting of the full daily lunch and dinner menus on three separate dining room blackboards. She erases and rewrites it all between shifts.
I got the special: a soup du jour or salad (I subbed French onion for $2), Delice de Veau Dijonnaise and chocolate mousse for $14.95. The duck stock-based soup with a thick Swiss cheese top was simply a world-beater. The elegant and excellent Delice enveloped hearty, paté-like ground veal and pork in puff pastry next to colorful veggies and a light mustard sauce. And the mousse was spot-on, for a fancy French hat trick.
Merlinos' Belvedere Restaurant
1330 Elm Ave., Cañon City, 719/275-5558, belvedererestaurant.com
I've been overdue to try this 65-year-old Italian eatery with a rich family legacy. Handmade pastas and house-aged steaks are the draw to the dim, subterranean dining rooms, but unlimited Romaine salads with blue cheese crumbles and perfectly light Italian dressing are a great bonus next to house-baked bread.
In my visit, the pasta combination ($20) brought a trio of pork-, cheese- and spinach-stuffed ravioli, a sirloin-stuffed manicotti wedge, and a heap of cavatelli (looks like ribbed gnocchi) under a simple house spaghetti sauce (made in giant batches weekly). With shaved Romano on top, it was pleasant, but not mind-blowing. The handmade pasta was lovely, but the meats could use a touch more seasoning.
I finished with a damn good carrot cake, but even today can't believe I paid $9 for a standard-sized wedge.