When I last visited (and reviewed) Colorado Coal Company in Erie a few years back, I remember being impressed by its elegance and near-fine-dining atmosphere. I remember being shown to a table by a host and seated with a hardbound wine list reminiscent of any big-league steakhouse. I remember a delicious steak and a very reasonably priced bottle of Cabernet. I remember being very well taken care of by our server, despite some youthful predispositions. I remember, in short, wanting to come back.
Well, I finally did, and my most recent visit, on a sleepy Tuesday evening, produced considerably different memories. The feel this time was much more congruent with a neighborhood bar and grill than it was with modish cuisine. Patrons are seated by the bartender.
Instead of a handheld wine list and a list of nightly specials recited enticingly by a server, diners are presented with a large chalkboard of specials and wines by the glass on the far interior wall.
Flat screen televisions grace both corners of the large bar (it’s possible that these were here all along, but the point is that on my last visit the atmosphere superceded them). Whether this is a conscious change in style or I was just there a little early on a quiet evening, I do not know.
All of this is not to say that the Coal Company has fundamentally downgraded. If there has indeed been a change in style or approach, there is presumably a good reason for the adjustment and one must judge their experience based on that strategy. Having settled myself into this new territory, then, I began to accentuate the positive.
The upshot of this more casual feel is an atmosphere of neighborly good nature. I was greeted by a friendly, attentive bartender who informed me of the selection of beers on tap, of which I chose local favorite Hazed and Infused (a dry-hopped beauty of a brew from Boulder Beer Company). Looking around at the storefront layout, which essentially splits the space in two with the bar on one side and the dining area on the other, I spotted the exposed brick wall on the north side of the space that I found so enchanting on my last visit.
The photography and memorabilia celebrating Erie’s coal mining past remained from before, and the notices announcing Happy Hour specials scrawled in chalk behind the bar evoked the most comfortable of local watering holes.
Being on my own this time, I decided to let my carnivore flag fly with a half-rack of blissfully sloppy pork ribs ($15.95 with fries and cole slaw). These beauties are of the three- maybe four-napkin variety, a fact my bartender graciously acknowledged by bringing me extra. Tender and generous in their meat-content, the ribs were slathered in a smoky, spicy barbecue sauce that immediately gratified.
I also tried an appetizer of—get this—deep fried Pickle Spears ($5.95), which were in texture and flavor surprisingly satisfying. An order comes with eight spears, far too much for one person awaiting mass amounts of pork but just right for a pair or a trio looking for an appetizer, which is (sort of) not so bad for you. Be warned, however: Taking them home for a reheat is a supremely disappointing exercise.
In the end, I couldn’t get past the dissonance of my past and present visits, but the food was tasty, the portions were generous, and the service was friendly and attentive. As my grandmother says with surprising regularity, “Can’t complain!”
And I didn’t, leaving the Coal Company feeling the drive to Erie was a worthy culinary trip.
Colorado Coal Company
578 Briggs St, Erie
Bottom line: More “dining,” less “fine”; an unimpeachable neighborhood spot.