Places: Craftwood Inn – Manitou Springs, Colorado

Apple Cherry Wild Boar Spare Ribs

One of my favorite things to do on a cold weather trip is to find a cozy place to dine at the end of the day. Hearty local cuisine is a must. A crackling fireplace is a big plus. On a snowy trip to Colorado I was fortunate to have dinner with friends and family at just such a place.

Craftwood Inn is located at the base of Pikes Peak in the lovely artisan community of Manitou Springs. Built in 1912, the Tudor mansion blends into the wooded surroundings beautifully. The landscaping is reminiscent of the English countryside.

Craftwood can accommodate plenty of people, but it is broken up into smaller dining rooms, making the atmosphere warm and intimate. We had a large party, and were seated upstairs in the Pikes Peak room. The focal point of the room (at least until the food started arriving) was a stone fireplace.

Craftwood’s focus is on Colorado cuisine with an emphasis on game. We found wild boar, elk, antelope, red deer and quail. Juicy steaks are also on the menu, along with striped bass, scallops and calamari. Craftwood also has vegetarian options that are much more than an afterthought.

From start to finish the menu was filled with beautiful, delicious food. I am a big fan of pork belly, and Craftwood didn’t disappoint. A square of perfectly braised pork belly was served atop savory rosemary French toast. Sweet and tart apple compote proved the perfect foil to the rich pork.

Wild boar spare ribs with an apple cherry barbecue sauce were exceedingly tender. A chilled sweet potato and black eyed pea served alongside got crunch from celery. Or try squares of fried macaroni and cheese (crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside). Soups and salads also make good starters. And Craftwood offers a handful of the entrees as small plates to have as an appetizer course, a big help when you are torn between entrees.

Choosing an entree is a difficult task. Peppered red deer was buttery tender, yet filled with flavor. Elk steak was adorned by a red wine sauce and a crisp yucca chip. Striped Durango bass was succulent with a walnut-fennel crust encasing the moist fish. Tangerine-cranberry chutney added spark to the delicate dish.

Vegetarian options included sweet potato and ale soup with kale pesto, Gruyere and leek bread pudding, and spinach, mushroom and sweet corn manicotti. There are also beautifully composed salads such as the spinach with blackberries, Brie, pears, hazelnuts and fried leeks.

Desserts are all house made. For chocolate lovers the bittersweet chocolate mousse is the way to go. The plate comes adorned with salted peanuts, a bruleed banana and a vanilla tuile. All are lovely additions, but the star of the show is the rich yet light mousse.

Another excellent dessert is the Basil Berry Upside Down Cake. It is the perfect dessert for those who prefer desserts that are lightly sweet. The Meyer lemon creme fraiche topped with slivers of crystallized Meyer lemon peel provided textural contrast in the form of moisture and crunch.

Craftwood has an excellent wine list. The wine by the glass program has plenty of options, making it easy to have a different wine pairing with each course. Wines by the bottle start at $28 and reach into the hundreds. Among the more special bottles are Duckhorn Merlot, Paul Hobbs, Beckstofer Tokalon Vineyards, and L’Ecole No. 41 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet. The 2003 Gigondas paired beautifully with the red deer.

Service at Craftwood was exemplary. Our server was knowledgeable about the food and wine, and did a remarkable job with our table of 11. His attentiveness added to the warmth of the atmosphere. With a crackling fire in the hearth, the sound of happy conversation, and the clinking of glasses as toasts were made, Craftwood provided the perfect cozy respite from the cold.

Craftwood Inn, 404 El Paso Boulevard, Manitou Springs, Colorado. Telephone, 719-685-9000.

To read more of what and where I am eating and drinking, follow me on Twitter @colleensachs.

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