Go country at comfy, colorful Tejon Street café

Amy Graham describes her Smiley's Bakery & Café as having a “funky junk” casual atmosphere, which means it’s homey. She serves tasty comfort food for breakfast and lunch daily except Mondays at 323 North Tejon Street, Colorado Springs; 719-328-9447. Sidewalk seating is available on warm days.

Expect a great selection of delectable pies, cookies, tea breads and cakes. As we talked at one of her cozy tables, quirky country tunes played in the background.

Q. Where did the name Smiley’s come from? Is it a nickname?

A. Yeah, Brian (Fortinberry, owner of Front Range BBQ) calls me that. We’ve known each other about six years. I was a waitress for him there, and we became friends. I ended up doing catering with them and helping with baking.

Q. How is this place different from the café you ran previously in Old Colorado City called Amy’s?

A. We’ve got a bigger menu; it’s a better location. This is more like a real restaurant. That was my learning experience. I was there not even a full year. It didn’t have a full kitchen, just an oven and extension cords everywhere, which wasn’t a good thing. We do a lot of similar things here: like the meatloaf with sweet tomato gravy (I’m putting that on the winter menu) and a breaded pork chop sandwich. We had sandwiches and soups and lasagna over there, too, but here we do more sandwiches and more meats, especially as the weather gets colder.

Q. To what do you credit your cooking skills?

A. I just always cooked. My mom never cooked, so as soon as I left home I just started cooking and working in restaurants. I learned an awful lot from Stacy Blakeley at the Pampered Palace on Old Colorado, where Gertrude’s is now. She was wonderful, and I knew her a long time. I learned a lot from her. I read magazines and cookbooks and try new things.


Q. Do you know where that love of cooking comes from?

A. I like to eat! (Laughs) Maybe it’s the colors. I’m an artist too. Everything here has to have color. (Several of her paintings decorate the café, and you can find more samples at Front Range BBQ. “I call it doodling art,” she says. “I want to do more of it but I just don’t have time.”)

Q. Where is home for you?

A. I’m from Jersey and the East Coast: I lived in Nantucket, Massachusetts for 12 years, Martha’s Vineyard and the Outer Banks. But I like it here. I’ve been here since ’91. I used to go off in the summers, but I don’t anymore. I love the mountains. I’m going to get back into skiing this year.

Q. What are your favorite products from Ranch Foods Direct?

A. Ground buffalo, and the burger. I want to try the cheeses. I’ve got to try a steak. I love pork and a good steak.

Q. How do you prepare the ground buffalo?

A. We made a bunch of meatloaf with it, and meatballs (CLICK HERE for the recipe.) I made a homemade roll, and we made a meatloaf sandwich with onions and cheese. It went over really well. Also we did a shepherd’s pie with the buffalo in it, pearl onions, other vegetables and mashed potatoes on top. That also went over really good.

Q. How choosy are you about your ingredients?

A. I like to get fresh local ingredients, and put that money back into our town.

Q. You do almost all of the cooking here, don’t you?

A. Yes. But I have my daughters helping me. Sadie and Emma (they are twins but not identical twins) help me cook. You learn a lot of things to make ahead. I’m making soups now to freeze them.

Q. What’s the outlook for small independent restaurants like yours?

A. It’s hard. Normally this time of year I thought I would be slowing down but I’ve been even busier than in the summer. I think the cold weather is part of it. So I’m doing alright. I’m still here. But you have to be really careful with the ingredients and labor, because rent’s high downtown.

Q. What’s your goal for this place?

A. I want to do dinners a few nights a week, get my beer and wine license. I think it would be nice: it’s cozy in here, and I could put candles on all of the tables.

It’s turkey time

After former wheat farmers Jay and Cindy Wisdom of Haxtun, Colo., made the switch to raising natural poultry on the Colorado High Plains, they discovered there’s a huge hunger for regional alternatives to mass-produced food.

"Our business has been growing every year," Jay says.

The tough economy hasn’t slowed interest in their natural turkeys, chickens and eggs, he adds. “Chicken is kind of a staple. People are just buying more whole chickens and more dark meat. Eggs are a staple, a great source of protein. I think people have gone back to the basics. Families are eating in more.”

