Warehouse Restaurant proprietor Chip Johnson has a certain pull in the local arts scene: Beyond the paintings lining the restaurant's walls, the building façade itself is tellingly wrapped in a Douglas Rouse mural full of Colorado Springs kin, including Indy publisher John Weiss. But it's Johnson's work combining Colorado game and local produce into something memorable, a focus for the chef since his days at the Briarhurst Manor Estate, that's left the most indelible impression.
It was at the Briarhurst that Johnson cooked with Tyler Peoples, who went on to run that kitchen, as well as the one at 2South Food + Wine Bar, but who recently returned to the fold as Warehouse chef de cuisine.
"He's the executive chef, and so he sets the tone, just like an executive would over different people he trusts," says Peoples, explaining his relationship with Johnson. "He puts his trust in myself, and my sous chef Adam Stephens; and we take care of the day-to-day, and we create specials, and we follow his tone that he sets."
With that tone in mind, the transition has brought only a modicum of change. So our meals began with warm breads and crackers, paired with olive oil and several butters. We drank water from a wine bottle; organic hot tea ($2) in pyramid sachets from Colorado's Two Leaves Tea Co.; sour-cherry lemonade ($5) featuring house cherry syrup; and an Aspen Old Fashioned ($9), made with Distillery 291's Fresh Whiskey and Tart Cherry Liqueur from Leopold Bros.
As expected, meat's on the menu in a big way, while produce from Arkansas Valley Organic Growers hums in harmony.
For instance, at lunchtime the Colorado Reuben ($15) brings together smoky, juicy corned bison, pickled cactus, red sauerkraut and a kick from the Southwestern-minded green-chili rémoulade. Some brilliant, peppery potato wedges arrive alongside, as does a cool combination of watermelon and cilantro.
A plate of somewhat overdone sea scallops ($17) combines a delicious house lemon-ricotta risotto with buttery little lardons. And the open-faced Guajillo Braised Rabbit Tamale ($13), an entrée at lunch and an appetizer at dinner, does a fresh, herbaceous thing over crispy bits of meat, masa and queso fresco.
Elsewhere, you can't knock the fat chunks of 'shrooms in the near-legendary Cream of Forest Mushroom soup ($5/cup), but our broth tasted heavily of butter and sat even heavier once consumed. Also, the gorgeous Filet Chateaubriand ($34) featured a tarragon-butter-poached quail egg over the top, but almost seemed hollow, flavor-wise, after the yolk had run its course. And the Herbed Golden Beets ($7) were especially bland.
On the other hand, a square, epically crave-able appetizer created by Stephens offers meltingly tender pork-belly ($10) with an apple-cardamom compote. And the fatty Two Way Duck ($35) brings a corned leg and thigh, with seared breast meat, over a raspberry-tarragon mostarda fairly crackling with horseradish.
All told, it's a lot of up and just a little down, with a thick vein of expertise running through it all. Though the heavy, subterranean-feeling interior comes off a little dated, and it can be hard to be noticed both coming into and going out of the restaurant, Johnson, Peoples and Stephens paint the new and noteworthy on everything else.