Cocktail: The Clink
The Chile Row Fizz with Cucumber Vodka & Chile Liqueur
Appetizer: Mr. Tandoori Urban Bar & Grill
Pueblo Chile Naan Bread
Entrée: Pueblo Community College
Pueblo Green Chile Crusted Pork Tenderloin with Red Garnet Yam Puree with Pueblo Green Chile Sweet Potato Gnocchi and Collard Greens
Dessert: Mo’s Sports Bar & Lounge
Spice Up Spring: All chile, all the time
By: Blake Fontenay
I recently came up with a new life goal for myself: I want to become known as the Randy Jackson of Pueblo food contest judges.
Not the Paula Abdul, who would find something nice to say about sauteed roadkill. And not the Simon Cowell, who would acidly declare even the most succulent piece of prime rib not ready for prime time.
I want to be the judge who says: “Yo, dawg, check it out. The meat on your slopper is good and greasy in all the right ways, but you gotta step up your game with that green chile, man.”
Yes, it’s been a few years since I watched “American Idol.” And yes, I know my publisher’s column on this page is all about avoiding food indulgences and getting fit. Clearly, he and I are moving in different directions.
Anyway, I was delighted when the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce gave me the opportunity to increase my food-judging experience by sampling the entries in Spice Up Spring. This is a pretty unique and oh-so-Pueblo contest in the sense that the competing restaurants were able to prepare whatever dishes they wanted, as long as they included green chile.
There were categories for appetizers, entrees, desserts and alcoholic beverages. And perhaps surprisingly, there were no sloppers entered. The competing chefs really outdid themselves with their creativity in incorporating green chile into dishes you normally wouldn’t expect.
The day of the food judging began at the ThunderZone Pizza and Tap House, with green chile-stuffed pork medallions and green chile chimichurri chongas. I particularly liked the latter dish, which reminded me of a better, spicier version of the southwestern egg rolls you can get at Chili’s restaurants.
After sampling those first two, my lips already were burning. It was going to be a long day.
Our next stop was at Pepe’s at Milberger Farms, where we chowed down on some excellent stuffed green peppers. (I’m going to stop mentioning that there was green chile involved, because that’s a given.)
Then we were off to Mr. Tandoori Urban Bar and Grill, where we had naan bread filled with cheese and other spices. One of the other judges dubbed it “Indian pizza.” Although the dish included green chile, it still had the taste of traditional Indian cuisine. It won the appetizer category.
And on and on we went, with a scant 30 minutes separating our scheduled stops.
Mo’s Sports Bar & Lounge, with a kitchen about the size of the cubicle from which this column is being written, produced a key lime cheesecake that was as pretty to look at as it was tasty. And it won the dessert category, which I thought was the toughest to judge.
Cinfully Delicious produced a tasty shrimp aguachile and vegetarian tamales.
The winner in the entree category was the culinary arts program at Pueblo Community College. The main dish there was a crusted pork tenderloin with red garnet yam puree, sweet potato gnocchi and collard greens. As a Southerner, I’m required by law to love collard greens. However, I never thought I’d like yams or sweet potatoes until I tried PCC’s recipe.
A number of the entries we sampled were prepared specially for the competition and aren’t on the regular restaurant menus. When we asked the restaurant owners if they planned to add the new creations to their menus, the answer usually was: “If we win.”
That’s unfortunate, because we chose only one winner per category and there were several other dishes that we thought Puebloans would love. For example, Brues Alehouse didn’t win first place in any of the categories, but was in serious contention for all of them.
(The alcoholic drink competition took place the next day with a slightly different panel of judges. It included four more competitors who didn’t participate in the food categories — Spirit of the Rockies, Wine Down by the River, Twenty One Steak and The Clink. You can draw your own conclusions about why there were more entrants in the alcohol portion of the competition.)
After finishing my day as a food judge, I went home feeling somewhat bloated. For some reason, my wife decided that was the right time to describe all the meals she had prepared for the next several days. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I didn’t think I’d ever be eating again.
Of course, I am eating again. After all, this town needs its Randy Jackson.
Blake Fontenay, The Chieftain’s opinion page editor, is new to Pueblo. His column, Pueblo 101, describes what it’s like to see the city through the eyes of a newcomer. To make comments or offer suggestions on what he should try next, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.