Jay Gust, chef proprietor of Ascent Restaurant Group, that includes TAPAteria and Pizzeria Rustica, expands the representation of global cuisine in Colorado Springs, with his most recent restaurant addition, Smørbrød, located within the repurposed elementary school, Lincoln Center. He attributes the push towards Northern European food to his former business partner, Dave Brackett, who Gust implies is on a mission to add untapped flavors and minimalist plates to the local culinary scenery.
“I love food,” says Gust simply. “If you break down my life, it completely revolves around ethnic cuisine. I’ve been a culinary guy all my life.”
His grasp on dynamic flavors is the inspiration for the restaurant’s name which “refers to a classic Scandinavian sandwich, mainly made up of ingredients such as smoked salmon, roast beef, shrimp salad, pickled herring, with toppings.”
“We’ve tried to take classic smørbrøds and picked out the top 20 that will appeal to the American palate,” explains Gust.
The menu exhibits varying, open-faced “sandwiches” comprised of an assortment of bright vegetables and high-quality proteins layered atop rugbrød, a thin slice of malty and dense rye bread from neighboring bakery, Nightingale Bread. Our favorites include any of the offerings that feature the beet-cured or smoked salmon with choices between the Helsinki, Bergen, Norsjø or Oslo. Or, do as the Scandis do, and opt for the Reykavik with crab and lemon aioli, Faroe with shrimp, egg, beet remoulade and dill or, if you’re not a seafood fan, find a hearty serving of roast beef and Jarlsberg cheese with a horseradish spread on the Lilehammer.
“You’re not going to come here for a French dip,” says Gust. “A lot of them are going to have cucumbers to caviar to toasted hazelnuts. It’s really decadent.”
True to the concept, Gust maintains “the new bulk Scandinavian look” on the interior with “clean edges, white walls, reclaimed beetle kill pine and accents of stainless steel,” creating a space that’s full of light where the plates truly shine and captures our undivided attention.
“The beauty of it is that it’s a really cool, geeky sandwich shop,” says Gust. “We don’t have to be making stock, you don’t have to have all this training and have gas appliances, those equations are just not in the mix.”
To compliment the entrees Smørbrød offers a full bar with Northern European wines and French bubbles as well as a comprehensive cocktail list with wintry additions that we adore, such as the rosemary & cranberry spritzer and apple crisp marg.
Additionally, patrons can take advantage of the proximity to Goat Patch Brewing Company, directly adjacent, to fully understand the integrity of a straight-up sandwich and an award-winning craft beer.
“Being next to Goat Patch is the perfect ecutramond,” says Gust. “Great people, great team, high energy and we’re super excited they’re our neighbors. Smørbrød is meant to be had with a beer. ”
If smørbrød isn’t in your wheelhouse, or not a top preference amidst the current chill factor, explore “Lune Rätter,” a concise section of warming dishes: Kjøttkaker, Swedish meatballs with dill sauce and lingonberry; a creamy curry-based seafood soup; and Medisterpølse, made with Sara’s Sausage, from nearby Palmer Lake, Colorado. Whichever direction you choose, we highly recommend that you conclude the meal with Söta Rätter, the sweeter side of life, with our go-to, the Kladdkak, a gooey chocolate cake with toasted hazelnuts and whip….
“I’ve been an advocate of trying to help push the city’s cuisine, the quality of culinary products and that’s been my goal for 20 plus years,” says Gust. “Anytime I can do something fun and cool that’d help the city and expand my knowledge of food, I’m all for it.”
Although Gust has vibrant insight into the necessary foodie introductions, he alone isn’t the reason Smørbrød stands out as an unexpected, local gem. Mara Pinell, the former manager at Alchemy in Old Colorado City, is their resident renaissance woman, acting as general manager, bartender, dishwasher and says that the entire finished product, from menu construction to seasonal drink adaptations is a cumulative “team effort.” His well-equipped staff also includes Dylan Montanio, executive chef, whom almost immediately took on the lead role after opening the doors in June of 2018, and adds impressive depth to restaurant’s distinct culinary approach.
“I got here and it kind of immediately fell into place, into that rhythm,” says Montanio. “I love the simplicity of it, the kind of zen purity of it. You have these dishes that look like just a color on a plate and there’s so much more complexity going on than just what it appears to be.”
We first met Montanio as the executive chef at Prime 25, and are aware of his Norwegian heritage and strong affinities for their intentional aesthetics, so it comes as no surprise and feels inherently natural for him to be at the helm of Smørbrød’s kitchen.
Montanio references receiving “his Nonnie’s old recipes from the turn of the century” and how he would spend evenings rifling through her cookbooks, learning about what he calls “really interesting food, just falling in love with the cuisine.”
“It felt like touching on a piece of history and getting to know someone that I never actually met,” says Montanio thoughtfully. “You start reading through recipes and if you’re a cook, you can kind of see how people think.”
Aside from his familial ties he expresses a love for the artistry associated with Nordic design that he feels is symbolic of his own cooking style.
“You’ll see pointillism or cubism and it’s just shapes, but those shapes really represent this deep philosophy, but at the surface it just looks like colors,” says Montanio. “What we really do is we have these really clean flavors and all of them have to stand on their own merits. That’s what attracted me to it, this simplicity that belies a really deep complexity. Our job is to make it look absolutely beautiful.”
Brunch service begins on Sunday, February 10, at 9 a.m. and subsequent Saturdays and Sundays with sweet and savory items such as Norwegian waffles and Benedicts with build your own mimosas with orange juice and lingonberry.
Happy Hour runs Sunday through Thursday from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. with $5.00 drafts and house wines.
Oyster Bar Thursdays: Each Thursday at 5 p.m. Smørbrød presents a fresh oyster bar with differing varietals each week.
Smørbrød hosts a Nordic Wine Dinner to benefit Pikes Peak Community College – Community Table on Tuesday, January 22, at 6 p.m. with tickets available for $69.00, plus tax & service. To RSVP call 719-634-2727.
*All images courtesy of Smørbrød