Following a nearly two-year run, Lucha Cantina
will cease operations in Colorado Springs after close of business on New Year's Eve.
Co-owner Chuck Holcomb says he was making money, but he's having better success in the Denver marketplace and wants to focus his efforts
there, as well as on some impending expansions elsewhere in state.
Coming very soon to Tejon Street.
Conveniently, as he was looking to move on, former Colorado Mountain Brewery chef Eric Brenner
— a recent transplant to town who I recently interviewed here in Side Dish
— was looking to get his foot into the downtown corridor with a restaurant of his own. (Brenner last operated his own spot in St. Louis in 2010 and has done extensive consulting elsewhere since.)
Turns out Holcomb was so enthusiastic about Brenner's plans for the space that he's signed on as a minority investor in the project.
In Brenner's words, Red Gravy
will offer "upscale casual modern Italian that is fast, hot and a great value."
Brenner, now 45, says he's wanted to have a restaurant like this since he was 18. He talks up St. Louis' Italian eatery scene, which has helped inform his approach, a scene he describes as full of regional specialties, from Neapolitan and Sicilian to Norther Italian and Venetian.
He spent his first decade in the industry inside of Italian kitchens, before heading to culinary school and, eventually, opening more of a fine, allergy-friendly bistro/fusion place called MOXY.
Brenner says he's "super excited" about opening his own Italian place, finally.
"Some of the dishes I'm bringing to this menu, it's me coming back to where I started," he says, "and celebrating the food I know down to my core."
One of those dishes is actually his tomato bisque, with which he won an episode of Guy's Grocery Games
on Food Network.
"That dish only has five ingredients," he says, "but it's all about the perfect balance. And that gets back to the essence of good Italian food: quality ingredients, very few, in perfect balance. It's a diferent part of your brain you're using than when you're cooking French. French is about technique. You're going through a well documented process, handed down generation to generation. It uses more skill and understanding, and it takes a long time."
And that gets to the name Red Gravy, which, for him, evokes the idea of "a traditional family recipe" and the "Italian sensibility."
Brenner says the downstairs bakery once operated by the Olive Branch will soon ramp up again to churn out house breads, homemade pastas, pizza dough and desserts. Down the road, he may also begin making house cheeses and gluten-free goods, which he'll procure elsewhere in the interim to ensure good gluten-free options. (One purveyor he'll work with is Bold Organics
, with whom he developed a gluten-free pizza dough.)
Two other dishes from his repertoire that he's excited to share with Springs diners are his Caesar salad, which substitutes fried calamari in place of croutons, and his butternut squash ravioli with balsamic brown butter, sage sauce and pistachio gremolata.
Red Gravy will host a "really accessible" wine list, five local beer taps and traditional cocktails.
Expect it to open — and this is the crazy part — just a week after Lucha shuts down, on January 6. That's the goal, at least, says Brenner, who likes the 1-6, 2016 numerology of it all. (He jokes that he could of course push back to January 16, if truly necessary.)