122 N. Tejon St., 719-309-6912, munchies719.com, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday-Wednesday; until 10 p.m. Thursday-Friday; until 1 a.m. Saturday
Michelle Chocolatiers’ iconic Tejon Street location had sat vacant for so many years there was an excitement around town in hearing someone was finally reviving food service there. News came it was Munchies, growing ambitiously considering they only launched as a food truck a few years back. They then joined on at the revived Triple Nickel Tavern for a year-and-a-half term, which led to this move, with a late November launch.
If there’s any inherent pressure to opening in a legacy storefront with a larger overhead, owners Chuck and MaryAnn Thomas aren’t showing it, as I observe in casually chatting with them during both a breakfast and late afternoon visit. She appears chill, even if the dining room’s completely empty when I dine, leaving me to inquire about when they are seeing good business. (Apparently, that’s during weekend brunch hours, evenings and random times.) He, the chef, presents rather confidently with 17 years in the industry, including his start just doors away at Old Chicago. He worked there for six years before bouncing around, including a stint with the Blue Star Group in the early years of their Ivywild School projects. He’s used to high volume and hopes to expand his catering service. He strikes me as one of those good-at-everything guys — he also oversees the business’ social media and digital duties, and he built out much of the new dining room interior and co-designed and decorated the space with his wife.
They have good eyes. It’s stylish. Mostly gray tones with intentional color pops, mainly from a row of bright, multicolor bar stools, but also recessed decorative shelving on a half wall they’ve filled with small trinkets and planters. He refurbished old overhead lighting fixtures from Michelle’s and also their bar shelves, which are brightly lit, with booze bottles in the back dining room and parfait glasses in the front vintage-soda-fountain-style ice cream shop. There, they honor Michelle’s sweets legacy by serving shakes, malts and sundaes.
But there’s much more available than that on the daily breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. I ask Chuck to describe this unique brand of eclectic food service that presents a rather large menu with the potential to overwhelm. That is, until you realize, that just like at Chinese places, it’s just various renditions of dishes made out of the same core ingredients, so inventory and prep in the kitchen’s actually not all that wild. He confirms that analysis and explains how he stocks a handful of meats and foundational pantry ingredients like flour and sugar to make everything from scratch, including sauces, condiments and baked goods. So carnitas, for example, will appear on tacos on one side of the menu, but atop eggs or homemade waffles on the other side as a breakfast dish.
“I tell people it’s old-school diner food with fusion,” he says.
What it definitely is, outside of a small salad list and some vegan and vegetarian items, is heavy comfort food that hits all the bliss points of being salty, fatty and/or sweet in various combinations. Portions are big, almost punishing, which isn’t a bad thing when it comes to value for the price. And I’m always fine to take a to-go box for another snack or meal later. But it might help to go in with the expectation of a gut-buster vs. modest meal, one in which you and your pals may wish to get a 48-ounce, “candy bowl size” giant cocktail to split — garnishes include sugar rims, whipped cream tops, pucker straws and even gummy bears and worms. There are shots, boozy shakes, classic and signature cocktails too, in the fair $8 to $12 range.
We try a house-mix Bloody Mary made with Lee Spirits vodka (Munchies does appear to buy local at many turns) adding a $3 quarter waffle and bacon strip garnish, complete with a Springside white cheddar cheese curd. Thanks to an optional infusion of Chuck’s own six-pepper Afterburn hot sauce, it sips deliciously fiery and well-seasoned, with citrus wedge garnishes aiding in the bright acidity. We can’t say we’d do the extra garnishes again (somewhat cold and hard), but it was amusing once. An espresso martini made with vodka, cream, walnut bitters and Italian Borghetti coffee liqueur sips expectedly heavy and rich, more of an after-dinner drink that certainly can work at brunch, too. For house drip, they serve local Barista Espresso-roasted Tanzania Peaberry coffee, a dark roast with a somewhat astringent finish likened to black tea notes. A splash of provided non-dairy creamer softens the bitterness a bit.
