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Midtown Grill sheds Cajun dive shell for familiar fare

All-American facelift

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The Reuben features a house corned beef, big on flavor. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • The Reuben features a house corned beef, big on flavor.

Phil Duhon has been a part of the Springs culinary scene for more than 20 years, and he’s spent the last 16 running Oscar’s Oyster Bar, the Cajun dive on the corner of Tejon and Costilla Streets. But Duhon has been making some changes lately, and he’s done with running a dive. He’s renovated, rebranded and as of late April reopened the venue as the Midtown Grill.

It’s a family-friendly place now, the trash-talking signs above the bar gone the way of the largely wooden decor. The interior now feels textbook hipster modern, with a faux-brick wall bearing the spot’s logo, a waterfall wall with exposed brass pipes, and Edison bulbs contributing to brighter lighting, to list a few touches. As for the menu, diners can still get oysters, but the spot’s Cajun food has been replaced with American bar food. That’s a shame; there are plenty of catch-all American spots locally, but the market’s less crowded for Cajun.

Location Details Midtown Grill
333 S. Tejon St.
Downtown
Colorado Springs, CO
471-8070

When we visit, we’re informed the new concept has only been open for two weeks. We typically wait until a restaurant has been open for longer, as even an experienced staff needs time to dial things in. Our server’s new, not one who carried over from Oscar’s, but she’s forthcoming and a good communicator, which smooths out any rough spots in service admirably.

From the appetizer menu, we try the bone-in riblets, which come tossed in barbecue sauce and plated atop apple slaw. We encounter some inconsistencies in temperature and juiciness between the individual riblets, but we do enjoy the pleasant spicy hit from the barbecue sauce. As for the slaw, it needs more seasoning, but crunches creamy and crisp with a pleasant sweetness. We also split the entrée Mac, Chicken & Cheese as an appetizer, divided in two and plated at no extra charge. The sauce, a little thin, sits at the bottom of the bowl, but the cavatappi noodles pick it up nicely. Its flavor pops, cheesy and moderately sharp, which tastes great with the chicken — we get grilled over fried and find the protein plentiful.

The spot offers a pick-two menu of soups, salads and half-sandwiches, so we get a turkey and avocado ciabatta with French onion soup. The former’s unsauced and a little dry with burnt bacon and under-ripe avocado, though dipping it into the rich, onion-and-beef-forward broth under a slab of melty Gruyere saves it.

We find more success in the house Reuben, which bears house-boiled corned beef that we find bursts with flavor. There’s a nice balance of cheese, dressing and sauerkraut on the sandwich, but the bottom slice of marbled rye has sogged. While we’d give the kitchen time to nail that, we’d happily order the corned beef and cabbage entrée, another option.

As for drinks, the spot offers on-tap cocktails for $5 per, served in highball glasses. We try the Porch Pounder Punch, a vodka-lemon-peach-prosecco combo, sweet and sticky with artificial peach flavor, though less so than bottled wine coolers and their ilk. The Oh You Fancy, a play on a Manhattan, lands on the far end of the spectrum, made with sherry, sweet vermouth and bitters that sum to a complex, vermouth-forward drink with fortified wine notes. It’s unique, but it needs some fiddling to pop. That’s true for much of the food, too. But we see early promise, and with Duhon’s experience driving things, the spot has a good chance of coming into its own.

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