Open for three days now, Bambino’s Urban Pizzeria has transformed a dull strip on Bijou Street into a welcoming, hip space. It wasn’t always that way, of course, with the Colorado Springs staple sitting on an upper floor on Platte Avenue for over 30 years. But it was time to change and Suzette Megyeri, who owns the restaurant with her husband Kevin, knew it.
“The end of [the old] Bambino’s looked slow,” Megyeri says, sitting in her new restaurant for an interview with the Report. “I don’t like to bash the neighbors because the neighborhood was really good for us for 33 years, but it got crazy over there. … There was a triple homicide outside of our restaurant and Bambino’s was up above. … And our sales dramatically dropped off. …
“But I think that food trends had changed. My motto used to be ‘Cover it in marinara sauce and cheese and they will come.’ That’s how we ran our business in the ’80s and ’90s and then it just started changing.”
The move downtown came after the couple, which owns a large part of the block, opened the Skirted Heifer in the old La Creperie spot in early 2014. “So, we opened up Skirted Heifer and I could not believe it — I could not believe how busy it was,” she says. “I mean, just crazy busy.”
Now, former tenant In & Out Gyro is out, along with Bambino’s old location and aging decor, and the Urban Pizzeria is in. Along with some salads and pasta, fast-casual, 11.5-inch Neapolitan pizza is the name of the game, which means upgrading from the old $18 bag of high-gluten pizza flour to the $52 bag of Italian double-zero flour. Same with a new sauce made with canned San Marzano tomatoes and a focus on ingredients that has part of one dining wall covered with grow lights and pots of oregano and basil.
Bambino’s is now the kind of place where you’ll find house-made mozzarella made with cow’s milk, resulting in mozzarella fior di latte (in addition to a vegan version made with cashews); homemade salad dressings, barbecue sauces and alfredo sauces; and house bacon and sausages (including a vegan version made with tofu). Also find wine from Salida and beer from Red Leg Brewing Co.
Most vegetables come from Arkansas Valley Organic Growers, while available, and the fountain is stocked with Boylan’s Soda. The warm and relaxing dining room is full of reclaimed beetle-kill and Black Forest Fire wood, with old church doors lining the ordering area. Even the to-go boxes get in the game, with a recyclable “green” design that splits into four pieces and first came to Megyeri’s attention when she saw them on Shark Tank.
Of course, longtime customers can still find some old classics with new names, like the Green Hippy, which brings fresh spinach, roasted garlic, mushrooms and shredded mozzarella together with alfredo sauce. However, as a sign of its rebirth, the rebooted restaurant doesn’t even have a freezer (other than the one it uses to hold its homemade custard).
“That was a big change,”Megyeri says. “In the old days, we used to make homemade soups at Bambino’s, but then the food purveyors’ soups got so good, we did a shortcut there. We had a deep-fat frier, so we had frozen mushrooms and frozen mozzarella sticks and stuff like that.
“I don’t even have a fryer here.”
[Images: Bryce Crawford]