In this new bi-monthly installment, Lauren Monitz is sharing awesome local gems to binge on a budget and helping you determine if your favorite Denver restaurants are truly the Real Deal.
I’ve often walked by Odyssey Italian Restaurant on East Sixth Avenue, but I don't know anyone who's been there. It has always intrigued me for its aura of old-fashioned elegance — a mysterious romantic interlude transported from another decade. With a front sidewalk strewn with idyllic rose petals, it seems like a setting for a Nicholas Sparks novel or the kind of place that daydreaming girls picture as the sight of a first date, getting gussied up and treated like a princess in an era before right-swipe-left-swipe reigned and a “date” became merely coffee or a drink — anything to keep the tab under ten bucks. But I was convinced the interior would feel either like a tacky, outdated, themed honeymoon suite or the kind of restaurant your grandparents adore (with little to offer younger generations), so I never set foot inside.
Something stuck in my mind, though, so I looked up the menu online, only to discover an awesome secret link (Agatha Christie, at your service). Clicking through the home page to the restaurant's menu, I found a link to a coupon offering free Veal Tuscany ($25) with the purchase of another full-priced entree on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Veal is by no means a cheap protein to give away; I thought surely this couldn’t be an entire entree gratis — could it? So on a Tuesday night, a friend and I set off on a lady date to find out.
It's true: free veal!
Odyssey is quirky and out of place on Sixth Avenue, with formal white tablecloths and fresh red roses that set a mood in an early-nineteenth-century mansion where even the bedrooms have been transformed into dining spaces and private rooms. It manages to feel more intimate than stiff and unapproachable, perhaps due to the warm and bubbly servers, who also seemed from a different period, when it wasn’t an anomaly to hold the door open for guests. Immediately greeted by the scent of garlic, we were intrigued by a skillet burning oil and spices in the dining area solely for the purpose of creating a heavenly aroma — like savory incense. It probably would have made more sense to be served as a tableside dipping sauce with the bread, but alas, some things defy logic. The place is owned by a Sicilian family that has been in the business for decades. The family operated a few restaurants in New York before moving to Colorado, and most recently ran a now-shuttered trattoria in Castle Pines.
A healthy portion of pasta — as it should be at an Italian operation.
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We presented the coupon (make sure you print yours and bring it along) to our server, who seemed surprised that anyone had found the under-the-radar deal but was happy to honor it, responding “Hope you’re hungry!” In compliance with the offer, we chose a second entree to share, a super-spicy lobster pasta the kitchen was able to make with gluten-free noodles. After indulging in a loaf of bread coated with chunks of fresh garlic, housemade balsamic enriched with brown butter (yum), and a complimentary side Caesar for both of us, it was finally time for the main courses. Even though I was forewarned, I found the heat of the pasta sauce in the lobster dish a little too much for my palate, so the veal easily stole the show. It came as a huge portion of thin-sliced meat that was delightfully juicy and tender. The description noted a red-wine reduction, but the plate was swimming in a creamy Gorgonzola sauce, which was more than fine, since I adore blue cheese — and its Italian cousin. We had the waiter make it rain with parm so everything got a healthy coating of cheese, including the side of garlic spinach, mushrooms, roasted potatoes and plump artichokes, which I immediately picked off to devour. Prosciutto added a nice touch of salt, and the whole entree was so good I could have licked the plate clean — had I not been so full. Had the coupon not required ordering two entrees, we easily would’ve left stuffed just sharing just one plate.
Verdict: Like Homer’s long journey, dinner at the Odyssey was full of surprises around every turn. And full we were, after an epic portion of veal we could barely touch after the bread and salad courses. So yes, Odyssey's veal special is an incredible deal. But if veal's not your deal, there's also an off-menu neighborhood special where any plate of pasta is just $8.99 on Mondays. In addition, if you’re a regular you'll likely be invited to private wine tastings and other events throughout the month. Like the Godfather, it pays to be in the know, so cozy up and make this your new local spot. The veal deal only runs through November 11, so don’t miss out.