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But then Ouerfelli decided that this neighborhood just wasn't for him, so he packed up and headed for the 'burbs, where he ditched the Mikey's name (confusing, since it was run by a guy named Alaya) and opened Cucina Roma Roma at 12363 West 64th Avenue in Arvada. Like the name, the menu is very traditional, street-corner Italian with a slightly upscale bent — sausage and peppers, homemade spaghetti, tortellini carbonara, baked gnocchi smothered under a layer of melted cheese, a half-dozen different piccatas and pizzas.
Roma Roma has been open for just a few months but has already found a following in its new hood. Let's hope that's because of the quality of Ouerfelli's food rather than the limited options available as Arvada scrambles to play restaurant catch-up with its growing population.
Leftovers: I finally caught up with Darren Minich of Premier Ventures — owners of places like Marlowe's, Govnr's Park Tavern and Caldonia's — which, by the time you read this, will have opened its newest property, Lala's Wine Bar & Pizzeria, at 410 East Seventh Avenue.
1610 16th St.
Denver, CO 80202
Region: Downtown Denver
That address sound familiar? It should. It's the old home of Sparrow — one of my least favorite restaurants in the city — and before that, Vega, where Sean Yontz crashed and burned before finding redemption with dollar tacos and PBRs on Colfax Avenue. This time around, Minich said, "It's a pizzeria concept rather than having the menu. Does that make sense?"
"We went to Italy," he continued. And while in Italy, the Premier folks saw a lot of pizzerias. And what they wanted to bring back to Denver was that Italian pizzeria vibe, but not necessarily the pizzeria menu. "The kind of place where, you're sitting there, and within a half-hour, you're dragging another table over," Minich explained.
And while Lala's didn't go for a straight pizzeria menu, it did go Italian (though Minich insists it's not an Italian restaurant), with antipasti, open-face Italian sandwiches, housemade mozzarella, burrata and pastas (for two daily pasta specials) and, well, pizza. "Eclectic pizzas," Minich insisted, put up on the daily special sheet.
The chef, Eric Rivera, was brought in from Marlowe's, and his sous, Victor Leal, from Osteria Marco. These are the guys who are executing the not-an-Italian-restaurant concept. Behind the bar, the partners have stocked up with an off-market selection of bottles — meaning no Ketel One, no Jack Daniel's, but rather vodkas made by organic farmers in Minnesota and gins from around the world.
Strange concept and weird booze aside, though, it's still gotta be better than Sparrow. "This has been our pet project," Minich told me, saying how the partners had been looking at doing something smaller, more intimate and more food-focused for quite some time. The menu sounds interesting (a lot of daily specials and greenmarket influences), and the space, which has had a complete makeover, will certainly be a better fit for the neighborhood and the temper of the times.