- Matthew Schniper
- The bison ribeye stands out for its fine execution at the Stagecoach, but it, like many plates, doesn't come cheap.
Like the cultural hodgepodge of the neighborhood it calls home, the newly revamped Stagecoach Inn confounds as much as it charms, at turns displaying taste and at other moments falling far short.
To blend a century-plus of history and rustic heritage with the slick modernity of newly sanded-and-shined wood, glossy paint and glossier local Western artworks ... and to meet tourists' expectations for meaty, please-all Colorado fare while also drawing locals ... these are no simple tasks. They're made even more difficult when you give yourself just two weeks between contract close and Day 1 service.
When taking over the Stagecoach earlier this summer, PJ's Bistro owner Paul Jakubczyk signed former Walter's Bistro chef Sean Gibbons, and a seasoned GM and former national bar trainer for Bennigan's, Bobby Vimny, on the fly. That crew made a marathon of renovating, hiring and training. The vibe sounded fun, fresh and excited.
Then around a month in, Gibbons was replaced by Bob Swain, who'd been a Stagecoach chef under the prior ownership. So if anything tastes familiar today, at least stylistically, it is.
At a recent Tuesday dinner, we begin with a lengthy wait for $12 cocktails that perform like $4 floozies. I will say this once, for many other guilty parties locally: If you are not at the skill level of a Williams & Graham bartender, someone with the skill of a Nate Windham, Luis Rodriguez or Adam Gasper, you have no business charging $12 for a cocktail. Particularly when it's a Corazón margarita purporting to feature real muddled citrus and agave — from a recipe that supposedly won Vimny a national award in 1981 — but tastes sharply boozy and mainly like sweet-and-sour mix off a soda gun. (On a second, Friday visit, our margarita performed somewhat better, though it lacked a salt rim and full glass volume. Note to tourists: If you really want a good rendition, try the Crystal Park Cantina.)
Worse, a blueberry-basil vodka "martini" exudes synthetic perfume and air-freshener aromas and drinks like a SweeTART mated with children's allergy medicine. Even the Stagecoach Gunslinger of Stranahan's, Triple Sec and cranberry, as decent as it tastes, lacks proper balance.
For food, well-seasoned and -dressed ground-bison nachos start us off just fine, as do the calamari, with Sriracha mayo and lemon-garlic aioli dips. But our vegetarian's soon left disappointed by an organic brown rice veggie burger that tastes like a broccoli-dominant, freezer-burned patty on a bun that's ice-cold in the middle. Fluffy-battered and blond-fried Rocky Mountain trout on a fish-and-chips plate lands oily and unmemorable, though with a crisp slaw and tartar sauce. A four-piece Red Bird fried chicken set sports nice basic seasoning and thick creamy mashed potatoes, but gravy in need of salt, and sad dimpled corn that looks guilty of a re-heat — at $17.95.
I mention the price because like the cocktails, several food items feel expensive and off-key for what's historically been the Stagecoach's demographic. It's a $29.95 price tag for the 10-ounce bison ribeye, although at least it's well-executed: beautifully medium-rare and served with good crisp sautéed veggies, the same good potatoes and a rich gravy this time, benefiting from a bourbon pan-deglazing. The Alamosa striped bass is also good, with a great caper and olive sauce, but it'll run you $24.95.
Throw in a pleasantly bacon-laced split pea soup cup and a spongy bread pudding with a gritty bourbon-pecan sauce that's sappy and blissful, and we're out the door, post-gratuity, for $132. For those scoring at home, it was one drink, one app, one soup, two entrées, and one dessert.
So when we stand back a minute later and reflect on the whole experience — from flavors to atmosphere to, literally, gut feeling — we feel a bit robbed by this Stagecoach ride, and by our prior one, too, which punched out at $110 post-tip.
Jakubczyk managed a fine transition out of Manitou and into eastern Old Colorado City with the recent PJ's Bistro move and menu maneuvering — we wrote it up favorably in May. But to acquire a legacy lounge here, bring in its longtime chef, and then fail to execute largely mainstream fare priced at fine-dining levels ... well, the tourists may put up with that for now, but it's the locals who'll decide whether you'll see the far end of the trail through winter.
It's certainly not too late, just out of the gate, to turn the wagon around and reroute the journey.