Heart of Jerusalem Café
4587 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., 685-9554, heartofjerusalemcafe.com
God, I love shawarma. This one, the Heart of Jerusalem Sandwich ($7.99), was flat and folded, a layer of bright green lettuce counterpointing all the steaming grilled meat pouring from every soft bite. Though the few pickled turnips got a little lost, the raw experience of stuffing the lightly crispy pita into my mouth before its juicy chunks fell into my hand was pretty great. A smooth and balanced hummus dip ($7.99) offered delightful pieces of very crispy falafel shaped into hearts and pita triangles heavily seasoned with za'atar, followed by a piece of baklava ($1.99) that oozed honey flaked into soft bites.
One complaint, though: It was hotter than hell inside this restaurant. I don't know if the heat was emanating from the semi-open kitchen, or the dread lord Satan was sitting behind me. But either way, it was cooler outside — where it was 85 degrees. — Bryce Crawford
4 State Hwy. 105, Palmer Lake, 481-3244, bellapanini.com
Bella Panini's servers are attentive and smart. As in, we somehow ended up discussing Machiavellian principles with ours. The street-side patio is lovely, with bucolic mountain views. And the food is eclectic-gourmet good, meaning owner/chef KT Trombley, who's nearing 40 years' restaurant experience, makes virtually everything from scratch with creative touches.
Take the unique crawfish and jalapeño pizza ($8.95/9-inch), a blistery-doughed, thin-crust beauty with mild heat but Bayou charm and flavor. And the stuffed pasta roll ($13.95) plate: three thick-edged wheels bulging with chopped chicken and Denver's Paisano Sausage Co. Italian sausage, plus carrots, onions, mushrooms and spinach in a zestful sun-dried tomato pesto cream sauce. A bowl of BLT soup ($3.50) was our only miss: The lettuce and bacon chop garnish sogged and failed to elevate the somewhat one-note acidic broth. — Matthew Schniper
Rock House Ice Cream
24 State Hwy. 105, Palmer Lake, 488-6917, rockhouseicecream.com
Third-generation Palmer Lake resident and Rock House proprietor Jeannine Engel says it's not uncommon for her customers to do just what we did: plan for an ice cream stop after a main meal at another nearby restaurant (Bella Panini, in our case). Since June 1999, alongside a small menu of hot dogs, sandwiches, soups and salads, Engel has served a rotating selection of 20-plus C. Springs-made Anne & Mann's Gourmet Ice Cream flavors, some customized just for Rock House.
We went for a two-scoop waffle cone ($4.95) with cappuccino and cookies 'n cream, both expectedly satisfying. A&M's Steven Mann says that since 1986, he and his son alone have made all their flavors (more than 100) in small batches, 10 gallons at a time, hand-mixing gourmet ingredients such as chocolate-covered toffee pieces that add crunch to the coffee base of the cappuccino. No doubt, this is the good stuff. — Matthew Schniper