The List: Real Colorado Italian
Locanda del Borgo chef/owner Giancarlo Macchiarella.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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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