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Gazette Premium Content Dining review: Upscale pub food includes delights at Alchemy

by MB PARTLOW mb.partlow@gazette.com - Updated: February 28, 2014 at 9:08 am

Good old Merriam-Webster says that alchemy is a "power or process of transforming something common into something special." And no one could dispute that Alchemy has certainly changed the location that formerly housed Gertrude's Restaurant.

The two restaurants aren't just horses of a different color. Comparing them would be like trying to compare argyle socks to playing cards. They exist on two different planes, for two different purposes.

Recent restaurant reviews

Alchemy presents a gruff facade when you step inside, with exposed timber and brick walls in a pub atmosphere. The vibe is loud and rollicking when the regulars roll in, or funky and friendly on a quieter afternoon. The food is upscale pub, with some definite hits and some dishes that have room for improvement. Alchemy boasts a long and fairly creative list of libations, although I still don't understand the appeal of labeling fruity mixed drinks as martinis. The cocktail menu includes the Elderberry ($7.50), a champagne cocktail with elderflower liqueur and a touch of Chambord. It manages to be fruity and floral without too much sweetness, and it went down a treat. Other drinks include versions of gin fizzes, gin rickeys and a version of a Zombie called the Walking Dead.

If you want a nibble while you sip your beer and peruse the menu, considered the Untwisted Soft Pretzels ($8). Two long, salty, soft pretzel sticks are accompanied by some thinly sliced prosciutto, a buttery head of roasted garlic and small pots of herbed Boursin cheese and grainy Guinness mustard. The pretzels are delicious on their own, but the accompaniments let you customize every bite.

The Heirloom Spinach Salad ($10) is tasty but small. Red and green spinach is topped with crumbles of Boursin and jalape? bacon, fresh blueberries and blackberries and pickled fennel. We got the latter on the side: It has a strong, not unpleasant flavor, but the anise notes of the fennel and the strong flavor of vinegar don't mesh well with the salad and the pleasantly tangy balsamic vinaigrette. The salad would feel more substantial if it came with a roll on the side. You can also add salmon, chicken, duck or an Angus filet to your salad for "market price."

Based on another dish, I would definitely go for the duck. The Duck Pappardelle ($18) had a fantastic, juicy duck breast, which I enjoyed even though it was not cooked to the temperature I specified. Also, the addition of a steak knife would have made consumption of the duck a whole lot easier. While the duck rocked, the rest of the dish wasn't held to the same standard. The pappardelle was fine, but the sauce of "house-broiled tomato onion sauce" had a raw, unfinished flavor and an unpleasant note of heat without much tang. The pistachios on top gave it a great crunch, and the small cubes of smoked Provolone tasted good but looked like an afterthought. If the sauce can be brought up to the standard of the duck, this dish could be a knockout.

The Slaughterhouse ($12) was an example of a sandwich where all the elements did come together in a wonderful way. The shaved beef tips were tender and juicy, complemented by smoked Provolone, pickled fennel (it works here) and marinated mushrooms.

The Forager ($9) is an outstanding vegetarian sandwich. A big, succulent Portobello mushroom is grilled and topped with roasted red pepper, grilled asparagus and pimento cheese. It's earthy, warm and crunchy, with a deft combination of flavors and textures. We got the potato pancake on the side. I thought it resembled a patty of mashed potatoes, but others in our party really liked it.

The fish and chips ($12) are just meh. Better than fast food, but absolutely nothing about them stands out. The batter is on the thick side, the potato wedges needed more time in the fryer, and the coleslaw tasted heavily of mayonnaise and not much else.

The Hen Sandwich ($10) was somewhere in the middle of the scale. The big, curry-rubbed breast was expertly grilled, but could have used a touch more curry to really bring the flavor out. The breast is sandwiched with rich brie cheese, salty prosciutto and not quite enough currant spread. A bit more sweetness would have balanced the saltiness of the prosciutto. The ciabatta bun is excellent, not too chewy on the outside but sturdy enough to stand up to the weight of the sandwiches.

There are only two desserts on the menu ($7 each), but both are made on site. The flourless chocolate cake should be a poster child for all such cakes. The intense, rich chocolate flavor is married with a moist texture that isn't too dense. The creme brul? is a simple but divine, vanilla-scented custard topped with a thin crackle of caramelized sugar. Even though I'm not a big custard fan, I was helping to scrape the last bits out of the serving dish.

Restaurant character: A rustic pub with better food than the appearance would lead you to believe. Lots of drink options, a standard beer list (for Colorado) and incredible housemade desserts round out the offerings.

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Rating total: 3.75 out of 5 stars

Food: 4 out of 5 stars

Ambiance: 3 out of 5 stars

Service: 4 out of 5 stars

Address: 2625 W. Colorado Ave., 80904

Contact: 471-0887, alchemypub colorado.com

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily

Entrees: $9-$24

Alcohol: Yes

Credit cards: Yes

Vegetarian options: Yes, The Forager ($9)

Wi-Fi: No

what's onlineAs of Feb. 19:

- 75 percent of 4 voters "liked it" on Urban Spoon

- 4 out of 5 stars based on 5 reviews on Yelp

- Not active on Facebook; search "Alchemy not just a pub"

- No violations were noted during a January inspection by the El Paso County Health Department

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