The Intimate Ambiance of Old Colorado City’s TAPAteria

With The Preserve temporarily closed, most students are limited to buffet-style Rastall, Benji’s grill, or the various grab-and-go items at Colorado Coffee, the library, or the C-Store. None of these options, however, provide much opportunity for a shared dining experience ­— and I don’t just mean being in the same room at the same time. While Colorado College students have a healthy variety of food options on campus, the intensity of the Block Plan often limits the experience of eating itself. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner become isolated, individual affairs instead of shared meals. Although the dining options around campus allow for more intentional dining experiences, often students will enjoy meals separate from one another.

Photo by Becca Stine

However, in Old Colorado City there is a quaint little restaurant—Tapateria—that specializes in Spanish cuisine. With an open kitchen, long bar top, dim lighting, patterned ceiling, red brick walls, only a select number of wooden tables, the restaurant immediately reveals an intimate ambiance. The sounds of the kitchen staff slicing and chopping fresh produce complement the jazzy Spanish music playing in the background and the hum of nearby table conversations. Although the internal area of the restaurant is hard to resist, there is also an outside seating option on the back patio. The dining experience is shared, as customers are seated closely together, reflecting the nature of tapas—appetizer plates in Spanish cuisine shared among a handful of people. Every item on the menu wishes to be shared, and not one item costs over $10. Dining with two other people will open your taste buds to three or more separate dishes, instead of just one.

Tapateria has been around for six years now, standing as the only tapas restaurant in Colorado Springs. “That’s pretty much the philosophy,” said Josh Kemps, the current general manager. “Authentic Spanish cuisine, Spanish wines, traditional Spanish dining, in a boutique kind of setting. It makes a big difference for folks that appreciate that sort of thing,” he said. Jay Gust, the owner of Tapateria, opened the restaurant with a solid awareness of Spanish cuisine: “More than most people will ever know,” said Kemps. “Jay came in to bring his genius to the place.” Kemps talked about the importance of the restaurant’s success in providing both authentic Spanish tapas, as well as a space for customers to enjoy food in a unique and connected way.

I ordered the Octopus Salad, a long white plate served with little portions of certain items displayed neatly next to one another: thin slivers of octopus meat organized in a neat pile with a fresh green salad, light vinaigrette dressing, oiled red peppers, pickled onions, a tomato-based sauce, thin slices of serrano, and a few large fava beans. The plate was composed like a piece of art. I was reluctant to touch my meal, afraid I would ruin it. The octopus tasted incredibly fresh—especially considering how far we are from any real body of water—and was cut thinly enough so that it wasn’t chewy or hard to eat. The mixture of sweet and salty flavor along with a variety of textures provided my meal with a constant excitement.

I also had the pleasure of tasting the Fig and Chorizo tapas. Although the two elements of this dish were initially hard to differentiate, the contrast of sweet and salt on my tongue guided me as I blindly dipped my spoon into the thick, sherry-balsamic glaze. Not only did the flavors perfectly contrast, but the crunchy seeds within each fig mixed with the chewy, thick sausage and yielded a nice contrast of texture in the dish as well.

The approachable size and lightness of each dish granted me the privilege of tasting multiple Tapateria specials. Not only is the food served at the Tapateria delicious and light, but “it’s as authentic and local as we can make it now, without blowing our budget and going out of business,” Kemps laughed. “We’re a tiny little place,” Kemps said, speaking on his amazement in “coming here three months ago, the busy season, and seeing how small a place like this can really put out a lot of food in really good volume.” I asked Kemps what he takes pride in while working at the Tapateria. “Just, honestly, the pride that everybody else takes in the place, and Jay as well, is kind of a culinary and gastronomical genius,” he responded. “It’s just nice to have a restaurant owner who cares and is involved, not just watching labor hours, but watching food quality and things like that.”

Too often the experience of eating stands separate from an experience of interaction and connection with others, and dining at Tapateria serves as a significant reminder of that. “Honestly, I’ve got a great staff, a great owner, and in three months I’ve just had amazing customers as well,” Kemps said. “People are blown away by the food too, so you just can’t beat that when you hear ‘this is the best thing I’ve eaten in six months!’ And I’m like well, great!”

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