Food & Drink

PLANT-BASED PUEBLO

Review: Vegan options are expanding in the Steel City
News  /  Food & Drink

Brues Alehouse vegan huevos rancheros — beans, potatoes and fiery green chile JL Fields

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I’ve lived in Colorado Springs for nearly 10 years but I’d never been to Pueblo.  I mean, it’s right there. Yet when I hop in the car looking for vegan food outside of the Springs, my destination is typically Denver and occasionally Boulder. All of that changed when I was invited to get a sneak peek of a new vegan menu at a forthcoming Pueblo food hall. Once I knew I was driving south, I decided to turn it into a dining exploration, thanks to a vegan friend who lives in the area. And oh, what foodie fun!

Starting with what pulled me in: Fuel & Iron Food Hall is scheduled to open this fall, “to forge a bridge between Pueblo’s industrial past and a future which honors the city’s diverse population and bountiful agriculture,” according to press materials. To build awareness and excitement, founders Nathan Stern and Zach Cytryn started a monthly pop-up dinner series to introduce the various dining concepts that will call the food hall home. The Indy has been keeping tabs on the Pueblo project’s progress in its Side Dish column, which noted in May a Denver tie-in as well, in the form of Fuel & Iron Bar on Blake Street.

At the Pueblo food hall, The Cutting Board will be one of five food hall dining concepts, and the only one that’s solely vegan. Chefs Chad and Nako Hankins are married and moved to Pueblo (Chad’s hometown) from San Antonio. Creating a plant-based restaurant locally was on their mind, and Fuel & Iron offered a good opportunity. Their enthusiasm for the craft was clear when they talked about the plentiful plants served during the May pop-up event to announce their addition to Fuel & Iron’s dining lineup.

You can’t go wrong with classic pasta, and theirs — grilled portobello slices served over noodles lightly coated with house-made marinara — was a great first taste. Red wine sauce paired with meaty mushrooms created a sweetish and savory bite. I hoped upon hope there would be a green chile on the menu (hello, Pueblo!) and my wish was granted. The Hankins’ take on the Pueblo slider also delighted. A Beyond Burger patty with a soft bun swimming in that Pueblo chile gravy was slurp-worthy. The final dish of the night was exactly what I’d love to see more of when it comes to vegan dining: whole foods, superbly seasoned. The Super Bowl begins with fragrant lime rice and rich coconut-chile black beans, topped with sliced avocado, cilantro and mango. Simple, but absolutely not basic. It was the star. I look forward to returning for that fall opening, ready to see what else The Cutting Board slices and dices up for us vegans.

The Cutting Board’s Super Bowl JL Fields

But you don’t need to wait until then to enjoy plant-based fare in Pueblo. Let’s continue our expedition with two of my favorite words: beer and brunch. On an oh-so-hot June Sunday, I found myself sitting outside, along the riverwalk, for a late morning meal at Brues Alehouse. I let the server know I was vegan, and she said that they had many veg options at one time; not so many today. The pandemic has affected most restaurants with issues ranging from staffing and supply chain snarls to rising food costs. “But we haven’t forgotten the vegans,” she assured me. You’ll find fried avocado tacos on the regular menu. But Sunday brunch is singularly and spectacularly focused, with vegan huevos rancheros.

Regarding that “egg” — vegans, IYKYK. Non-vegans: JUST Egg is a mung bean protein take on eggs that can be scrambled or used in baking. Pair it with Indian spice kala namak (black salt, which is actually pink) and not only is the texture spot-on, but so’s the taste and smell. Well, Brues knows how to do a vegan egg! Fluffy, airy and oh, that light finish goes incredibly well with the heartier potatoes and beans. Those beans: rich and creamy and smothered in a fiery vegan green chile. I scooped the velvety pintos into the trio of street taco-size tortillas with small bites of egg and said, “What took me so long to discover Pueblo?” I enjoyed the substantial meal with Brues’ Exp. Hazy IPA. With just the right amount of tropical undertones, it’s reminiscent of a mimosa. That beer. That meal. That riverwalk. Sunday trifecta. (Pro tip: If vegan eggs aren’t your thing, double up those beans.)

Angelo’s finest, with a garden on top JL Fields

But you don’t need to wait until then to enjoy plant-based fare in Pueblo. Let’s continue our expedition with two of my favorite words: beer and brunch. On an oh-so-hot June Sunday, I found myself sitting outside, along the riverwalk, for a late morning meal at Brues Alehouse. I let the server know I was vegan, and she said that they had many veg options at one time; not so many today. The pandemic has affected most restaurants with issues ranging from staffing and supply chain snarls to rising food costs. “But we haven’t forgotten the vegans,” she assured me. You’ll find fried avocado tacos on the regular menu. But Sunday brunch is singularly and spectacularly focused, with vegan huevos rancheros.

Regarding that “egg” — vegans, IYKYK. Non-vegans: JUST Egg is a mung bean protein take on eggs that can be scrambled or used in baking. Pair it with Indian spice kala namak (black salt, which is actually pink) and not only is the texture spot-on, but so’s the taste and smell. Well, Brues knows how to do a vegan egg! Fluffy, airy and oh, that light finish goes incredibly well with the heartier potatoes and beans. Those beans: rich and creamy and smothered in a fiery vegan green chile. I scooped the velvety pintos into the trio of street taco-size tortillas with small bites of egg and said, “What took me so long to discover Pueblo?” I enjoyed the substantial meal with Brues’ Exp. Hazy IPA. With just the right amount of tropical undertones, it’s reminiscent of a mimosa. That beer. That meal. That riverwalk. Sunday trifecta. (Pro tip: If vegan eggs aren’t your thing, double up those beans.)

For my final bit of vegan reconnaissance, I learned brunch isn’t the only tasty vegan option along the riverwalk. Angelo’s Pizza Parlor offers vegan cheese and tons of vegetables, and that’s all I needed to know. I’ll be honest: It was an expensive 14-inch ’za ($34), but I take full responsibility. I couldn’t stop adding toppings ($2.09 each): spinach, red onion, mushrooms, fresh basil, banana peppers, black olives and vegan cheese ($5, damn vegan tax). Two words: Worth it. This is classic, old-style Italian pizza. An airy crust substantial enough to hold the plethora of veggies and ample marinara. And, let’s face it, vegan cheese is at its finest when cooked on the highest of heat. What a melt.

Pueblo: You’re on notice. I’ll be back.

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