One might not expect a boy from the farm and another from very humble city beginnings to grow up to be a culinary team that is making a name for themselves not just locally, but nationally. Considering that, along with the fact that they are serving their creations from a kitchen in a hospital, it is similarly surprising that the meals are so good, return patrons have made Manna Restaurant a regional destination.
“I grew up on a ranch in Yellowstone and was always cooking with my mom in the kitchen,” remembered Chef Daniel Skay, Executive Chef at Manna Restaurant. “I learned how to do all of that at an early age – plus it kept me out of doing all the hard labor on the ranch.”
Unsure about a future on the ranch, Skay tried to then pursue a teaching degree, only to eventually return to working with food. “I decided to go to school to be a chef in New York and here I am.”
Coming from an entirely different background, Manna Restaurant Chef de Cuisine, Adam Freisem, knew too that his future would be working in the food industry. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I started at 14 being a dish boy and moved my way up to waiting tables and then working in the kitchen,” said Chef Freisem.
After getting accepted to Johnson & Whales University in Colorado, he eventually left with a degree in Food and Beverage. “After graduating, I came over to Parker Adventist Hospital and that’s when I started working with Chef Dan.”
Then in 2013, the opportunity to embark on a new adventure came up when Castle Rock Adventist Hospital was being built. They wanted Chef Skay to help them open Manna Restaurant in the hospital’s main entrance. “They approached me to come to Castle Rock, so I figured the best person to bring with me, is the one who thinks just like me.”
So Chef Skay took his right hand man, Chef Freisem, to the new location that would evolve into Manna Restaurant; a place that serves staple foods with a twist. “Think comfort food and take it a little to the left.” smiled Chef Skay. “I think we have created something that has familiar tastes but with something that also expands the horizons a little bit.”
Anything but Hospital Food
Feeling adventurous, we wanted to see firsthand what all this ‘not typical hospital food’ was about. A short drive to Manna Restaurant sounded like a grand idea.
The first thing that one might not expect is the ambiance when entering the restaurant. Rather than a cold, stuffy hospital interior, the feeling and colors present give patrons a warm feeling as the scents exciting scents come from Manna’s kitchen.
The script on the menu gives a fine-dining feel and a statement on its cover gives you the knowledge that only the best local products are used in the kitchen. “Local growers are our best bet because they are using cleaner products, less ingredients and less preservatives,” Chef Skay stated. “We’ve also incorporated things like the black and purple radishes from our hospital garden into dishes.”
Dazzled by surprisingly affordable meals of Elk and Duck, my eyes finally fell on the Korean Ribs to fulfill my craving for its accompaniment: kimchi. The other person in my party opted for the Smoked Salmon Carbonara, another house favorite recommended by our lovely waitress.
As our food was being prepared, I decided to take a jaunt around the 167 person occupancy room. Within the restaurant there are more healthy choices – for those with little time – like a salad bar and fresh grab and go items. “We are big into community outreach,” said Chef Skay. “Several of our items in the bakery are from Wellspring Community’s Best Buddies Bakery.”
It was intriguing to also notice their open inviting kitchen; a room that gave patrons the mirage that they were dining in a hip restaurant in So-Ho. “When they were designing the kitchen, I really pushed for it to be open,” recalled Chef Skay. “They said, ‘Are you sure?’ and I said, ‘Heck yeah!’
That’s when I noticed our waitress heading to our table with two steaming plates in her hands. Our feast had arrived and was prepared to be eaten.
The marinated Korean Ribs ($10) were laid over veggie kimchi and served with little, cute, baby carrots and micro bok choy. The smell of the pickled Asian vegetable mix went well with the richness and tastes of the tender ribs. The artistic smear of gochuchang (a savory, spicy and pungent fermented Korean condiment) under the carrots ticked my nose with the added kick it gave the meal.
Equally enticing, the presentation of the Smoked Salmon Carbonara ($9) was on point. The gluten-free rice noodles came al dente and were topped with the signature egg that makes carbonara. We were then given the direction to mix the egg with the noodles and salmon. “The idea is that the egg cooks and thickens the heavy crème, black pepper and salt already there,” said Chef Freisem.
Still questioning that we were in a hospital eating this delicious food, we decided to go for broke. After nearly finishing our hearty meals, we glanced at the dessert menu. The gluten-free chocolate brownie and the house made gelato of the day were our poison of choice.
The warm brownie quickly arrived with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. It tasted rich, chocolaty and comforting. The gelato was a fun choice because the flavors of the day were cupcake and coffee-IPA. The cupcake tasted just like a cupcake with sprinkles and the coffee-IPA was an interesting combo, to say the least…
Utterly stuffed, it’s easy to see why Manna Restaurant has become a destination restaurant. Because of its ambience, its menu of fabulous food, much of which has local farmed ingredients, its affordable prices – and the fact you don’t have to tip – we will add ourselves to the return diner list.
Their attention to being involved in the community and the fact diners who decide to leave a tip, instead of going in a pocket, goes to helping the mission of local organizations (like the Task Force) so patrons can leave with a full belly and the good feeling of giving back.
*Note: their menu is changing for fall starting mid-October*