Which items are made in-house? That's the most important question I've learned to ask in my tenure as a restaurant reviewer. Hands down, that's the surest route to the best items on the menu.
That's not to say I think every restaurant has to concoct every menu item from scratch. Some get breads or desserts from great bakeries in town, while others source their ingredients from reputable, established Colorado growers and purveyors.
Take the Stagecoach Inn. It's been a staple of Manitou Springs for many years. The decor leans a little toward the hokey side, but not too far. It's a nice place for a family dinner, especially if you've got a diverse group who wants everything from seafood to burgers.
The first question I asked was about the appetizers. As it turns out, the trout and salmon in the Smoked Stream Fish ($9.99) are smoked by the restaurant. The trout is delicately smoky, a little drier and sweeter than the salmon. The salmon's fattier composition helps it retain more of the smoke's kiss.
The smoked fish is served with capers, herbed cream cheese, chopped red onion and diced hardboiled egg, with crackers and crostini. The presentation is pretty, with alternating chunks of each fish displayed along the length of the platter.
The Stagecoach also throws some pheasant on the smoker, which ends up in the Smoked Pheasant Chowder ($2.99/$4.99). Again, the smoke flavor is present only enough to impart an interesting edge to the tender pheasant, which lounges in the creamy chowder alongside potatoes, celery and corn.
If you like fried chicken ($13.99), be sure to try the Stagecoach's version. What impressed me most was the thin, crispy coating on the chicken that comes from using seasoned flour instead of a thicker batter. There's just enough here to keep all the juices inside until you take a big bite, and both the light and dark meat were cooked properly.
On the side I got decent mashed potatoes topped with overly thick gravy that appeared to have hit the plate well in advance of the chicken. The vegetables on the side were very nicely done, though. The pile of skinny, young green beans were lightly but thoroughly seasoned, sauteed with a little zucchini, red onion, garlic and celery.
The Molasses Bacon Butter Chop Chop ($14.99) disappointed. I'd rather have one big, juicy chop than two puny ones that got overwhelmed by the sauce. I'm a big molasses fan, but this sauce was seriously unbalanced. You couldn't taste butter or bacon, just molasses. The same vegetables and potatoes came on the side, only with brown gravy instead of chicken gravy.
The Black & Bleu Sirloin ($15.99), on the other hand, was flavorful and well prepared. The steak is rubbed with blackening spices, quickly seared to keep in all the juices, then topped with pungent crumbles of blue cheese. Although the spices and the cheese are both strong flavors, in this case they play well together. The big baked potato on the side had a properly fluffy interior and was big enough to be a meal by itself.
I have strong feelings about ordering seafood in a landlocked state. It's always a risk. But Three From the Sea ($17.99) proved to be mostly worth it. First are two cod fillets, dipped in house-made Laughing Lab batter and fried to an amber crunch. The batter was cooked through while leaving the fish inside moist and delicious. Second is the skewer of shrimp, which were small and overcooked. Third are the calamari steak fries (available as an appetizer for $8.99). The "fries" are strips of squid steak, battered and fried. Firm to the tooth yet tender, these were surprisingly good, mild and slightly sweet.
We ended the meal with Black Bart's Turtle Pie ($6), which the waitress told us was the only dessert made in-house. An Oreo cookie crust is filled with espresso ice cream from Old Colorado City Creamery, then topped with Heath Bar crunch and drizzled with both chocolate and caramel sauces. A single slice was enough to curb the sweet tooth of four adults and added a sweet, crunchy and chocolate finish to the evening.
Restaurant character: A longtime Manitou Springs restaurant serving traditional American food, including burgers, steaks, fried chicken and seafood, in a Western-themed atmosphere.
Rating total: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Food: 4 out of 5 stars
Ambiance: 3 out of 5 stars
Service: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Address: 702 Manitou Ave., 80829
Contact: 685-9400; stagecoachinn.com
Hours: October-April: 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday. May-September: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays.
Credit cards: Yes
Vegetarian options: One, the Lousy Hunter Burger ($9.99)
what's onlineAs of March 19:
- 65 percent of 88 voters "liked it" on Urban Spoon
- 3 out of 5 stars based on 51 reviews on Yelp
- On Facebook; search "Stagecoach Inn"
- No violations were marked during a March inspection by the El Paso County Health Department