Devil's Food Bakery & Cookery
1020 S. Gaylord St., Denver, 303/733-7448, devilsfooddenver.com
It's a coffeehouse up front, pulling and dripping Novo products (the darling beans of so many C-Springs houses); aroma-hearty cups are $2.25 and bottomless says our receipt, though we were never offered refills. In back, vintage kitchen decor adorns a warm tungsten-lit, burgundy-walled dining room; we're told veggies hail from a nearby urban garden.
And though nicely bound quinoa cakes ($12) please with alluring elements like lemon mascarpone and ginger squash sauce, plus pepita and Pecorino Romano garnish, it's our pork belly slab ($10) that effortlessly impresses — like, a lot — with two gooey-centered, char-edged cuts plated alongside peppery arugula, a flan-soft polenta cake, crumbled goat cheese and restrained smoked-tomato butter. From the house pastry case, a zesty lemon tart ($4.25) bests an overpriced, dry-ish, gluten-free chocolate mocha muffin ($5). — Matthew Schniper
Pour House Coffee Roasters
202 W. Main St., Florence, 719/784-4071, florencecoffeemerchants.org
I first met 32-year-old Pour House proprietor/roaster Kenneth Paul during Colorado Springs Craft Week in May. Having taken over the 18-year-old business three years ago with his wife Miriam, he'd lugged his sightly San Francisco drum roaster (built by an Amish community out of Nevada) to Pikes Peak Brewing Co. "It's built to roast manually, so the art is in the hands of the person roasting, 100 percent," he says.
In Florence, that art evolves with quality ingredients like Ghanaian single-origin dark chocolate sauce from GoodDrinks, which joins 2 ounces of espresso and milk in our iced mocha ($3.50/12 ounces) — basically gourmet chocolate milk in a jar. The Cortado ($2.60/6 ounces), by contrast, exudes the rich, smooth coffee notes of a Peruvian Swiss water decaf bean. It's 2 ounces of espresso and 4 ounces of steamed milk, with a pretty latte-art tulip completing the elegance. — Matthew Schniper
633-8881, 405 N. Union Blvd., icheeban.com
At Icheeban last year, fresh plates with interesting accents such as cinnamon in the stir-fry caught my attention as much as the cute décor. It was a wok apart, but a recent visit showed only broken dishes.
After an unusually long wait at lunch, the karaage (Japanese fried chicken) and tempura sweet potato chips ($3.99) arrives with a piquant wasabi mayo but over-fried bird. The sweet ginger chicken ($6.99) with rice noodles, by contrast, is unappetizingly mushy (no crunch left in its veggies) and coated in a thick, Chinese-like sauce. Spicy ramen ($5) boasts ample black pepper and chili sting in a homemade chicken broth, but the noodles are too much like the dorm-room stuff, and we could have done with an egg not cooked through (runny yolk is everything!), and without the dime-sized shell piece we crunched through. The green tea smoothie ($4) was more of a bland slushy. — Matthew Schniper