Attention students: When Mom and Dad come to town from Tulsa to: a) check up on you; and b) ease their empty-nest woes by treating you to an expensive dinner, tell them you want to go to The Famous. Face it; you'll never be able to afford this upscale steakhouse with upscale prices, except for the occasional lunch, at least not until you get your MBA. Oops, I forgot, we don't like MBAs any more ...
Whatever the case, for that special occasion when someone else who can afford it is picking up the tab, downtown's newest glam destination, The Famous, is indeed a special treat.
The Famous is the love child of Springs restaurateurs Anna and Tony Leahy who founded downtown's Phantom Canyon and later opened Tony's Bar, a laid-back neighborhood pub also located in downtown Colorado Springs. Their new venture is pure swank, all the way from the shiny black grand piano sitting in the entryway to the horseshoe-shaped bar to the spacious, dark red leather booths. The dining area is slightly elevated above the bar area, and the whole place has the atmosphere of a big-city joint -- tasteful spotlighting, a little Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra crooning in the background (perhaps a little too much), glasses clinking, waiters bustling, the buzz of happy patrons chattering away.
The dinner menu focuses on basics prepared with top quality ingredients -- a few classic shrimp, crab and oyster appetizers ($8.95 $12.95); your choice of Caesar salad or an Iceberg Wedge ($4.95); Grade-A Midwestern cornfed dry-cured beef steaks, prime rib, rack of lamb, three fish dishes or a chicken dish as entrees ($22.95 $32.95) -- all a la carte. Also a la carte are the side dishes, your choice of sauted mushrooms, french fries, creamed spinach, jumbo asparagus, skinny onion rings, hash browns with onions, string green beans (all $7.95) or a baked potato ($4.95).
Are the dishes worth their hefty price tags? If you've got the dough, yes. If not, choose carefully or share. Portions are generally large. The shrimp cocktail ($10.95) features huge, jumbo shrimp, boiled and peeled, ice cold, served hanging off the lip of a martini glass filled with a good, spicy cocktail sauce. In all honesty, it's the best basic shrimp cocktail I've had outside of the Gulf Coast, worth the cost if you're really longing for fresh, well-prepared shrimp that's not breaded, fried and unrecognizable -- what you often get in these parts. The crab cakes ($10.95) are also superb -- tender, sweet, flaked crabmeat with a minimal amount of breading and just enough seasoning to be crisp and flavorful.
The Caesar salad, easily a meal when combined with an appetizer, is perfection -- again, just the classic elements, down to the sliver of anchovy tossed in, with no surprise ingredients. It's the best Caesar, short of those prepared tableside at The Broadmoor, in town.
Of the entrees, I tried the "small" (10 oz.) Filet Mignon ($22.95), prepared rare, and the Tuna Steak ($24.95), also rare. The filet came lightly charred and nicely seasoned on the outside, deep pink, juicy and silky inside. The tuna was a whopping slab of meat, tender and well prepared with a light soy-ginger sauce. On the nights I dined at The Famous, the entrees came with thin, crisp steamed green beans, and when I asked, I was served a steaming loaf of rosemary-scented bread.
Side orders can also be ordered separately, but be warned: The $7.95 price tag is in keeping with the size of the portions. I tried jumbo asparagus, as big around as a man's thumb but tender nonetheless, and received easily enough for four. (The leftovers made a grand omelette the next morning.)
Ditto the desserts. Quantity matches quality, especially if you order the classic New York Cheesecake, adorned with a bucketful of fresh berries, or the dense, rich Flourless Chocolate Cake with raspberry sauce. Share or you will die of gluttony. The Fresh Berries "Sabayon" on Italian Meringue was too sweet to suit my taste and the meringue slightly overdone -- it should be light and airy, not crisp.
Lunch is a good way to sample and become acquainted with The Famous -- prices are in keeping with any other fine dining establishments downtown, and again, the portions are enormous.
You can try the Tuna Steak or the Crabcakes in entree-size portions for $10.95, and an 8-oz. Filet Mignon will only set you back $14.95, the quality of the meat the same as at dinner.
Sandwiches are huge and come with a side of fries, potato salad, cole slaw or pasta salad. The Open Faced Prime Rib Sandwich ($8.95) comes on a thick slab of grilled Texas toast and the mountain of rare, thinly sliced meat is flawless -- not a hint of gristle or fat.
My favorite lunch item is the Steak Salad ($9.95) -- The Famous' superb Caesar Salad topped with a sliced, 7-oz. New York strip steak cooked to your specification. The result is substantial but not overly filling, the meat warm and juicy and the salad crisp and pungently seasoned.
I especially like the piano end of the bar at The Famous on nights when the music is live -- a little Gershwin, a little schmaltzy Roger Williams, a little Bunny Berrigan on the grand piano. Stools are placed around the piano, and one night I watched a bar patron go back and forth from the bar to the piano as the night waned, enjoying a long dinner, a couple of drinks and the unusually mellow live music. Good atmosphere and good eats; it's well worth a visit.