Johnny's Navajo Hogan is as distinct as an Indian head nickel but fortunately not as rare in Colorado Springs.
The neon Indian head sign above the shingled roof is eye-catching, but it belies the high-quality food, exceptional service and architectural features (wood conical ceilings) inside this popular restaurant/bar.
The Hogan is large. Even with a stage for live music on weekends, it has plenty of tables and booths - and a staff sufficient to handle the crowd.
The Hogan, part of Johnny Nolan's restaurant ensemble, offers more than the anticipated burgers, sandwiches and salads. The menu has plenty of these options, but I was surprised by the many references to house-made items, from salad dressings to cheesecake, Indian fry bread to soup, mashed potatoes to green chili. Several brick-oven pizza options are available, including by the slice ($3).
We started with beer and caprese bruschetta ($7.95). We sampled only a few of the 20 brews on tap, but besides the variety, I appreciated that they're served refreshingly cold. The appetizer featured fresh basil, tomatoes and mozzarella with a balsamic drizzle on lightly toasted French bread, which was sliced too thick. This made for awkward eating, but it was worth the effort.
We tried several entrees, including the salmon salad ($10.95), prime rib sliders ($9.95), fish and chips ($8.95) and broasted chicken ($10.95). Nothing was weaker, less tasty or otherwise inferior to the other. All were well-prepared, highlighted the main ingredients and were filling. Plus, the prices were reasonable, especially considering the quality.
Broasting is a method of deep-frying that, when done correctly, results in a crunchy exterior and juicy meat with no greasy residue. The Hogan gets it right. The chicken can be ordered with all-white, all-dark or a combination. I went with the mashed potatoes as a side because they're made in-house, and they're the perfect companion to chicken. The gravy was not a favorite, and next time I'll know to be satisfied with bare spuds. The possibilities for other sides are coleslaw, side salad, tater tots, baked beans and fries. The salads are standard issue, but the dressings elevate them.
The salmon salad highlights a well-grilled piece of fish on a bed of lettuces with cucumbers and feta cheese crumbles. The strawberry vinaigrette was a balance of sweet and savory. It didn't overpower the flavors of the flaky fish or greens.
Three prime rib sliders are served on pretzel rolls with cheddar cheese sauce. The sauce texture was suggestive of something that might come out of a can, but its taste certainly wasn't. The thin slices of beef were tender in the salty rolls, which only require one hand - a benefit of sliders.
Fish and chips are commonplace, but when they're hand-battered on-site, they assume a more distinct character. When checking with our server to ensure the fish was prepared in house, she tried to avoid rolling her eyes as if to say that's all we do here. The order of fries with the dish was on the small side, but this may have been only because the pieces of crispy, thickly coated white fish were so plentiful.
Our server was impressive. She never wrote anything down, yet everything arrived as ordered. She also clued us in that the cheesecake ($5.25) is made fresh daily in-house. It's a cream-cheese rendition with just the right amount of vanilla.
Forget looking down for a lucky penny; look up on North Nevada Avenue for the neon Indian head instead. It's a great find.