It's easy to feel like you already know all there is to know about Giuseppe's Old Depot Restaurant. The building's been around 113 years, the restaurant for almost 40, and I bet everybody in this city has taken a visiting family member to the all-you-can-eat salad bar, or knows a friend who has.
That time has taken its toll, however. A February Colorado Springs Business Journal report detailing the transfer of proprietorship from Joann and Ed Colt (the latter of whom recently passed away) to Craig Ochs and family, quotes Concept Restaurants co-owner Luke Travins: "It was always a great place for people who liked the history of trains ... but I'm not so sure so many are into that today."
And Giuseppe's problems ran deeper, as multiple comments on the Business Journal's article reveal. Here's one Brian Steele: "The food, very frankly, and the service, is not just stale, it's awful! Consistently awful, the last six times I've been there since '07."
Arrivals and departures
Quietly, though, the Depot is changing. Out are the can openers and menus cluttered with 70-plus items; in, a sleeker-by-half, Italian-focused slate that still retains old favorites like the hot turkey sandwich ($11) and the frustratingly still-overpriced-for-what-you-get salad bar ($7 side, $11 entrée). The fake plants and Hobby Lobby-like art have been downsized; fading wall signs replaced; and, most importantly, the kitchen has a fresh set of knives and recipes, among other things, thanks to chef Brent Beavers.
And what sayeth the man behind the new regime?
"Hey, we make food from scratch."
Three months ago, Beavers, 39, best-known as leader of the now-defunct haute cuisine spot Sencha, took over a restaurant that he says had no sense of self. He says chefs would arbitrarily make sauces differently each night; there was no peeler, only a single decent knife, and, universally, "no attention to detail."
And there was certainly no item like the tender (if slightly fishy) Prince Edward Island mussels ($10), in a tomato-and-Laughing-Lab broth, covered in ground, dried prosciutto.
"Giuseppe's being there for so long, it kind of skipped about a 10-year period of evolution," Beavers says. "I think we've got a lot of catching up to do. Where other restaurants continued to evolve, Giuseppe's just stayed stagnant."
Evolution means firsts, like the sauce on the tangy, lightly charred chicken Marsala ($15): The combination of Marsala wine, chicken stock, mushrooms, garlic and cream finished in butter, is, according to Beavers, the first fresh, in-pan sauce the restaurant has seen in years.
"Before, there were recipes, but sometimes they couldn't find them, they couldn't use them, or they wouldn't use them," the chef says. "Now, I've changed all of them."
Equally new are the richly spicy flavors of Denver's Polidori Sausage, which has replaced the pre-cooked casings that previously graced the grilled sausage pasta ($13). Also benefiting from a Venetucci Farms-basil pesto, Parmesan cheese and cashews (instead of pine nuts), the dish is pleasantly thick with earthy flavor.
Beavers is just launching his self-described three-year plan, and is already brimming with ideas from literary dinners (book-inspired dinner theater) to chef's tables. Many of his ideas link to the concept of becoming "part of the local conversation."
One way to do that is to change where the food comes from. He's sourcing goods from local farms like Venetucci, as well as potatoes from the San Luis Valley and meat from Ranch Foods Direct. Its beef makes an appearance in the Italian cheese steak sandwich ($13): roasted shaved top round, accompanied by melted cheese, peppers and sun-dried tomatoes inside a thick, squat French roll. The buttery ribeye steak ($23) celebrates simplicity itself with its roasted garlic and sprigs of rosemary on top.
Similarly tasty are the lightly sweet Margherita calzone ($11) in a fresh, doughy pocket, and the huge triangular hunks of peach stromboli ($6), bearing the same dough, rolled in cinnamon and brown sugar, packed with sliced peaches, and fried. Other desserts, like the wobbly tower of blackberry buttermilk panna cotta ($5), and super-creamy vanilla gelato ($4) are terrific as well.
But while beginnings are great, there's still that slog to the end. In early 2011, Beavers plans to split the menu into separate lunch and dinner sections, but for now massive bowls of pasta and dinner prices are the norm at any time of day. Cuisine-wise, seafood dishes like the calamari ($9) and the grilled salmon ($16) prove you can take the food out of the sea, but not always the sea out of the food. And diners are stuck with an interior that still suggests Six Feet Under meets Back to the Future Part III.
Regardless, here's how the forward-looking Beavers says he puts it to his cooks every night: "We will be one of the best restaurants in the city. And we're not there yet, but we'll get there."