Burritos to burrata
Following a nearly two-year run, Lucha Cantina closed its Colorado Springs location at 23 S. Tejon St. on New Year's Eve. Co-owner Chuck Holcomb says though he was making money, he's having better success in the Denver marketplace and wishes to focus efforts there, as well as on impending expansions elsewhere in the state.
Fortuitously, as Holcomb was looking to move on, chef Eric Brenner — who recently relocated from St. Louis to head Colorado Mountain Brewery's kitchen — was looking to get his foot into the downtown corridor with his own restaurant. Brenner, who's since left CMB, last operated his own place, called MOXY, in St. Louis in 2010, and has done extensive consulting elsewhere.
Turns out Holcomb, as he handed over the lease, was so enthusiastic about Brenner's concept that he's signed on as a minority investor in the project. In Brenner's words, Red Gravy (redgravyco.com, soon) will offer "upscale casual modern Italian."
Brenner, now 45, spent his first decade in the industry inside Italian kitchens. Talking up St. Louis' wide-ranging Italian eatery scene, which gets as specific as regional specialties, he says he's wanted to have a place like this since he was 18.
"We're gonna start very simple and accessible," he says, "we'll play to the crowd and start a dialogue, then grow the menu with community input."
When he says "simple," he's talking about dishes like his tomato bisque, with which he won a late-2014 episode of Guy's Grocery Games on Food Network.
"That dish only has five ingredients," he says, "but it's all about the perfect balance. And that gets back to the essence of good Italian food: quality ingredients, very few, in perfect balance."
More examples include his St. Louis-style, thin-crust pizza, best compared to a flatbread and served cut into squares. Plus a butternut squash ravioli with balsamic brown butter, sage sauce and pistachio gremolata. And a Caesar salad that substitutes calamari for croutons, which like the ravioli became popular staples at MOXY.
Brenner says he'll ramp up the downstairs bakery to make breads, pastas, pizza dough and desserts. Later, he plans to make cheeses and gluten-free goods, which he'll procure elsewhere in the interim from purveyors like Bold Organics, with whom he was formerly employed to develop gluten-free pizzas, now sold in supermarkets.
Red Gravy will also host a "really accessible" wine list, five local beer taps and classic and modern cocktails. Brenner says the decor of hardwoods, high ceilings and exposed brick need not change to feel Italian. And many staffers, some of whom date to Olive Branch, will remain, joined by a crew Brenner describes as rock-star members of a small culinary entourage that's consulted with or followed him to several gigs. (God love a loyal sous chef and GM.)
Expect Red Gravy to be open by the time you read this, following a crazy-tight transition week to enable opening on 1-6-2016.