Food Network’s Chopped winner and well-known chef Mark Henry wants to share his labor of love with Colorado Springs. After Henry’s intense motorcycle accident in September 2016, he began to focus on the food that makes him happy and from that moment on it was all about the ramen. Protein rich, high calorie bowls of goodness that translate into comfort food and aim to diversify our restaurant scene. Henry is about house-made noodles, top notch meat, fresh eggs and vegetables straight from his garden. It makes for thoughtful, good food without any frills. His personality shines through with his motto for Rooster’s House of Ramen–“Make America slurp again”. Everything about the brand is Henry personified: authentic, warm and straight-forward.
“We have the same theme throughout our whole menu,” says Henry. “It’s small and concise with responsible sourcing. We’re trying to use the best products that we can and show them the right amount of love. We’re really just trying to do food the right way.”
The menu includes five ramen options, priced between $12 to $15, and three styles of banh mi sandwiches all for $9. A handful of appetizers allow for a satisfying start for a reasonable $5 to $9. The top seller is the grilled octopus surrounded by sticky rice, topped with a fried egg topped and Rooster’s signature bulldog sauce.
“It’s probably one of the best dishes I’ve ever done,” says Henry, who admits that the idea came out of left field after evolving the concept from a Japanese omelette. The octopus comes from Seattle Fish Company in Denver, and different, hearty cuts create a fresh, rich mouthfeel.
“That’s a really fun ingredient,” says Henry. “Good presentation, good price, and something that eats well. We’ll use that as a tool to shape and form the menu as we get to experiment with some of those more exotic things you don’t see here as often.”
To capture the lunch crowd Henry pulls in his “favorite sandwich on the planet”, the popular Vietnamese banh mi. The pork belly and meatball banh mi are Henry’s personal favorites and we fell hard for the crispy pork with lemongrass aoili on fluffy sourdough. Sean Saunders at The Sourdough Boulangerie bakes custom bread products specifically for Rooster’s. The outside is divine but the inside deserves an honorable mention too. Henry has been procuring pork from the same producer, Torpedo Farms in Pueblo, Colorado, for the last seven years.
“We’re trying to build layers of flavors without overloading the palette,” says Henry. “With fresh ingredients you want to showcase everything individually. It’s a different concept that isn’t being seen in this city in a traditional sense. It works well with the ingredients we already have and the flavor profiles are nice and bright.”
However, the ramen is what you came for and Henry says that he is far exceeding his expectations, serving up over double the amount of noodles. Henry’s goal is to be a turn and burn lunch and dinner destination and right now they’re averaging approximately five minutes wait before the first menu item hits the table.
“We’re really happy with how all the food is coming out,” says Henry. “Theres a lot of intentionality put into the setup. When people hear ramen they want fast, in and out. I think we’re a touch slower but we’re making the noodles from scratch, using high quality proteins, but we’re still taking the time to make sure they’re executed properly.”
The signature Rippin’ Rooster bowl with kimchi braised chicken from Boulder Natural, cracklins, sprouts, cabbage and egg, proves to be a crowd pleaser. We went outside of the box with the sweet and sour duck with soy pickled shiitake, bean sprouts, carrot and a bouquet of radish strips. The tender meat in a succulent, filling broth coupled with a healthy portion of beautiful vegetables and noodles was filling and extremely satiating.
The menu will continue to adapt with new additions and updates four to six times a year. Henry plans to bring in different varietals of oysters from all over the world, play with some pokes and integrate a childhood memory. Using littleneck clams, like the one’s he grew up on in upstate New York, Henry will reimagine the East coast favorite to create a linguini with clam sauce ramen with white dashi.
“It’s so much God damn fun,” says Henry. “These flavor profiles aren’t found in French or Italian cuisine. It really speaks to who I am as a chef and what I’ve always stood for. I think it’s the perfect marriage of my style and showcasing these ingredients. Ramen is very Japanese and we’re obviously putting a Mark Henry/Colorado spin on it. I’m going to continue to learn and grow and some of those techniques and some of those ingredients will find their way in here. But I think it’s really important to slowly edge it into the menu so we can keep the vibe. So we want to introduce that and bring everybody along with us.”
The interior is a large contributor to the overall feel as some of the walls boasts bold blue hues and eye catching, urban artwork from Isaac Focus Cisneros and Sole Junkie Customs. Portraits of rappers, like Wu Tang Clan members alongside graffiti murals amplify the simple space. The edgy wall coverings insert a fresh, city vibe with still keeping it approachable.
“It’s really cool to see how this concept’s being received,” says Henry. “The place is hopping and it adds to the character we’re trying to create. The hustle and bustle, it’s like it’s own little world.”
Tonight, May 31, as of 5:00 p.m. signals the dawn of drinking at Rooster’s. Like everything else, expect a uniquely Mark Henry approach to pairings and how you can dive into spirits.
“We’re not going to do anything like you’re used to seeing,” says Winn Kirkpatrick, general manager. “Mark loves Yoo-Hoo and Hi-C so I tried to incorporate some of that into our drinks. We’re playing off the old-school hip hop themes so drinks like the O.D.B, Thriller, Hooty-Hoo. We’re not going to take it too seriously and try to serve you a $15 cocktail.”
We agree that seeing a martini glass come out of the kitchen would seem out of place. So recognizing that the Hi-C Orange will taste like the Flintstones push pop you had as a kid brings levity and imagination to the bar menu. The Yoo-hoo drink will be a twist on a Colorado bulldog with Sailor Jerry’s rum with a Khalua floater and the magical chocolate elixir. Local establishments like Distillery 291 and 3 Hundred Days of Shine will be on the shelves and Rooster’s plans to eventually have eight beers on tap.
“We’ll try to do beer pairings with different local breweries at least once a month,” says Kirkpatrick. “Fieldhouse, Smiling Toad, and a couple others are developing their own beers to pair with our ramen.”
Sake flights are on deck and integrating the rice wine will yield more Japanese influenced cocktails. First and foremost it’s about keeping it simple while they hold onto originality.
“We just want to go fun, balls to the wall first and do drinks that nobody else is doing,” says Kirkpatrick. “I want you to walk in and know you can not go anywhere else and find these drinks. And they’re all simplistic, five ingredients or less. Otherwise you lose the flavor and you’re drowning out the actual spirit.”
To watch the dream become a reality at Rooster’s and continue to see North Tejon become a pocket of craft establishments is uplifting. It shows promise regarding what the consumers in Colorado Springs really want more of.
“It’s cool to see the city evolving,” says Henry. “It’s not the same old shit. If we hadn’t come in here there would’ve been a Starbucks or a Sonic. For every independent restaurant that goes out there’s a chain that comes in. I think we’re going to be here for awhile. Hopefully there are going to be other places popping up the same way. For everyone one of us there’s one less McDonald’s or Wendy’s and that’s what it’s really what it’s all about. So we’re pumped. The scene’s changing and we get to be a part of it. We’re really lucky for that.”
Beyond just representing small businesses and real food, Rooster’s captures a sense of community and houses a panel of creatives to paint a fresh coat onto a hungry downtown block. With a team of talented chefs supporting his endeavor and eager patrons, Rooster’s is filling a niche.
“The response has been a hell of a lot more than I anticipated originally,” says Henry. “We have regulars already. I’d love for there to be a day where everybody that walks in knows who we are, what we’re about, what they’re here for and we know them as well. It’s the Cheers of ramen shops. To get the support that we’ve gotten from the city and to be able to give back to it that way. At every turn, for everything that I’ve done over the last year or two while my career has just shot up, this city has been right there clapping, supporting. We’re really proud. I could not have asked for a better reception.”