At breakfast we go for the Roosters Nest and Blazin Porky Waffle. The former starts with a bed of house-cut fries, limp even before they sog under house green chile, fried chicken chunks and two eggs that we get scrambled. Big pork hunks in the green chile make it quite meaty with the tender chicken bits, but that green chile tastes too strongly of just chile powder and cumin, bearing more a red color and lacking the dynamic, floral earthiness of other green chiles. My dining mate compares it to another rendition at an eatery down the street and he rules no contest; this one’s not entirely bad, just not close to it. The Blazin Porky starts with a jalapeño cheddar waffle base that gets topped with ample juicy, well-seasoned, shredded carnitas (the pork edges not traditionally crispy, though), chicharrones (airy with more a panko crunch) and a fresh, sharp, spicy medley of green onions, vinegary pickled red onions, jalapeños, sriracha, salsa verde and a cooling crème fraiche drizzle over my over-easy egg cap. I add the house Afterburn hot sauce that itself delivers a nice, tart, almost fruity heat with a tomato paste consistency. All in all it’s a busy dish that pleases and packs in the calories; it’s probably impossible not to have the waffle sog in the middle as you eat, but that’s the only textural blip.
I had my attention on texture, as friends who dined weeks earlier had told me they experienced some under-crisped and -toasted elements of their meals. I notice an unevenness in the waffles, with blond edges and browned centers, for example.
At lunch, that same jalapeño cheddar waffle becomes the bun of the jalapeño popper burger, which I find way less odd than the marketplace craze some years ago over glazed donut buns (which I found cloyingly vile). This one’s bready and savory enough to play nice, joining a juicy medium rare patty (listed as local beef, but Chuck can only tell me it comes from a guy named Tyler from Denver), cheddar jack, spinach-artichoke-dip-stuffed jalapeño slices and bacon with a sriracha mayo smear enlivened by lemon zest. That one little citrus touch proves meaningful to the sum flavor and it’s indicative of Chuck’s attention to the micro aspects of what completes the flavor layering to make a fittingly (for the name) poppin’ burger. I also dig that he flips the burger over on the grill to caramelize the cheese into a crispy, browned skirt, which provides a contrast texture to the soft waffle, along with the crispy bacon, whose grease just adds to the plate’s whole sodium-saturated, heart-attack underpinnings. You’ll need a fork and knife to eat it. And you likely won’t need to eat for the rest of the day. I didn’t.
That’s partly because I also ate two of the four deep-fried Philly Cheese EggRolls off the shareables menu, which are stuffed with seared steak bits, onions and bell peppers à la the classic sandwich. The oiliness of that molten interior seems to keep the wrappers (hit with blackening seasoning for presentation aroma) from crisping evenly, but they’re crunchy enough to stay composed as you dip them into a side bowl of thick, salty queso fortified by Blue Moon beer. Yes, that makes for more nap-inducing richness unless you’re employing them as drunk food to sober up or stoner bites. (You are eating at a place named Munchies, after all.)
If you are craving a sweet ending and don’t want ice cream, consider the Death by Chocolate Brownie, constructed with Ghirardelli products, to include a mix of different cacao chips (dark, bitter and milk) for more nuanced chocolate essence, plus a chocolate sauce and caramel drizzling, and pieces of commercial Munch peanut brittle for puffy, salty, nutty contrast. The puck-shaped brownie bakes to a firm but chewy exterior and soft, gooey core. I take it to-go and share it with others who destroy it gleefully (minus one naysayer who finds it too sweet for her palate).
In mulling over my meals full-bellied afterwards, I do find it thematically fitting that Munchies, in taking over Michelle’s legacy in the spot, does have a bit of the come-here-for-a-treat aspect to its comfort-food-to-the-max vibe. It’s excessive in somewhat of a supersize-me way popularized in part by food truck culture but also amateur home cooks getting crazy in their kitchens (possibly while high) and posting YouTube and TikTok videos. It’s modern culinary Americana. It’s definitely not health food. I couldn’t eat this heavily often, but in thinking of it as I would a dessert bar — a place for that more rare splurge or candy fix — it gets the job done. Viewed in that context, it seems to have found its place. It’s not perfect, a little rough (or soft, actually) around the edges at turns, but it will bury you in food and drink for a fair price by volume.