What do you do when you have out-of-state guests visiting? I take my guests to unexplored restaurants to do food reviews.
Normal people would take guests to their favorite restaurants, places where the food and service was of a known quality. I, on the other hand, frequently subject friends and relatives to the culinary peril of the unknown. Sometimes I wonder why anyone ever agrees to go out to dinner with me any more.
Our latest foray took us to the Hungry Farmer, long a Colorado Springs landmark but someplace the Indy had never reviewed. So off we trouped, four adults and four children, to plumb the depths of the barn-like building on Garden of the Gods.
The decor is country/barn, with large bales of hay stacked toward the rafters. The menu is an attempt to be farmy/folksy, and is about as subtle as a large, beefy elbow jammed into your ribs to accent the punchline of a corny joke. Read the entry for trout on the menu, and you learn that this is what the farmer eats when he neglects milking the cows and slopping the hogs to go fishing. That sort of thing. Entrancing to an eight-year-old, to be sure.
If you are trying to feed people with large appetites, however, Hungry Farmer is exactly the place to go for dinner. All dinners come with baskets of corn muffins and cinnamon rolls, all the soup you can eat, salad, potato or rice, and vegetables. The bread and soup are limitless, so you'll have to exercise restraint if you want to get all the way through your meal. And keep a sharp eye on the kids at the table, or they will have eaten three cinnamon rolls and have no room for dinner before you know it.
The muffins are very basic, and the cinnamon rolls are warm, loaded with cinnamon and not too sweet. The salads were better than I expected, a nice blend of fresh, crisp mixed greens, topped with a cherry tomato, some sprouts, mushrooms, a few rings of onion, grated carrots and not too much dressing. The salad dressings include the now-ubiquitous raspberry vinaigrette which, like most, was perfectly unmemorable. The spicy ranch dressing, on the other hand, was tasty, with a buttermilk tang and a nice spicy tingle.
The soups are quite interesting, with a different variety served every day. On our first trip, our server said the soup was vegetable cheese. Sounded good, but that wasn't what we got. Everyone at the table gets a bowl full of soup (the server thoughtfully gave the three-year-old a half-filled bowl), and then a sort of galvanized pail of soup is set on your table, so you can replenish at will. The soup we did wind up with was a thick, creamy potato soup, not bad, but a little too heavily seasoned with either sage or poultry seasoning. On another visit we got a very yummy vegetable beef soup, the key word being vegetable, not beef. This soup, too, had a very thick broth, nicely seasoned but not heavily flavored with beef.
The vegetables are a pleasure, a nice mixture of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and squash, not limp and not drowning in butter. I was especially pleased to see that vegetables were included on the kids' plates, right alongside the french fries. But the kids' burgers we ordered were difficult to eat, because the bottom buns on all three were sopping wet and disintegrating.
The entrees are varied enough so that everyone should find something to please them. If you go all the way to the back page of the menu, you'll even find salads and a quiche. The quiche, although the waitress couldn't tell us exactly what vegetables were in it, turned out to be quite good, loaded with fresh vegetables and cheese. The beef dishes are good, but don't expect miracles. The prime rib is tender and tasty, but it doesn't have that explosion of rich, beefy flavor that I expect from prime rib. The fillets in the Tournedos Oscar were of a similar quality and flavor, good but not as good as I would expect from a fillet. The fried chicken is done quite well here, with a thin, crispy coating over chicken that is tender and very moist inside. In fact, the fried chicken is one of the dishes that Hungry Farmer does best.
The trout is prepared well, but it was the skinniest trout I ever wrestled around a plate. When you order Country Fried Steak, your waitress will give you a choice between beef or chicken. You certainly won't be disappointed with the chicken, which is a boneless cut covered with a thick, creamy gravy. The gravy is great on the chicken, but was a little disappointing on the bland, slightly watery mashed potatoes. The french fries, on the other hand, are lightly battered and very crispy, not greasy.
As I said before, Hungry Farmer is a great place to take people with enormous appetites. It's not going to impress anyone with gourmet aspirations, but for just plain folks who like "normal" food, it's as good a spot as any.