The Sunbird Mountain Grill & Tavern is showing its age, which is more weary than wise.
For more than 40 years, the Sunbird has offered diners a front-row seat to the city's growth. The breathtaking view overlooks Interstate 25 to the south with Cheyenne Mountain as a focal point. It's easy to see why so many people were taking photos, including plenty of selfies, but not of the food. The expansive patio with fire pits to cut the nip in the air draws a crowd. Add music to the scene, and the appeal multiplies.
Unfortunately, the large dining area doesn't evoke similar charm. Sure, the vista's the same, but not all tables are created equal. Those near the windows are in high demand. Reservations are recommended, but that doesn't guarantee a coveted table. That needs to be specifically requested when the reservation is made.
The restaurant has a western theme most evident in the menu. The décor is otherwise unremarkable. Steaks, seafood, burgers and sandwiches are among the standards. Our server was reluctant to share her favorite dishes, though she eventually conceded she enjoyed the Cowboy Calimari ($12). This, like a few others, is highlighted with a small star, like a sheriff's badge, indicating it as one of "Sunbird's Most Wanted Items."
A large, paper-lined bucket filled with calamari arrived with lemon aioli. We were impressed with the amount until we discovered that French fries accounted for half the filling. That turned out to be a good thing because the crispy, seasoned fries are addictive. The calamari, not so much. Pieces were tough, chewy and disappointing.
We appreciated the ability to order small servings of the salad. Entrees don't include salads, and a large salad would be too filling. The iceberg wedge salad ($5) was an easy choice with diced red onion, blue cheese crumbles and bacon bits. The Caesar salad ($5) featured a house-made dressing and plenty of croutons.
The 8-ounce bison burger patty outsized the bun ($19). This high-priced, two-fisted burger had the usual accoutrements along with bacon aioli. In this case, the name was more glorified than the execution. It was simply bacon bits mixed with mayo. Still, the bison was well cooked and served with more of those impressive fries. Its star on the menu is well deserved, though I would quibble with the cost.
The bourbon-glazed salmon ($21) had no star; perhaps it rates a noose or a posse on the lookout. The fish was dry. What should have been a glaze was tough with no hint of bourbon. The house-made mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus were the redeeming elements on the plate.
The same sides came with the beef brisket plate ($19). This was a hearty serving of nearly-fork tender brisket practically swimming in tangy, tomato-based barbecue sauce, where less would have been appreciated. The meat had no smoky element, but its texture made that easy enough to overlook.
The Sunbird draws a steady crowd. Based on what I overheard, it seemed to be a mix of regulars and newcomers. Service was friendly, and the host even checked on us long after we'd been seated to see if all was well.
The price points are a bit high given the food's inconsistency. This is a place I'd revisit, but only to sit on the patio to enjoy drinks and those French fries. Sunday brunch might be another reason to return, but the dinner scene isn't enticing enough for me, pardner.