Brian Blasnek finds a new home in Old Colorado City as executive chef at TAPAteria and Pizzeria Rustica alongside notable chef/restaurateur, Jay Gust. Blasnek accepted his role at both locations in late November of 2017 shortly after The Blue Star made the surprising announcement to close in early October.

RMFR chats up chef Blasnek about his culinary journey from banquet services at The Broadmoor, into beer pairings at Trinity Brewing Company and Brues Alehouse and now as he steers two staple establishments in the historic section of Colorado Springs.

Wood-fired, Neapolitan pizzas and tapas are favorites in Old Colorado City. Photo credit: Bonnie Singleton, Pollinate Marketing

Since his transition Blasnek says his favorite element is the social involvement that invites a fun atmosphere through consistent monthly wine dinners.

“I love doing the pairings,” says Blasnek. “I’m really looking forward to all the outside events we’ll be doing over the summer.”

In late April, the anticipated “Paella on the Patio” begins at TAPAteria, where Blasnek promises to “do it up” with a reservation-only, all-you-can-eat service that rotates high-quality ingredients.

Blasnek and Gust work together to maintain seasonal updates to the TAPAteria menu, altering some small plates and introducing a brand new almond cake dessert, that stays true to the gluten-free concept.

“We’re collaborating a little bit but [Gust] is slowly stepping away to focus more on the bigger picture to possibly open more restaurants,” says Blasnek.

Warm Spanish olives with orange and pipparras peppers. Photo credit: Bonnie Singleton, Pollinate Marketing

There are no official plans for Gust’s flavors to branch out in another brick and mortar just yet, but Blasnek says that location scouting is underway to find the perfect place. Blasnek calls Gust “a wizard” and says he is “very methodical and scientific” in his processes.

“He’s taught me so much about running things cleaner, tighter and better,” says Blasnek. “He used to be the best chef in Colorado Springs, now he’s the best restaurateur.”

Blasnek admits that the smallness of his new working space is a challenge and it pushes him to be more resourceful and creative.

“[Blue Star] had a semi-open kitchen and it was huge,” says Blasnek. “At TAPAteria, everything you see is everything you have. It’s just you, your panini presses and your little oven.”

Chef Blasnek serves up a plate in his new happy place. Photo credit: Bonnie Singleton, Pollinate Marketing

Blasnek mentions a recent five-course wine dinner with Sette Dolori Winery in January, and admits that “you really have to change the way you cook.”

The next pairing dinner is in conjunction with Woods High Mountain Distillery, from Salida, Colorado, with a “Passport to Woods High Mountain Distillery” on Tuesday, March 20, from 6:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m.

Inside the quaint, rustic space at TAPAteria. Photo credit: Bonnie Singleton, Pollinate Marketing

Blasnek seems very content with his decision to move into Old Colorado City and feels a sense of camaraderie that is palpable amongst the passionate group of chefs and restaurant/bar owners in the area.

“I’ve always loved the OCC community and everyone knows each other,” says Blasnek. “They’re super tight and it’s like it’s own little city in the city.”

The connections run deep with the proximity of childhood friends from Wisconsin, Gust and Scott “Scottie” Sultzbaugh, owner at the contemporary, Irish pub, Alchemy in OCC, operating restaurants just a few blocks apart. Chef and owner, Franco Pisani, at nearby Paravicini’s Italian Bistro and Sopra, speaks to “progressive meals” in OCC and how he encourages patrons to visit his restaurants for a drink and appetizer, enjoy a meal at Jake & Telly’s Greek Taverna and then make their way down to Pizzeria Rustica to visit the “secret” upstairs wine bar, Enoteca, for dessert and a nightcap.

“I think the [owners] have realized that the only way this little niche is going to work is if we all help each other,” says Blasnek. “It was a tourist trap and then things started popping up and now we have a collection. It’s really, really grown.”

Chef/owner, Jay Gust, pours select wines upstairs at Enoteca Rustica. Photo credit: Bonnie Singleton, Pollinate Marketing

Blasnek also wants customers to also be aware of the sustainable practices that Pizzeria Rustica maintains as a four-star, certified green restaurant. The distinct accreditation indicates that Pizzeria Rustica produces the minimal amount of waste and recycles and composts 95 percent (or more) of their goods.

“We don’t make waste for the environment with the restaurant,” says Blasnek.

With good intentions on every front, Pizzeria Rustica and TAPAteria serves as an appropriate, fresh canvas for Blasnek to transmit his aptitude for community events, furthers his imaginative culinary skills and propagates a higher awareness of food waste management.

“This is a whole new ball game,” says Blasnek. “It has been an amazing experience.”