DINING REVIEW: The Sunbird food as good as the redesign

by MB PARTLOW mb.partlow@gazette.com - Published: September 12, 2013 0

When people mention the Sunbird, they usually refer to the wonderful Sunday brunch and the incredible hillside views of Colorado Springs.

It's a good brunch. But since it hasn't changed much, I'm not going to talk about it.

What I am going to talk about are the changes at the Sunbird, now known as the Sunbird Mountain Grill and Tavern. A lot of effort has gone into making the Sunbird a more relaxed, family-friendly place where you can stop by for dinner or drinks on a weeknight without needing a special occasion as an excuse. The solid, elegant bones of the Sunbird are still in place. The views from the patio and from the enormous windows can't be beat. But the atmosphere is more casual now, with touches of Western decor on the walls. The servers all wear jeans and plaid shirts, and the tables are covered with butcher paper. The food is good, and this is a place that accommodates people in formal wear as easily as people in jeans.

I found mostly hits on the appetizer menu. And it's worth noting that several of the appetizers are available for half price in the lounge during Happy Hour, from 4-7 p.m. on weekdays. The bison sliders ($8) are some of the best burgers I've had. They aren't fussed over, so the buffalo meat is allowed to shine with a simple topping of lettuce, tomato and onion. Properly seared and juicy, they make a great light meal.

The spinach and artichoke dip ($9) is a nice spin on a common appetizer. The balance of vegetables to cheese is well done - not greasy or too heavy. The roasted garlic fries ($6) are good enough that you might want to take leftovers home, if you have any. Skinny and crispy with just enough garlic, they're hard to stop eating.

The fried dill pickle chips ($6) were not what I expected. I usually see these in a very light batter or coated with bread crumbs before frying. This had a thicker, more tempura-like batter, and it worked well. The pillows of golden dough were cooked through, and the mustard sauce on the side added even more zip.

The rattlesnake fritters ($10) were also not what I expected, but not in a good way. The meat is so finely minced you couldn't tell that you're eating anything besides an off-flavored piece of fried dough studded with occasional small bones. They were not tasty.

What was tasty? The bison sausage plate ($15). Two plump, juicy sausages come on a bed of cheddar smashed potatoes, topped with a garnish of sweet and tangy caramelized onions. There's a side of creamy, crunchy coleslaw, just a little on the sweet side, and grilled corn.

The grilled Cornish game hen ($15) gets an overnight bath in a marinade including rosemary and juniper berries. Two strong flavors, but the end result is a subtle zing that keeps the poultry interesting. This dish also comes with the cheddar potatoes and grilled corn, but I swapped the corn for sauteed garlic spinach. The emerald-bright greens are fresh and succulent, and the garlic is evident but not overwhelming.

I was not impressed by the chicken pot pie ($12). The puff pastry lid was light and crispy, but the gravy was too heavy on the sage and too heavy in general.

The grilled rib-eye steak (12-oz., $21) delivered on flavor and texture. Cooked to a perfect medium rare, it was topped with a knob of chili butter and served atop garlic Texas toast, which absorbs all the juices. On the side were perfect skinny fries and coleslaw.

If you want rich and gooey comfort food, look no further than the macaroni and cheese ($12). Firm cavatappi pasta is enrobed in a golden four-cheese sauce and topped with diced tomatoes. Come with a hearty appetite or plan on taking some home; it reheats very nicely for breakfast the next day.

Probably my favorite dish was the pecan-crusted red trout ($17), moist and flaky with a fresh, sweet flavor. The pecan and breadcrumb coating was suitably light, adding texture and crunch, enhancing, instead of overpowering, the delicate flavor of the fish. The trout comes with coleslaw and a grilled lemon, and my one suggestion would be to add a second side dish.

Most of the desserts are not made in-house. I hope this is something the kitchen will eventually reconsider, because a nice, homey dinner deserves a homemade dessert.

THE SUNBIRD MOUNTAIN GRILL AND TAVERN

Restaurant Character: The Sunbird Mountain Grill and Tavern has a new casual air and a Western theme. In the past you might have eaten there just for the views, but now the food makes it worth the trip.

Rating total: 4.25 out of 5 stars

Food: 4.25 out of 5 stars

Ambiance: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Service: 4 out of 5 stars

Value for the money: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Address: 230 Point of the Pines Dr. (CQ)

Contact: 598-8990; www.thesunbird.com (CQ)

Tavern hours: Tavern: 4-10 p.m., Sunday-Thursday; 3-11 p.m., Friday-Saturday. Dining room hours: 4-10 p.m. daily.

Sunday brunch: 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (CQ)

Entrees: $12-$39 (CQ)

Alcohol: Yes

Credit cards: Yes

Vegetarian options: Limited; Caesar salad ($8), Hearty Mac-n-Cheese ($12)

Wi-fi: No

What's online as of Sept. 3, 2013:

- 61 percent of 307 voters "liked it" on Urban Spoon

- 2 out of 5 stars based on 29 reviews on Yelp

- On Facebook; search "Sunbird Mountain Grill and Tavern"

- Two violations were corrected during March, 2013 inspection by the El Paso County Health Department.

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