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Gazette Premium Content Dining review: Manitou Springs wine bar's kitchen displays creativity

By Robin Intemann, Special to The Gazette - Updated: May 16, 2014 at 11:31 am

As expected, Swirl Wine Bar serves, well, wine. What may surprise some is the high caliber food it dishes up.

Initially, Swirl Wine Emporium sold wines and craft beer by the bottle. Soon a wine bar was added, serving drinks by the glass along with limited snacks. Ultimately, retail sales were scrapped, the name was changed and Swirl has evolved into more than a relaxing place to enjoy a favorite alcoholic beverage; it's now possible to get a good, casual meal to go with it.

As if harking back to its early days, the Marcona almonds and Greek olives remain on the menu. Thankfully there is much more - oh, so much more. All items are made fresh, so expect a wait from the time an order is placed until it is served. Swirl is not the place to grab a quick bite. It is, however, the perfect spot to linger while enjoying a meal.

The emphasis is on tapas, flatbreads and panini, with two salad options.

Flatbread is a generic term and also an accurate description. It's a thin, often square, crispy pizza. Swirl's versions highlight imaginative embellishments. The Bacon Blue Flatbread had me with its name: Bacon and blue cheese are robust, stand-alone flavors that complement each other well beyond alliteration. It was elevated by the subtle sweetness and texture of caramelized onions. The fine crust was almost too stiff, so it held up well under the weight of the tangy and smoky toppings. Other flatbread options include a margarita, a veggie with goat cheese and one with ham, tapenade, caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, pesto and cheese.

The flatbreads come with a side "goat salad" - not actual goat, of course, but goat cheese, which admittedly doesn't excite my taste buds. Beneath the chunks of cheese, though, was a mixed green salad loaded with pecans, pearl onions and grape tomatoes. The lemony vinaigrette helped diminish the lingering cheese residue. Given the size of the flatbread, though, the salad was superfluous.

The muffaletta is easy to recommend and merits ordering again. This hearty version of a hero combined three types of meat with roasted red peppers, olive tapenade, caramelized onions, aioli, Italian dressing and manchego cheese, a semihard Spanish cheese. The aioli, rich with nuances of garlic, basil and olive oil, made me wonder why anyone would settle for plain old mayo. The only fault lay in the bread. It wasn't up to the task of enveloping the filling and fell apart, making for a messy - albeit savory - dish.

The Reuben also was sampled, but despite the creativity from the kitchen, it offered no variation from the traditional composition of marbled rye, corned beef, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing. That's not to say it isn't worth ordering, because it is. It simply lacked some of the originality of the other options.

Several sandwiches tempted from the menu, including Seth's Grilled Cheese, a version of the standard - with a mix of cheddar and pepper jack cheeses, tomatoes and the house garlic basil aioli - refined to such a degree chef Seth Jaray attached his name to it. This is likely to be my choice on my next visit. Or perhaps I'll go with the Garlic Chicken Panini with that same aioli, artichoke hearts and Gruyere.

Tapas, individually or combined, could compose a feast. We chose one, the Prosciutto Wrap: prosciutto wrapped around manchego, drizzled with oil. The addition of bread to offset all the buttery elements would have delivered balance.

A few desserts also are available, including cupcakes, house-made ice cream and panna cotte. The menu also suggests wine and beer pairings for each food item.

Swirl's only real downside is the worn look and feel of the furnishings. The hard wooden chairs and barstools in the three dining areas are not conducive to those long waits for food; neither are the threadbare easy chairs. The high ceilings and dark walls foster a cold, gloomy ambiance despite some large colorful artwork.

The servers are friendly and attentive, so once the food arrives the surroundings provide character, if nothing else.

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SWIRL WINE BAR

Restaurant character: Swirl Wine Bar offers casual dining with flair. Although it's not unusual to see families, it has an intimate - if tired - setting.

Rating total: 4 out of 5 forks

Food: 4.5 out of 5 forks

Ambiance: 3 out of 5 forks

Service: 4.5 out of 5 forks

Address: 717 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs

Contact: 685-2294, swirlismybar.com

Hours: Noon-10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; noon-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Entrees: $7 to $10

Alcohol: Wide selection of domestic and imported wines, craft beers and specialty cocktails

Credit cards: Yes

Vegetarian options: Panini, flatbreads, tapas, salads

Gluten-free options: Yes

Wi-Fi: Yes

Outside dining: Yes

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