Whatever happened to the local market? As a man of 30, the practice of going to your small mom and pop grocer is not something I remember a lot of, but I have been lucky enough to visit a few in my youth. What I tend to love about them are the things that make a lot of small shops great; the unique items for sale, the friendliness of a small staff, and the notion that your money is being put back into your community, not into a corporation.
The Willamette Market and Deli, on the corner of Willamette and Prospect just a bit East of Colorado College near downtown Colorado Springs, is seen by some as a rebirth of this idea; using small, local shops and stores as a way to build up the local economy and in turn community. I park just down the block on a sunny-yet-chilly Sunday afternoon, and just before entering the storefront, a man outside on his porch asked “Are you going to the market?”
“Yes I am.” I reply.
“Make sure to get a hot dog,” he says as he turns to enter his home. “They’re worth it!”
As I step inside, I see that the Willamette Market and Deli crams a lot of great ideas into one space, without the storefront nor the deli counter seeming cramped. The actual restaurant part offers rather limited seating, but a great atmosphere, with large windows offering wonderful natural lighting and simple, yet cheery typographic-friendly design. Before ordering, I decide to pop around the market portion of the shop, which offered a small yet surprisingly thorough grocer area, with a small yet well thought out selection of natural and organic items, non-GMO and gluten free fare, coffee bar and vinyl record listening station.
The chalked up menu primarily consists of hot dogs, fries, and coffee. Deceptively simple when taken into account that this joint takes these standard ingredients and makes them their own, with interesting names like “the Kung Fury” and the “Fat and Happy”, which is a hot dog inside a baked potato. After a few minutes of deliberation, the Dirty Frank catches my fancy, as do the Navy Fries and, inexplicably, Helen’s Banana Foster Bread Pudding.
The Dirty Frank is a carnivores dream come true; coming loaded with bacon, chili, sour cream, pickles, jalapeños, and a cheese sauce. Now, is that too much stuff for a hot dog? No way! And here is why. First off, instead of the traditional white bread bun, the Dirty Frank is served on a small salted baguette, adding crunch, texture wonderful flavor and maybe most importantly, a very sturdy vessel for everything about to be put into it. The all beef, natural casing hot dog in the Dirty Frank has a great snap and initial crunch, which gives way quite well to a hot dog that bursts with smoky, fresh off the griddle flavor. A meal like this runs the risk of salt overload, especially when also topped with savory thick cut bacon and zesty, in-house made pickles. But both the bacon and pickles find a great counterbalance in the creamy cheese sauce and slight spice of the warm bean chili ladled on top. In the wrong or maybe heavy of hands, the Dirty Frank could have been a sloppy, overdone, too-decadent meal. But not only were the flavors full and well balanced, but so were the portions and overall experience.
The Navy fries, just like nearly everything else on the menu, are available in vegan form as well. Because I am a study in contrasts, I opt for my loaded fries plant-based, and I must say was a great choice. Utilizing Sweet Earth Benevolent Bacon and a plant based bleu cheese sauce that was so uncanny it left me floored. The hand-cut French fries alone were pretty much worth it, but all of these ingredients in tandem are near perfect.
The bananas foster bread pudding is, to borrow an expression, bananas. With a discernibly sturdy texture and a great crunch vi the Oatmeal streusel generously applied atop, Helen’s Banana Foster Bread Pudding is positively ooey-gooey amazing, with great flavor that is head and shoulders above any other bread pudding I’ve had to date.
As I walk away from the Willamette Market and Deli, I notice that the gentleman I had spoken with before entering is now back out on his porch, this time with a knowing grin on his face. “Did you get one?” he asks. “I sure did,” I say as I open my car door. “You’re right; it was worth it.”