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The List: Real Colorado Italian

Locanda del Borgo chef/owner Giancarlo Macchiarella.
Locanda del Borgo chef/owner Giancarlo Macchiarella.
Mark Manger

This week's review of Locanda del Borgo got me thinking about other spots in town where the view of Italy stops at the door -- which exist wholly as Colorado restaurants that just happen to serve Italian food. What follows is a list of those places which most closely hew to that nativist line and leave a diner rooted firmly in the rich history of the Rockies.

Patsy's Inn,

3651 Navajo Street.  80 years of Colorado history in one place, from

Michael Carmine Aiello's joint, Aiello's Italian Kitchen, to Chubby

Aiello's name change (turning the place Irish overnight because of

resentment against Italians during WWII) to it's sale in 1997 and re-sale

last year to a second cousin of Chubby himself.  Patsy's calls itself

"Denver's oldest Italian restaurant," but age has served Patsy's well

and given the place the kind of historic long-view that's sadly lacking

in so many of Denver's dining institutions.

Gaetano's,

3760 Tejon Street.  This is not my favorite restaurant.  As a matter of

fact, the food isn't very good at all.  But that doesn't alter the fact

that Gaetano's has got some serious history in Denver--a past played up

for lightweight laughs by the new owners, the Wynkoop Group, but one

that was heavy in its day.  With it's bullet-proof front door and

basement offices, the Smaldone family used Gaetano's as a base for a

variety of criminal enterprises back in the days of the Denver mob. 

And while the top floor was always used as a restaurant (from 1947

straight through 'til today), it was downstairs where the real action

was--gambling and loan-sharking and worse.  And while I'm not crazy

about what comes from the kitchen, Gaetano's still has a great bar for

those who want to get a feel for what it might've been like sipping

cocktails in Denver fifty years ago.

Barolo Grill,

3030 East 6th Avenue.  While Barolo (which opened in 1992) might not

have the fifty or eighty years of history of the above restaurants, it

still has a past with a uniquely Denver slant.  This is, after all, the

restaurant run by Blair Taylor.  And Blair Taylor (along with guys like

Mel Master and Radek Cerny and Robert Tournier and others) helped to

define Denver's fine dining scene decades before I finally made it to

town.

Venice Ristorante,

1700 Wynkoop Street.  History got made in two ways at Venice.  One, it

opened in the space vacated by what was formerly one of Denver's most

well-known restaurants: Adega--and I would've bet the farm that no one

would've been able to make a go in that space after Chef Moscatello and

company cleared out.  And two, it was brought to life by a guy who,

previously, had nothing more than a strip mall space out in Greenwood

Village.  But that guy was Alessandro Carollo (born in Palermo, former

chef at the Grand Hotel in Florence) and he made it work by crafting a

beautiful restaurant around the bones of Adega and bringing in chef

Christian Della Fave to cook some of the best high-tone Italian in the

city.

Luca d'Italia,

711 Grant Street.  Owner and chef Frank Bonanno makes a new name for

himself with every restaurant he opens.  And while Luca may only be a

few years old, it stands in my mind as a turning point for Denver

Italian: one of the first places in the city to meld authentic and

delicious Italian food with a modern atmosphere and a floor that was

full every single night with people willing to pay a nice chunk of

change for Italian food done as well as it could be done.  The food at

Luca may be Italian, but the vibe and the view is pure Colorado.


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