Vegan Eats in Colorado Springs

If you’ve been reading this vegan column for as long as I’ve been writing it – more than three years – then you know that a good number of restaurants around town offer clearly marked, ready-to-serve plant-sourced options. But many restaurants don’t seem terribly vegan-friendly. And sometimes we end up at one of those because we’re meeting friends, family or colleagues for meals. So I’m sharing three strategies to sleuth your way to a delicious plant-based meal.

Tip 1: Review menus online

Whenever I’m invited to a restaurant where I’ve never dined, I look for the menu on their website or a Facebook page. I did that recently for a meal at The Famous and saw plenty of ways to get around the meat and fish for lunch at the steak house. Two of us opted to split two vegetable-forward options.

The grilled veggie sandwich ($13) is nearly vegan; just hold the cheese. Served on house-made rye and onion bread, the massive portion has smoky asparagus, peppers, mushroom cap and summer squash served with a fresh avocado half. The soft warm bread, creamy avocado and aromatic vegetables are exquisite. The Sesame Chicken Salad ($16) without the chicken is equally massive, as they increased the vegetables. Bright and colorful crunchy cashews, carrots, lettuce and cabbage are served over soba noodles with a serious kick of heat. This high-end salad and sandwich are worth every penny.

Tip 2: Talk to the chef or kitchen manager

When friends invited me to Hacienda Colorado, I figured eating vegan would be a sure thing. Beans, tortillas and rice are my kind of meal. But when I asked the server to confirm that the rice and beans were vegan, he came out with kitchen manager Robert Glerup. All of the beans are made with animal products, and even the tortillas (yep, hard, soft and the chips) are made with lard.

Glerup chatted with us and came up with an excellent suggestion. Celery or carrots are almost always in the kitchen, so we opted for celery sticks to dip in the salsa. He suggested the portobello fajitas ($15.99) in lettuce boats, and those sizzling plates of mushrooms and vegetables – with sweet carmelized onions – were meaty on their own. Served with a side of seasoned vegan rice, they made a hearty meal.

Tip 3: Follow restaurants and vegan and vegetarian groups online

My Facebook feed is filled with announcements from local restaurants about their special of the day or upcoming events. Sure, much of the food isn’t vegan. But now and then, something surprising pops up.

Last month, the Colorado Springs Vegan Events group hosted a "vegan restaurant week." I learned that the Golden Bee at The Broadmoor, one of the participating restaurants, had added a Monday night special. In honor of Meatless Monday, the chef creates the 100 percent plant-based Broadmoor Farms Buddha Bowl ($17).

In the vegan world, Buddha bowls (or hippie bowls) are commonplace. Fill a bowl with beans, greens and grains. The Golden Bee’s version is anything but conventional. A protein bomb with tofu, chickpeas, lentils, edamame and even quinoa (serving as a protein and seed/grain), it’s not as overwhelming as I assumed it would be. That’s likely because it’s served in a light, umami-rich broth over roasted sweet potatoes and steamed vegetables and cabbage. This is the dish that just might make your non-vegan dining companion covet your order and rethink his aversion to vegetable-forward dining.

If eating vegan or plant-based is new to you, it can feel a bit overwhelming when dining out. But remember, all it takes is a quick scan of an online menu, a conversation with a friendly kitchen manager or following some of your favorite restaurants on social media to discover that delicious, plant-inspired menu items are there for the ordering – even at restaurants that don’t seem vegan-friendly. And speaking of that, don’t miss Phantom Canyon’s Vegan Beer Dinner on Jan. 12. Check out their Facebook page for all the details.

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Colorado Springs Craft Distilleries

If you’re hunkering down at home this New Year’s Eve, create your own party by getting a little crafty with craft cocktails from craft spirits made by Colorado Springs-area distilleries.

Four local distillers – Black Bear Distillery, Distillery 291, Lee Spirits and Axe and The Oak Distillery – gave the lowdown on their craft.

Black Bear Distillery

10375 Ute Pass Ave., Green Mountain Falls

"When you look at cocktail history in old books, it’s evident that the bartenders who crafted these drinks understood the value of quality spirits, fresh juices and good ice," says Victor Matthews, who transformed his Black Bear Restaurant into a distillery in 2013. "You make everything from scratch. the spirit, sweet vermouth, bitters, infusions, good ice, and squeeze fresh juices."This sounds daunting and scary, but it isn’t."

