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Pies, pints and potential

Creekside Cuisine anchors Manitou's Spa Building with brew and pizza


If you're at all concerned about Rocky Mountain Oysters pounded flat, consider how the bull feels. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • If you're at all concerned about Rocky Mountain Oysters pounded flat, consider how the bull feels.

Borriello Brothers pizza is bully and Red Leg beer is mighty. So when you add a seasoned banquet chef and veteran GM to a well-financed mix, plus a killer location, you have to wonder what could go wrong.

But not for too long, because the Manitou Springs flooding last week reminded us of the far more destructive flooding nearly two years ago to the day, which compelled Adam's Mountain Café to abandon the aforementioned location for higher ground.

This go-round, at least Manitou Spa Building owner Chuck Murphy's defensive upgrades, like a thick stone wall with four scuppers separating patio from creek, kept water almost entirely out of Creekside Cuisine's dining room. Still, 6 inches of mud had to be removed from the patio and the Spa Building's atrium took on a mess, too, combining to close Creekside down for the remainder of the day.

Looming natural disasters aside, the better news is that not too much else really is wrong with this team-up, which boasts strong collective experience from diverse backgrounds. And a beautifully presented menu should satisfy tourist and local alike.

Take, for instance, not-too-distant plans for pizza delivery to the area, then beer growler service next year. Or more immediately, added music performances on weekend nights, plus a Sunday jazz brunch beginning Labor Day.

But mainly, consider the good food and quality beer.

A quick who's who: Bill Stein represents the Borriello interest, as co-owner of that eight-store regional empire. He's effectively adding a scaled-down ninth here, where only the 13 most popular pies appear alongside build-your-own and a couple by-the-slice options.

Colorado Mountain Brewery's Dick Koons (Stein's partner at Fort Carson's The Hub) acts in an investing role with one other silent party, though CMB is not Creekside's beer bro. It's an exclusive partnership with Red Leg instead, around which chef David Terrell — who spent eight years between the Hotel Eleganté and former Crowne Plaza — designed brew-friendly pairings and also many recipes incorporating beer directly. Deftly running the front house, general manager Tina Cowley hails from large-scale food-and-beverage management in Atlanta; her husband's a chef currently working at The Broadmoor.

To the food, Terrell not only factored in, say, the floral bitterness of Red Leg's Pinyon Pine IPA, or the faint fruitiness of its Strong Kolsch (each exclusive to Creekside), but also Colorado and Italian pantries as he wrote the menu. His central concern was Creekside's kitchen, which is small — as in, make-a-line-cook-gulp, stupid small. As small as that one closet in your house that you can't even cram all the winter coats into. But with hot and sharp things.

"It came down to a game of inches," says Terrell. "If you don't have efficiency, everything downhill suffers. You cross-utilize what you can."

And regarding sourcing local where possible and deciding what to make in-house and what to buy, he says, "I tell all the chefs I've trained, 'Always pick and choose your battles.' You pay for it on the labor side or the product side. What is this place telling me I can get away with, from a prep to storage to time to labor standpoint?"

It turns out, quite a bit, in this case. One example, honey-jalapeño super slaw — bought and neither very sweet nor hot, but plenty wet and crunchy and surprisingly containing Brussels sprouts — appears with everything from fish and chips to crispy, breaded, pounded-flat Rocky Mountain Oysters, which are, as always, slightly intimidating, but unnecessarily so, as compared to the lion's share of other organ meats.

Colorado lamb finds its way into both a cavatappi pasta Bolognese we didn't try and the sliders we did, gone mostly Mediterranean with feta, veggie trimmings and a house caramelized onion-balsamic jam (which we could have used more of to offset dryness from the past-medium patties). Colorado smoked trout bolsters a salad we didn't try and the trio of cold double-layer street tacos we did, garnished again in that slaw, but also pico and lime wedges for overall freshness — the acidity cutting through the cream and fire-flavored fat.

Even pizza toppings are stretched, like salami that joins the classic pork, ham and pickles on a Cuban, otherwise twisted with Provolone instead of Swiss, plus IPA-infused mustard on a spent-Hefeweizen-grain hoagie. You can't really taste the beer, but it's fun to know it's in there, and you can sip the real thing between bites anyway — it's great.

Also great is the Q'd Up beef and pork belly burger, dressed on a Denver-based Harvest Moon Bakery brioche bun in cheddar, the slaw, and honey-amber-beer barbecue pork rib bits. With curvaceous "sidewinder" fries, it's worth the $15, even if the salty, fatty patty's pre-formed by a big distributor and sous-vide warmed, then singed on a flattop.

For an unscrewuppable Continental Sausage jalapeño-cheddar smoked elk brat, Terrell again grabs the beer mustard and hoagie, scoring a hat trick by deglazing with Red Leg's Strong Kolsch for thyme-infused caramelized onion relish. Again hammering the brew theme, the Kolsch informs the beer-cheese sauce on the requisite nachos, which incorporate thick, hearty, organic, sog-spurning, spent-grain chips called "nachos borrachos" (drunk nachos), made by Denver's Raquelitas Tortillas.

Next to all this, the pizza actually plays second fiddle, and I'm reminded why when a slice of cheese with a requested King's Chef green chile addition bears hardly any of it, and lands gummy-soft and heavy in that New York style that lacks Neapolitan grace and nuance. But that's a preference battle for another day, and you may love NYC pie; obviously Borriello, whose proprietary dough is made off-site by a distributor, has forged a following.

Creekside's own following may grow equally on the drink side, where beyond the brews, Cowley and crew are tinkering with Manitou spring water: in lemonade that completes a Shandy and a super-sweet Manitou Martini with raspberry vodka and a sugar rim. The mineral water also ups the effervescence of smart house sangrias such as a basil or cucumber, which drink beautifully on the patio where the summer sun is buffered by wind sails and umbrellas, and the people-watching's prime.

It's in this moment that you once again feel the potential for the space, to firmly root the Spa Building with brewpub-style fare that performs so well in the marketplace. Floods be damned, or at least defused a bit — Creekside has picked a battle that feels winnable.

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