At first glance, the brick building stretched out behind a gravel parking lot on Fifth looks like just another warehouse in the Wells Park area of town, all garage doors and loading docks and concrete ramps.
But a closer look reveals surprises, starting with the image of a bumblebee spray-painted on one of the doors. A few outdoor sculptures catch the eye and lead you to the corner of the building, where stands the biggest surprise of all: a restaurant.
This is Kosmos, a 3-year-old operation that grew, fittingly, out of an art studio.
Jerry Miller launched Kosmos after running the place for years with his partner, David Kudney as a coffee bar/performance space with rental units for artists. For Miller and Kudney, opening a restaurant seemed like a logical step after years of serving food at art-related events.
The transformation of the old warehouse to an art space and restaurant echoes what’s been going on in recent years at Wells Park, the neighborhood framed by Interstate 40 and Mountain to the north and south, 12th and First to the west and east. For decades, Wells Park was an industrial area infamously known for a particleboard factory that rained soot and dust on area homes. Neighborhood leaders managed to get that factory closed in 2007; today, the area has been revitalized with tree plantings, murals and xeriscaping. The arrival of brewpubs, food trucks and a distillery/restaurant has helped accelerate the process.
Kosmos’ entrance is up a couple of stretches of wooden ramps alongside a small, serene patio shaded by umbrellas and canvas fabric.
Inside, under chandeliers and a vaulted ceiling, items of visual interest abound. Here is a chair framed with steer horns, there is an old window frame over a video screen showing clouds running across a blue sky. In a nod to the restaurant’s name, globes hang in front of a black curtain dotted with lights.
Open for lunch and dinner six days a week and brunch on Sundays, Kosmos offers pub grub, such as burgers, fish and chips and steak sandwiches, with a small drinks menu. A few local beers are available on tap in pint and 10-ounce servings for $4 to $6.
The nine wines on the menu, ranging in price from $7.50 to $10 a glass, lean heavily on California varieties such as Bar Dog Cabernet Sauvignon and Freakshow Chardonnay.
Front and center on the food menu is the Kosmic Burger ($8.95) made from a third of a pound of Keller’s grass-fed beef. The inch-thick patty had a crispy sear on it, and the bun from Swiss Alps Bakery, toasted on the grill, did a good job keeping everything contained. It was served with the fixings on the side. All told, it was a worthy representation of the form.
A crisp, bubbly Bosque Lager ($4 for 10 ounces), served in a Mason jar, made an ideal thirst-quenching backstop for the burger.
Fries are often an afterthought, but Kosmos’ version, called Spudniks, are out of this world. Thick wedges with a crackling crisp shell over a fluffy core, they are my new favorite fries in town.
The menu has a few salads and sandwiches and four entrees. Among those are Mac & Cheese ($5.25/$7.95) made with cavatappi, long, twisting elbow macaroni with ridges to hold the sauce. The pasta was perfectly al dente, but the three-cheese bechamel, topped with breadcrumbs, was a little dull.
I ordered a couple dishes to go. The steak dinner ($18.75) consisted of a block of marinated flank steak sliced thickly and served with a side of Spudnik fries and sautéed baby bella mushrooms. The steak had ample smoky flavor from the grill and paired well with the meaty mushrooms in butter sauce. It was all fine, but at that price, it should at least come with a salad.
The Afghan Rice ($4.95/$8.50) was like nothing I’ve had before. A heady mix of Central Asian spices, including cardamom and cumin, fills your nose before you the rice hits your mouth. Sautéed julienned carrots, golden raisins and toasted almond slivers add crunch and sweetness, and side of chutney provides a punch of flavor. The large size is more than enough for a meal.
Desserts vary based on what the pastry chef comes up with that day. Unfortunately, he wasn’t there when I visited, so I accepted a root beer float ($5.95) as a consolation prize.
Served in a Mason jar, it was perfect, with just the right balance of ice cream and root beer.
My server, who was in training, did a credible job. The dining-in orders came out pretty quickly, but the takeout orders took more than twice as long. There are a few gluten-free choices on the menu, and the chef has been working to add more.
Kosmos’ location just south of the railroad tracks on Fifth NW offers easy access to and from I-40. The stretch of Fifth where it sits is a one-way street, so if you’re coming from the interstate you have to head south on Sixth past the tracks and cut over at Aspen or Bellamah.
Kosmos is part of a burgeoning dining scene in a neighborhood that once emptied out at night and on weekends. It’s yet another sign of better things to come for Wells Park.