This holiday season a couple thousand Wisdom turkeys will grace area tables. The plump, juicy broad-breasted whites are fed an all-natural, vegetarian diet with access to the outdoors. The birds are processed right on the farm, which includes a USDA-certified plant.

The Wisdoms have a long-term goal of starting a custom processing plant in Haxtun and hope to have the feasibility study complete by the first of the year. They are looking into federal grants or stimulus funds to help pay for the facility, which is badly needed to encourage more regional poultry production by small family farmers. Jay says small poultry producers are often forced to ship birds hundreds or even thousands of miles for processing. Northern Colorado Poultry was the last USDA-approved custom processor in Colorado and closed in recent months.

The Wisdoms don’t have time to process birds from other farms in addition to the ones they raise, which is why they hope to build and manage a custom plant. They and their two daughters, Jennifer, 13, and Megan, 10, do most of the work on the farm, although Jay says the girls’ athletic and school activities are beginning to compete more for their time. The girls still help with gathering and washing the eggs, bagging and packing turkeys, and conducting sales at the Boulder farmers market. Jay’s mom and dad also help out on the farm. It’s a real family operation all the way from farm to table.

Wisdom turkeys will be available in a range of sizes throughout the holiday season at Ranch Foods Direct.

You can learn more about the Wisdoms by visiting their website, CLICK HERE.

  Did you know? … Mass-produced turkeys cannot fly, cannot mate naturally, are confined throughout their entire lives and take just 16 to 18 months to grow to roasting-pan size.

Ranch Foods Direct staff
talk turkey, tradition

“There are four unbroken rules when it comes to Thanksgiving: there must be turkey and dressing, cranberries, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie.” — John Hadamuscin, cookbook author

Is it possible to celebrate Thanksgiving without a turkey? An informal survey of staff members at Ranch Foods Direct indicates that in most cases a turkey is mandatory although tradition seems to be easing its grip.

Thoroughly in the camp of it-wouldn’t-be- Thanksgiving-without-the-turkey is Brenda Allen, the plant manager. “I think it’s just the way mom brought us up,” she says. “There were five of us, and we also had a turkey at Christmas.”

Though Brenda is a Colorado native, and her parents are from Pennsylvania, their parents are from Atlanta, Georgia, and passed on a heritage of Southern cooking. Last year, Brenda deep fat fried her turkey, and it came with all the traditional accompaniments of stuffing, cranberries, mashed potatoes and a sweet potato pie she raves about. (CLICK HERE for the recipe.)

Almost as popular as the turkey itself are the leftovers, she says, a sentiment consistently echoed by everyone else. “I might make a turkey casserole, or I like taking the turkey and chopping it up fine to make a turkey salad (similar to tuna salad),” Brenda explains.

Home service consultant Pete Vieth says about the only time of the year he eats turkey is at Thanksgiving, but there is sure to be one at his family’s dinner. “We usually do a turkey and something else: a prime rib or a leg of lamb or a ham. It depends on how many are coming.”

“Last year we smoked our turkey and that was really good,” he says. “Typically, we’ll make a couple more meals out of it. I do turkey soup a lot.”

But traditions are changing. Ranch Foods Direct owner Mike Callicrate doesn’t consider turkey a mandate at Thanksgiving. He’s willing to substitute another meat. But when he remembers back to his childhood, it’s a different story.

“We always had turkey. Always,” he recalls. “Mom made the biggest turkey she could find because there were ten in my family. Hers is still the best stuffing I’ve eaten, and the best mashed potatoes and gravy, and the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever had.”

For Leona Espinoza, turkey tends to play second fiddle to her aunt’s green chili stew, although last year’s Thanksgiving at her brother’s was an exception. “I took my turkey to Texas last year,” she recalls. “I checked it through security with my carry-on. Everybody commented on how good the turkey was.”

Most of her Thanksgiving meals are spent with family in the mountains of Southern Colorado. “We’ll have a turkey,” she explains. “But we always have Mexican food. My aunt makes the best green chili stew. And we always have tamales.”

