Much has changed since Matt and Ethel Shirola and Evelyn Ellis whipped up the first fried chicken dinner at Juniper Valley Ranch Restaurant in 1951. But the rustic red-mud restaurant continues to serve the very same home-style menu as it did generations ago—including baked ham and the fried chicken lauded by reporters from The Gazette as "crisp and indulgent". Meals are accompanied by home-style sides—including okra casserole, riced potatoes, gravy and housemade biscuits with apple butter—and followed by a sweet finish of homemade deserts and ice cream sundaes.
Today, the cheerful eatery is run by Matt and Ethel's eldest grandson, Greg, after working its way through the generations. The dining room is bright and cozy, with soft red walls decorated with old-fashioned western artwork and antiques. Just beyond the restaurant windows lies a ranch, where the juniper and skunk brush grows.
Overhearing such words as kamikaze, sonic boom, and bomber, you might think you’re on an Air Force base instead of in a chicken restaurant. But these are the names of Wild Wings ‘N Things’ wings, slathered in 10 zesty incarnations of sauce so named for their respective abilities to send taste buds soaring. The franchise has spent the last several years cropping up across Colorado and Mississippi like hot-sauce dollops on a crisp white napkin, with its Fort Carson location serving up bone-in and boneless wings in baskets of up to 100 pieces.
As patrons lounge amid the dining room's Tabasco-red walls, chefs in the kitchen construct buffalo and teriyaki sandwiches to pair with comfort foods such as okra, fried pickles, and deep-fried recliners. After two-handing a chili-smothered slopper burger, diners can question the counter person about the weekly offerings of NFL Sunday Ticket viewable on the eatery's many flat-screen TVs.
Joseph Freyre first wandered into a kitchen more than a quarter-century ago, and since then, he hasn't quite managed to leave. He studied traditional techniques at Del Webb Culinary Institute; served a 15-year stint as maitre d' at a five-star, five-diamond hotel; and owned and operated multiple restaurants. He started Joseph's Fine Dining as a simple combination of his love for fine cuisine and the art of tableside preparation, or flambéing.
He's concocted a lot of signature creations over the years, but chief among them stands the pepper-steak flambé, marinated in mango chutney and cast ablaze in French brandy. He follows up his fiery dinners with equally flame-kissed desserts including classics such as bananas foster and cherries jubilee.
Fat Boys Pizza was born at an intersection of two dreams: to create authentic, quality Italian pies with the speed and delivery of chain restaurants. And on pizzas, the restaurant delivers: pies come topped with classics such as pepperoni or sausage. There is even a cheese pizza, the Gut Buster, that spans 28 inches and carries more than 8 pounds of flavor, feeding 10 to 15 adults or one Ninja Turtle. But pizzas aren’t all the eatery dishes out—13 hot and cold sub sandwiches present ingredients like salami, turkey, and bacon, while baked spaghetti and chicken parmesan pair up with salads and garlic bread.
The chefs at Ruffrano’s Hell’s Kitchen Pizza are sticklers for the flavor and texture of their pies, designing and honing a handful of meticulously crafted specialty recipes. The Hellfire sets taste buds aflame with the spicy flavors of locally made italian sausage and cherry peppers, and the Four Cheese White soothes palates with a blend of ricotta, mozzarella, provolone, and parmesan. Of course, diners can get in on the culinary arts and crafts, putting together their own creations. Alongside traditional toppings such as pepperoni and olives, the restaurant offer three styles of peppers and sausage available in hot, sweet, and garlicky varieties. Customers can further customize their dinners with a gluten-free crust or by opting for a deep-dish pizza, which slow-rises for over an hour, baking into a soft yet crispy blend of cheese, sauce, and crust.
To augment their pizza menu, chefs wrap up a slate of fixings in flaky calzones or toss salads with a choice of dressings. They also put their hand to traditional italian desserts such as cannoli, cheesecake, or cinnamon knots. Staff can artfully display their pies and plates on the restaurant’s tables or package them up for pickup or free delivery.
Situated at the foothills of Pikes Peak, in a 19th-century hotel, the Mona Lisa Fondue Restaurant is primed for romance. The restaurant's past life as a hotel means that tables scatter throughout various rooms and levels, giving diners the space to entertain private conversations and practice lighting candles with their mind. Meals might unfold in The Veranda, for instance, where mottled walls, green ivy, and a decorative streetlamp recall a Venetian street. The Wine Cellar, meanwhile, lines its walls with hundreds of bottles that encompass more than 80 varietals stretching back to the early 1900s. With such ambiance, it's no wonder Mona Lisa was selected as one of Colorado Springs Independent's Best Fine Dining restaurants in 2012.
Of course, the centerpiece of the Mona Lisa's romance is the food. The signature four-course fondue meal for two brings couples together with shareable pots of melted "Old World," "New World" or "South of the Border" cheeses before breaking into heartier offerings. Duos can dip tiger shrimp, flatiron filet, chicken breast, or even game meats such as mallard duck or Rocky Mountain Elk into six gourmet sauces. And like the best dreams, the interactive dinners end in a pot of warm chocolate fondue, ready to coat cakes and fruit.
Heart of Jerusalem Cafe, a Dining Guide winner, embodies its name from its menu of authentic Middle Eastern cuisine to its decor. Inside the rustic dining room, palm-tree murals offer background to faux stonework and high-arched porticos. Intricately decorated glass lights dangle from the ceiling like exotic ornaments, casting a soft glow on grape leaves stuffed with seasoned rice and shish kebabs skewered with lamb and fantail shrimp. Hummus, tabbouleh, and baganooj eggplant dips spread effortlessly across slices of pita chips and warm flatbread fresh from the oven. Diners may also retreat to the outdoor patio for an authentic Greek dessert, such as a slice of baklava, or to remind themselves that they are, in fact, still in the United States.