Dedicated to using non-GMO ingredients from small Colorado farms, Matthews said, he gets his corn from the Ute Mountain Tribe in Towaoc and his grains and honey from the Arkansas Valley Organic Growers Coop. The result is award-winning spirits, which you can find at most local liquor stores, including Coaltrain Fine Wine Craft Beer Spirits, Veterans Wine and Liquor and Powers Liquor Mart. His labels include Black Bear Irish Style Whiskey, Black Bear Distillery Mountainshine, Black Bear Distillery Reserve Shine, Black Bear Distillery Rum and Black Bear Distillery Vodka.

While he’s all for making everything from scratch, he also recommends some store-bought ingredients to use in his "Celebration in the City: The Ultimate Manhattan" recipe that follows. And if you want to craft your own sweet red vermouth, you’ll need a half bottle of red wine and a clear spirit such as vodka, Everclear or gin.

Where to find the New Year’s Eve parties around Colorado Springs.

"Of course, we recommend the Mountainshine from Black Bear," he said.

Then you need to assemble some herbs and spices, such as orange zest, lavender, cardamom, thyme, black pepper and star anise.

"I sometimes put in some fresh ginger and cinnamon as well," he said.

Pour the wine into a stainless steel pot, add herbs, cover and simmer for five minutes. Add 1 cup of sugar to mix and dissolve fully. Let the mixture sit at room temperature about two hours or until cool. Filter into a clean, empty wine bottle and fill with clear liquor to fortify. Shake and cork.

"You now have homemade sweet red vermouth," he said. "Keeps in the fridge indefinitely."

Free tours and tastings for four or more by appointment. Details: 684-9648,

Distillery 291

1647 S. Tejon St.

Former New York fashion and advertising photographer Michael Myers moved to Colorado Springs in 2004. After researching how to make whiskey, he set to work. But first he created a unique still. With the help of Colorado Springs craftspeople, he had his still welded and formed out of copper photogravure plates that he had used to print photography for an art show in 2001, shortly after 911. Some of those etchings face inward to add character to the spirits during distillation; others face outward so images can be enjoyed.

He fired up his first run on the still in September 2011 and now produces five whiskeys and one liqueur. He has earned national and international recognition for his spirits’ unique character and flavor, earning bushels of awards.

You can book one-hour tours of the distillery for $20 on Saturdays. Details: 323-8010,

Axe and the Oak Distillery

1604 S. Cascade Ave., in the Ivywild School

Distiller Jason Jackson and partners Casey Ross, Eric Baldini, Sky Young and Scott White are making aged bourbon that is carefully blended and bottled. The corn and rye come from Ravencamp Farms in Hugo. They distill slow and low to keep the maximum flavor in the whiskey. Right from the get-go, their spirits have taken top honors in competitions.

While the distillery is at 4665 Town Center Drive, the tasting room and bar are at the Ivywild School, open 5 to 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Details: 651-2737,

Lee Spirits

110 E. Boulder St.

Cousins Ian and Nick Lee opened Lee Spirits in 2013.

"My cousin and I discovered that no one was making pre-Prohibition American dry gin, the gin that was commonly used in cocktails before Prohibition," Ian said. "We both love cocktails, so when we discovered that we couldn’t make classic cocktails correctly with the ingredients at our disposal, we decided to make the gin that we were missing."

Their gin is getting noticed in part by the way it’s distilled.

"What sets our gin apart from others is that we do a distillation technique called single shot," said Ian. "This is the technique Americans used to create gin prior to 1920."

How good is the gin?

"The award that put us on the map in a big way was us tying Hendrick’s in the gin category at the New York International Competition in 2015," he said. "Nearly all of our products have won awards at a handful of different major competitions."

Their gin lineup: dry gin, lavender gin, strawberry ginger gin and ginfuego (infused with peppers and spices). Liqueurs include forbidden fruit, creme de rose, creme de violette, creme de cocoa and alpine liqueur.

Their speakeasy tasting room, Brooklyn’s on Boulder, is open from 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays, and 5 p.m. to midnight Thursdays through Saturdays. Visit

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Colorado Springs Hospital Launches Ornish Lifestyle Medicine for Fighting Heart Disease

Anyone who has had heart disease or survived a heart attack knows the importance of making lifestyle changes to improve their health and prevent a recurrence. That’s where the Penrose-St. Francis Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program can be a game changer. It’s reportedly the first and only program scientifically proven to slow, stop and even reverse the progression of heart disease.

