The Passport Program - Bon Voyage!
The Passport Program gave away a trip this summer from a passport city to a passport city. It was called the Bon Voyage giveaway, and by some miracle I won it! We chose Colorado Springs as our destination, and along with airfare and lodging, we were given two Colorado Springs drink passports and $50 gift cards to any five participating bars and restaurants, our pick. I labored over the websites and reviews, arduously studying all of the photos and posts that I could find, until I had finally narrowed down my list to five. Here’s my review of all of them, what I ate, what I drank, and what I can’t wait to have again because trust me, we’re going back.
Lucky Dumpling was our first stop, arriving about an hour after our plane had touched down. Their passport drink offer is 2-for-1 select cocktails. I ordered the Tiger Vs Crane (two of them, one at a time thank you very much) which is comprised of watermelon vodka, lime juice, and spiced simple. I thought it might be too sweet but was definitely, pleasantly wrong. It was sweet but not too much, it was sour and complex, very tasty indeed. For dinner, I had the octopus, and Zack had the szechwan beef. The beef was delicious, and I can honestly say that the octopus was some of the best I’ve ever had (and I love octopus so that’s really saying something). Of course, we tried the dumplings, hot and sour beef and they were out of this world, the pineapple ginger chutney really set them apart. We ordered the five-spice churros for dessert, and promptly inhaled them. Nothing stayed on our plates for more than a few minutes. Everything there was beyond delicious and the staff treated us like family. I cannot recommend this place more highly.
2. Pizzeria Rustica
Pizzeria Rustica was our lunch spot on our second day. It’s located in Old Colorado City, which is one of the loveliest and most charming neighborhoods I have ever visited. It’s mostly comprised of restaurants, vintage shops, tattoo parlors and art galleries so yeah, it’s pretty much perfect. Their passport drink offer was 2-for-1 house wines, and I chose the Cabernet. I’m not usually a red wine drinker on a patio when it’s 90 degrees outside, but their house white was a chardonnay and I just can’t with that buttery nonsense. As it turns out, I love Cabernet even in the heat, it tasted great and the color matched my nail polish, which any good wine snob knows is the first thing you look for when ordering a cab (joking, I have no idea when it comes to wine, but it really was tasty). Zack ordered the salumi pizza, which was delicious but not half as amazing as my pizza was! Mine wasn’t on the menu, simply the pizza of the day, but holy cow they need to serve it every day until the end of time. House-made mozzarella and salumi, basil, and locally sourced heirloom tomatoes. It’s almost like a caprese salad, but a pizza and obviously way better because pizzas are better than salads, it’s science.
3. The Wobbly Olive
Located only a half of a block away from Pizzeria Rustica, you’ll find The Wobbly Olive, where Zack and I had dinner on Friday night. To be honest, this was not our favorite spot, and ironically was the one I was most excited for based on my online research. Don’t get me wrong, the martinis were phenomenal, I ordered the Cucumber Mint and the Violet Hour, and the food was very tasty, but the ambiance was a bit off. The host winced when we said we didn’t have a reservation, when we asked if we could sit on the patio he said it was booked all night. No problem, we didn’t have a reservation and that was our fault so we sat at the bar. This would have been fine, except for the fact that out of the five couples who came in after us, none of them had reservations and all of them were sat on the patio when the asked to sit outside. To make it stranger, the dining room stayed empty all night, everyone was either at the bar or on the patio, it just felt odd. The food took a very long time to come out, but was hot so it’s not like it was sitting too long, I’m not sure what was going on. Zack ordered the burger, I ordered the salmon and both were delicious, but in my opinion overpriced. If we hadn’t been to Lucky Dumpling the night before, it’s quite possible that I would have liked Wobbly Olive a lot more. It’s just that Lucky Dumpling was less expensive and had better food and service, so it’s not really a tough choice. To be clear, it was sort of a weird night, but the food and drinks were fantastic and the staff was perfectly nice and ultimately that’s what you want in a restaurant, right? If I had a star rating thing going on I would give it 3.5 out of 5, and I would definitely go back for the Violet Hour martini.