Green chili is a tradition in both her mom and dad’s families. And regardless of what ends up on the table, “food is an all day deal,” she says.

Marcy Nameth, who coordinates sales and deliveries for the Arkansas Valley Organic Growers and offers a CSA at Ranch Foods Direct, is planning to tweak tradition this year. “We were thinking that we have a chicken we can grow bigger than usual, which might work the best for us because we may not have a huge family gathering. I’m not going to spend a ton of money on a turkey, but I don’t want to get a cheap one at the grocery store, either.”

She said she would probably roast and stuff the hen as she normally would a turkey. In the past, they’ve prepared a large rooster with delicious results, she says. “You could even stuff a Cornish game hen,” she notes. “Duck is another option.”

Another of her holiday favorites is a broccoli, cauliflower, raisin and sunflower seed salad in a mayonnaise style dressing.

Recalling her childhood in Illinois, she says the table always boasted a ham as well as a turkey, since numerous hog farms surrounded them. “My grandfather always made beef and noodles,” she adds.

Ranch Foods Direct Chief Financial Officer Michael Kaminski and his family have let go of the traditional holiday for reasons of convenience. “Since we moved here four years ago, we haven’t had a major tradition,” he says. “I think last year we had lasagna. Most of the time we are cooking Italian or Mexican food, and the kids prefer Mexican.”

With two kids, including a daughter that only nibbles, it falls on three of them to finish off the meal. “If my dad or our in-laws were coming out, we’d probably do a turkey,” he says.

Back in Southern California, where they were surrounded by extended family, they enjoyed big traditional Thanksgiving dinners. “We used to do the full thing. What I miss the most is the day-after leftover turkey sandwiches,” Michael admits. “And we used to have to get a whole separate can of cranberry sauce just for my son. He’d eat the whole thing by himself.”

To fill the void at least a little, Michael says he buys the sliced roasted turkey from Ranch Foods Direct throughout the year. And sometimes he puts his foot down and insists on celebrating with Italian instead of Mexican.

“Sausage is always best when made by the people who eat it.”
— Farmer and columnist Richard Oswald

Ranch Foods Direct owner Mike Callicrate has joined the board of directors for the Catamount Institute, which takes as its mission “inspiring ecological stewardship.”
The institute hosts its second annual local sustainability conference in November. The 2009 Southern Colorado Sustainability Conference theme will be "Advancing Southern Colorado as a Leading Sustainable Community,” to be held November 3-4 at the Doubletree Hotel, 1775 East Cheyenne Mountain Blvd, Colorado Springs. Find registration and programming information (CLICK HERE).

A fresh look at orange juice

“Most (orange) concentrate is now from Brazil. Shipping it is relatively easy… The majority of not-from- concentrate is coming from Florida-squeezed oranges, but that's certainly changing. The orange growing is moving to Brazil, which grows the most oranges for juice by far. Land is cheaper, and environmental regulations are almost nonexistent.”

— Alissa Hamilton, author of Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice. In her book, she explains that even “not from concentrate” orange juice is heated, stripped of flavor, stored for up to a year, and then re-flavored artificially before it is packaged and sold. Her book is a reminder to consider buying whole foods and doing your own further processing at home.

Did You Know? … Seeds from pumpkins or any kind of winter squash can be roasted to make a low-carb, nutritious, and delicious snack. The meat of other squash can be substituted for the pumpkin in a pie.


“(Commodity) ground beef is like asset- backed securities — you really don’t know what’s in that burger.” — Princeton University economist, author and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman

Know what's in your burger. Shop Ranch Foods Direct.

... Your local source of natural beef, poultry, buffalo,
pork, lamb, eggs, wild seafood, deli meats
and cheeses, meals and more!

Member, Peak to Plains Alliance (www.peaktoplains.com)

Store and Meat Plant
2901 N. El Paso, Colorado Springs 80907
Retail Hours: Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
Saturday 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed Sunday
(719) 473-2306 or 1-866-866-6328

Mike Callicrate, Owner

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