If your idea of hospital food is Jell-O, unseasoned mashed potatoes and stale bread, think again. Chefs at the Castle Rock Adventist Hospital serve upscale, gourmet vittles at the sit-down, table- service Manna restaurant.
It's fine dining worth a drive to enjoy great food and a hard-to-beat westward view of the mountains. And the prices are very affordable, because the cafe is subsidized by the hospital.
The hospital chefs got my attention three years ago when I judged the chef cook-off at the Taste of Douglas County. Chef de cuisine Adam Freisem was competing with impressive presentation and flavor combinations. He has taken first place for his entrées the past two years. His boss, executive chef Daniel Skay, is an award-winning chef, too. He won a gold medal in a national competition in 2009 for hospital chefs.
For lunch one recent day, there was a wait for a table. A nonstop parade of customers picked up artisan thin, crisp-crust pizzas aromatically hot from the rock oven. For $8, you get an 8-inch Margherita with marinara, mozzarella, basil, olive oil and Cyprus sea salt. The 16-incher costs $13.
Burgers are cooked "pink" or "no pink." I went with the truffle burger special ($10), cooked pink and served on a buttery brioche.
"We use a half-pound certified Angus 80/20 blend patty from Lombardi Bros. Meat (in Denver)," Freisem said. "It's topped with baby arugula, truffle aioli and a tartufo (truffle) cheese."
It was delicious, as were the Thai sticky ribs ($10), a generous portion of thinly sliced Asian-style pork ribs dressed in a deeply anise-flavored shiny sauce. The sweetness was accented by the side of spicy som tum (green papaya salad). The dish was garnished with sliced green onions, basil and peanuts.
Soup of the moment (the daily special) was white chili with juicy chunks of chicken and diced with Pueblo green chilies ($3.50 for a large bowl).
Give the place a shot. Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Details: 2350 Meadows Blvd., Castle Rock, 1-720-455-3664, mannasbounty.com.
Here are a couple of places to sip wine in Castle Rock:
- Crush Wine Bar opened Nov. 18 at 3911 Ambrosia St. in The Meadows. Owners James and Nancie Lewis and Dann La Scala bring years of wine knowledge and culinary talent to the table. Nancie had a catering business and was a personal chef. James worked in restaurants from high school until his early 20s, The past 20 years, he's traveled the world, working for wineries from California, Australia, Italy and France. He's a certified sommelier. La Scala's 30-year restaurant career has spanned every genre of dining establishment, from quick service to fine dining.
The wine list has more than 50 wines by the glass, half-glass, quarter-glass or bottle. The menu offers unique small plates for sharing, cheese boards and an assortment of desserts.
The cozy spot is for guests who are 21 or over. Hours are 4 p.m. to close Mondays through Saturdays. Happy hour is 4 to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, with discounts on food and all full glasses of wine. For instance, a glass of prosecco was $4.50 (normally $6.50). A generous portion of cremini mushroom toast was $6 (normally $8). The mushrooms were sautéed in herbed chili-balsamic glaze and served with mascarpone cheese to spread on the toast. Details: 1-720-361-2121, crushwineandfood.com.
- Vista Vino Modern Grill, 611 Wilcox St., is a wonderful place to eat and learn about wine at mini-wine tastings and wine dinners. The January mini-class was "Introduction to the World of Sherry" presented by Bill Fleming of Vin Market Selections in Denver. He led the tasting of four Lustau sherrys. Chef Michael Glennon served substantial food pairings for each style of sherry. Glennon co-owns the eatery with his wife, Janine, also a seasoned wine expert. Cost is $25 for the mini-wine tastings.
The next wine dinner will be five courses paired with wines from Chalk Hill Winery on Feb. 27. Cost is $75 (plus tax and tip). Details: 1-303-660-2005.
Jamaican me crazy
Claudette Thompson Hutchinson, owner of Spice Island Grill, is teaming with the owner of Colorado Smokehouse Barbecue to open a pop-up outlet for her island foods at 4737 N. Academy Blvd.
"This will be a temporary pop-up for a month to test the concept," she said. "It will be Jamaican jerk meets Texas barbecue."
The wings basket ($12.99) had sold out the night of my visit, and Hutchinson was making a trip back to her 10 N. Sierra Madre St. eatery to pick up more wings. I went for sliders ($6.99 for three), one each of jerk pork, jerk chicken and barbecue brisket. They were full of flavorful meat. Call 424-7462.
Send tips about restaurant openings, closings and specials to firstname.lastname@example.org, 636-0271, Twitter: @tffoodie or Facebook Teresa Farney.