4. Dos Santos
Dos Santos was where we ended up right after our 8 mile hike of Garden of the Gods on Saturday. I won’t go into how incredible Garden of the Gods was right now but if you don’t think I’ll be writing about it nonstop for the foreseeable future, you don’t know me at all. It look us about four hours to hike so needless to say, we arrived famished and ready for some incredible Mexican food. This place did not disappoint. Their passport offer is 2-for-1 house margaritas and, you guessed it, I had two of them. They were outstanding, and are pictured as the main image for this post! I had the O.M.F.G. lettuce taco; raw tuna, cilantro aioli, avocado, cabbage, onion, leek, and poppy seed. This is the most appropriately named food I have ever consumed, as I literally exclaimed “Oh My Fucking God” after my first bite. Pardon my French but it’s not my fault, that taco was so good that I couldn’t be held accountable for whatever words or sounds came out of me. Honestly, it was a real When Harry Met Sally, “I’ll have what she’s having” situation. We ate a lot besides that; the poke bites, a cheese quesadilla, two steak tacos, and a chicken taco (like I said, we were famished) and they were all outstanding. I’m telling you though, that O.M.F.G. taco may have been the best thing I ate all weekend. It didn’t hurt that our server was amazing and she and Zack swapped tattoo stories while I drank all of the margaritas.
5. The Principal’s Office
The Principal’s Office was our dinner spot on our last night in Colorado Springs. The best part about this place is the building in which they are located and its history. They are just one of the restaurants in Ivywild School, an old elementary school built in 1916 and closed in 2009. The Principal’s office has great decor and theming; the bar has chalkboards along its perimeter, the door handles are all tiny spanking paddles, and their drink names are very clever. I had the Physical Education and Sadie Hawkins, both were delicious. Nothing on the dinner menu really jumped out and we really weren’t very hungry because we had eaten so dang much over the last couple of days. We saved the rest of our gift card and gave it to woman we met at our hotel. She had two Saint Bernards and she let me pet them the first night we were there, so we pretty much owed her. We may not have given Principal’s Office a fair chance because we didn't really order much, but I can say the drinks are fun and the ambiance is amazing.
When Justin from the Passport Program arranged my gift cards for me, he mentioned that after we were finished at the Principal’s Office, we should head down to Axe and the Oak and say hi to Maggie and Colby. Now, I didn’t know who these people were, I figured they were friends of his, so I was like , “Hell yes, let’s go make some friends.” We headed downstairs and were treated to the most wonderful evening. It turns out, not only are they friends, but Colby is Justin’s brother! They are also a passport bar so I went ahead and had myself two more cocktails; the Pledge (vanilla bourbon, lavender liqueur, lemon, cinnamon) and the Penrose Pact (bourbon, strawberry, falernum, line, orange liqueur, ginger beer). I also ordered chicken strips because at that point all of the cocktails were starting to take their toll. They were delicious, but again I was tipsy and they were chicken strips, so maybe take that with a grain of salt. This distillery is a great place to hang out, the vibes in there are so cool and they make a mean cocktail, let me tell you. If/when we come back to Colorado Springs, we’ll definitely be saying hi to Maggie and Colby again.
Before I wrap this thing up, I have to mention that the passport program also included 2-for-1s at coffee shops. Being the caffeine addict that I am, I took full advantage of the Cafe section in the passport. We visited Blank Coffee, Kawa Coffee, The Perk, and Loyal Coffee. and they were all wonderful. Using the passport every morning (and one particularly sluggish afternoon) was such a fun way to start each day. It got us out of the comfort zone of our hotel lobby and enabled us to see parts of the city that I doubt we would have otherwise. I love using my passport in Minneapolis, it’s where I live and a great resource for trying new places and saving some money, but using it when you travel is so much fun. In my experience, there are two types of travelers; the over planners and the “just wing it” types, and both have their downsides. Scheduling everything to the very last detail can take the fun out of travel and discovery, but not researching anything means that you can miss out on some really cool opportunities. Having our passports split the difference. If you go by the passport, you can still play things by ear and have tons of options, but you can trust that wherever you choose will be good, and you won’t end up eating fried bone clumps (read my earlier post if you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s called “Fried Bone Clumps,” you can’t miss it).
Passport program, I can’t thank you enough for a phenomenal vacation. It was a lovely reminder that not all emails saying that you’ve won a trip are scams, and even though something may seem to good to be true, sometimes it’s just plain old good. Zack and I can’t wait to go back to Colorado Springs and keep stamping our passports.