Cafe Society

Johnny Carino's new menu debuts in Colorado -- where the chain got its start

Johnny Carino's very first location was in Colorado Springs, and Chris Peitersen, the chain's executive chef who's also vice president of Culinary Development, was born in Denver (he still holds season tickets to the Denver Broncos). So it's fitting that Johnny Carino's is rolling out its new menu items -- inspired by Peitersen's recent travels to Italy -- at all of its Colorado stores first.

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Johnny Carino's is now owned by Fired Up Inc., an Austin-based restaurant group. CEO Creed Ford III left Brinker International in 1997 to create Fired Up, and quickly acquired the six Johnny Carino's in existence fifteen years ago, including the Colorado Springs store. The first Johnny Carino's that Fired Up built "from the ground up" was in Fort Collins, according to spokeswoman Lindsey Reynolds, and today Fired Up owns 67 Johnny Carino's locations across the country.

In Italy, chef Peitersen worked with a chef who runs a restaurant on the Amalfi coast, and that time is reflected in the dishes added to the Johnny Carino's roster. "We decided to debut our new menu in Colorado because that is where we as a restaurant concept began, and it is also where I started my professional career as a chef," says Peitersen. "Not all of these menu items are new, some are beloved classics which we wanted to bring back, but our customers' evolving tastes and preferences inspired all of them."

Since the menu items return Johnny Canino's to its local roots, are any of the ingredients locally sourced? "No," he replies. "Unfortunately, everything in regards to procurement is handled nationally, but we do import San Marzano tomatoes -- they are among the best paste tomatoes in the world -- among other things from Italy."

We also asked if he thinks diners will continue to crave comfort food in 2013. His answer? "Yes! I have learned in my fifteen years doing this that comfort food sales -- and sometimes alcohol sales -- coincide with a tough economy. When times get better, people get a bit more adventurous with their tastes. That is what I am trying to capture on our new menu, comfort food with a twist."

Dishes on that new menu include pork chops Calabrese, two seven-ounce breaded, bone-in chops with sweet piquante peppers and capers in a white wine sauce and served with rosemary potatoes, lemon pepper salmon; a grilled fillet topped with artichokes, Roma tomatoes and spinach in a lemon butter wine sauce and served with roasted vegetable risotto; and Italian pot roast sautéed in red wine marinara with Parmesan, onions, carrots and peppers, and served with spaghetti or roasted rosemary potatoes.

Hungry for more? There's also a grilled sirloin salad with marinated sirloin tips, sweet piquanté peppers, pepperoncini, red onions, Gorgonzola, garlic croutons and fresh romaine in a Chianti vinaigrette; Tuscan Steak Scampi, an eight-ounce fire-grilled flat iron steak topped with a shrimp and scallop butter sauce, served with fresh vegetables and choice of pasta with sauce; and Roman ribs; baby-back ribs slow roasted until tender, basted over the grill with balsamic barbeque sauce with Parmesan crust, served with asiago smashed potatoes.

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Jenn Wohletz
Contact: Jenn Wohletz