The Penrose-St. Francis Heart and Vascular Center has one of only two such programs in southern Colorado; the other is at South Denver Cardiology Associates, A Centura Health Clinic.

Every week for nine weeks, participants attend two four-hour sessions "focused on bringing about sustainable lifestyle changes in four areas: personal nutrition, exercise, love and support, and stress management," says nurse Robyn Stein, director of heart and vascular care with Centura Health, which offers the program at Penrose-St. Francis.

The small, consistent groups of participants share the goal of reversing their heart disease and improving their well-being. They’re led by an unchanging team of clinicians – a specially certified heart health team of physicians, nurses, dietitians, stress management specialists, exercise professionals and an executive chef.

The hospital launched its pilot program last July with six patients. It’s had 40 patients since. At least two of them had only rave reviews for the program.

"When I had my first heart attack in 2011, they put a stent in and told me my arteries had a lot of buildup clogging them. The doctor told me to exercise and diet," said George "Matt" Walker. "When I had the second episode in 2017, the doctor recommended that I attend this new heart health program."

Over the nine weeks, the 72-year-old lost 20 pounds and lowered his LDL, the bad artery-clogging cholesterol.

"When I started the program, my LDL cholesterol was 140," he said. "At the end of the program, it had dropped to 55, which was a shock."

His plant-based diet was responsible. Jodi Woodruff, the program’s executive chef, fed participants a plant-based meal after each session. Woodruff, classically trained in French cuisine, had to nix the eggs, dairy and heavy fats she typically used and focused on nutritious meals that patients could prepare at home quickly and easily.

Walker, who grew up in South Carolina enjoying fried chicken and bacon, said he has "gotten used to the veggies" and enjoys them.

"I cut out the fat and use just a little bit of canola oil when cooking," he said. "If I splurge and eat out, I get a salad and small beef fillet. By the time I finish the salad, I’m already full. I end up with enough food to take home for a second meal."

He also joined a gym to maintain his daily exercise and does the program’s other elements.

"During the nine weeks, they taught us the whole nine yards – managing stress, how to relax, eat better and importance of exercise," he said. "I’m going to stick with it."

Diann Tomar sang the same praises. At 74, she had a heart catheterization in 2017 for pulmonary hypertension.

"During the process, they found six blockages and were unable to stent any of them," she said. "They couldn’t do bypass surgery either."

The Ornish program was recommended, and after nine weeks, her cholesterol and triglycerides were down.

"I lost 40 pounds," she said. "I feel stronger than I ever have and have more energy. I loved the program."

She gave high marks and shout-outs to the team of professionals:

– Dr. Robert Cadigan is the program medical director and oversees all aspects of the patient’s progress, providing on-site supervision during all of the sessions at The Lane Center.

– Melanie Faulkender, a registered nurse and program coordinator, "was a great cheerleader and watched my health like a hawk."

– Kelsey Loy, an exercise physiologist, M.S., RCEP, "taught us core and stability exercise routines."

– Tricia Mooney, a stress management specialist, B.S., RYT-500, "enlightened me to yoga, which was new to me, but now I’m sold on its health values."

– Jodi Woodruff, executive chef, taught them "the Ornish way of eating and cooking."

– Jenifer Fournier, registered dietitian: "Thanks to her nutrition classes, I now read (food) labels and watch out for fat and sugar content," Tomar said. "I do not count calories. I eat no fish, fowl, beef or pork."

"I found most of the recipes very good," Tomar said. "My favorite was the Ornish southwestern black bean burgers. I also liked the date and cocoa truffles and holiday nog."

Stein said Penrose sees about 1,000 cardiac rehabilitation patients a year, and they’ve seen a big difference between this program and the traditional cardiac rehab program that most hospitals provide.

"On our traditional program, a patient might have a2-pound weight loss," Stein said. "Now we’re seeing an average weight loss of 10 pounds. But the big difference is in waist and hip measurements. This is the problematic area of weight gain and a predictor of heart disease. Also there’s improved lack of depression, which is evidenced by depression score improvement by 50 percent from start to finish of the program."

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