Chef Brian Sanchez has spent many years in the kitchens of some of Fresno’s finest established restaurants. Now, it’s his turn to take the helm at one of the area’s newest restaurants, Colton’s Social House in Clovis.
Located on the edge of Sierra Vista Mall, Colton’s is an upscale restaurant with a casual, relaxed feel and a menu that’s been carefully crafted after nearly a month of public “beta tasting.”
Sanchez, whose culinary pedigree includes stints at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, Ruth’s Cris Steak House and Cracked Pepper Bistro, admits he’s never been part of such an extensive effort to collect the public’s opinions about a menu.
But restaurant owner Jim Souza, a Las Vegas businessman and restauranteur, wanted to make sure they got it right.
Souza, former owner of several Sweet River Grill restaurants, including the one in Clovis that is now Colton’s, told Sanchez he wanted the restaurant’s menu to be built around gourmet burgers, creative appetizers, craft beer and cocktails.
Sanchez took that concept and blew it up. He created over-the-top burgers, innovative pasta dishes and mouth-watering appetizers.
So for several weeks, the public provided Sanchez and his staff feedback on what they liked and didn’t like. Sanchez also took a cue from his former boss, Vatche Moukhtarian, owner and chef at Cracked Pepper Bistro, by talking with customers nightly to get their feedback.
“I want people to be honest, because I really want to know what they are thinking,” Sanchez says. “Are there things we are missing, or things that we could be doing better?”
One early complaint was that it took too long for food to arrive and poor service. Both issues have been addressed, Sanchez says.
Overall, the “beta tasting” worked and even provided some surprising results.
An instant hit among customers was the caramelized Brussels sprouts. The appetizer is a pleasingly tasty dish that features slow-roasted Brussels sprouts, small chunks of applewood smoked bacon, gorgonzola, honey butter and medjool dates.
“Ten years ago you couldn’t give Brussels sprouts away,” Sanchez says. “Now, it is the most popular item on our menu.”
Sanchez says his vision at Colton’s is to create a restaurant that isn’t afraid to push boundaries while also providing customers with a satisfying dining experience.
Sanchez likes to say that he takes basic food and makes it extravagant. One of his more wild entrees is the Clovis Fire House Burger that will set your mouth on fire. The burger consists of a pure Angus beef patty topped with deep friend jalapenos, chipotle aioli and a generous amount of fiery ghost pepper cheese.
The ghost pepper, one of the hottest peppers on the planet, gives the burger an instant blast of heat that mellows as you continue eating. The burger’s buttered bun and tasty beer-battered fries are a nice compliment.
Equally popular is the chorizo and egg burger. It’s like breakfast in a bun. Sanchez combines Spanish-style chorizo – it’s more sausage like than the Mexican version – with Angus beef to make a flavorful patty. He tops it with a fried egg, onion straws and pepper jack cheese.
Other notable menu items, include salmon on a bed of creamy orzo pasta, white truffle pasta, and melt-in-your-mouth pork belly sliders. The pork is smoked and braised to give it just the right texture.
Sanchez is also testing a brunch menu that includes avocado smash toast. It’s a nine-grain slice of thick toast loaded with roughly chopped avocado, and layered with succulent duck bacon and a quail egg.
“People ask, is that really duck bacon?” Sanchez says with a laugh. “And I tell them yes, it is. I want people to know that they can expect to find some interesting things here.”
Colton’s general manager Gina Jew-Vay appreciates the “beta tasting” approach, saying it helps clarify what customers like while also giving the chef some insight into what flavors he may want to experiment with.
Jew-Vay says Sanchez is helping to expand people’s culinary palate and appetite for something different. That concept also extends to the bar where bar manager Brit Collins is trying to push her Coors Light customers into craft beers.
Colton’s has several local brews on tap including Tioga-Sequoia, Pine and Palm, South Gate, and House of Pendragon.
“Some people get angry when we tell them we don’t have Bud Light or Coors Light on tap, but after talking to them a little bit we find something they really like,” she says.
Collins, who has tended bar in San Francisco, is using her big city craft cocktail skills to grow her customer’s appetite for specialty drinks. Among some of her favorites are the cranberry orange cosmo, the pineapple cilantro margarita, blueberry mojito and the Campfire Stout beer topped with a Nutella smore.
“People are liking what we doing,” Collins says. “And that is a good sign.”