Food News

Chef Elise Wiggins Unveils Plans for Cattivella at Eastbridge Stapleton

Last month, chef Elise Wiggins left her longtime post at Panzano in the Hotel Monaco downtown with the goal of opening her own restaurant. At the time, she was in the process of hammering out a lease  and so couldn't talk about the location or name. But that deal is done, and Wiggins has revealed that she has targeted the Eastbridge Stapleton development and will be opening an Italian eatery, to be named Cattivella, before the end of the year.

Wiggins explains that the Italian word cattivella translates to "'naughty girl' — like an impish, mischievous little girl. It's a very endearing word in Italy."

The chef has been using the handle "the Naughty Chef" for years on social media as well as for her recent catering business, and so thought the Italian version would be appropriate for her new restaurant. In her extensive travels through Italy — at least twice a year for more than twenty years — she's made many connections in the culinary world, so she checked with a chef friend in Italy to make sure the word didn't imply anything risqué. He gave as an example a young girl who brazenly steals a piece of chocolate from her mother's hidden stash and pops it in her mouth while her mother watches, which Wiggins says captures her personality perfectly.

Wiggins chose Stapleton to build Cattivella in part because it's her own turf. "I live in Stapleton, and we are starving for good restaurants," she says. Cattivella will join a number of other big names in the Eastbridge development (at the intersection of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Galena Street), including a new outpost of the Kitchen Next Door, Concourse from chef/restaurateur Lon Symensma, two projects from Troy Guard (a breakfast spot and another Los Chingones), and a Little Man ice cream shop.

Cattivella's 3,200-square-foot space will center on a u-shaped open kitchen with a wood-burning oven and a chef's counter with 26 seats. Total seating inside the restaurant will be 100, with another 100 chairs outside. One of the design challenges was to eliminate what Wiggins calls "dead spaces," areas in a dining room that feel left out of the energy and ambience of a restaurant. "The entire kitchen is exposed, with no walls," she adds, including prep and butchering stations. And for tables without a direct view of the action, there will be a video camera pointed at the kitchen, connected to a digital projector with a screen on one wall — which will also help out when Wiggins teaches cooking classes in the space.

The menu takes inspiration from many different regions of Italy, including Tuscany, Umbria and Piedmont. "We're focusing on slow food — the ancient way of cooking all over Italy," the chef notes. Along with time-tested methods, she'll be introducing new and seasonal ingredients like sprigariello (a wild vegetable similar to broccolini) and pilacca, a chile condiment from Puglia that she says is "fermented with salt and garlic, almost like an Italian kimchi."

Another distinctly Italian feature of Cattivella will be a slightly Americanized version of the practice of guests standing outside the restaurant and enjoying glasses of wine while socializing before dinner. Wiggins points out that liquor laws won't allow customers to spill out onto the sidewalk with glasses of wine in hand, so she's setting up a bar that opens onto an expansive patio with high-top tables where guests can quickly grab a glass of wine. "It will be set up so that people can stand and talk and commune," she explains. She first encountered the idea on a visit to Bologna many years ago, and says it's a much better way of accommodating guests while they wait for a table than packing them into a small waiting area or overcrowded bar. 

Those who have dined at Panzano know Wiggins's penchant for fresh pasta and skill with whole-animal butchery — and both of those feature prominently on the menu. There will also be wood-fired pizzas and a grab-and-go menu for families that will include the likes of whole roasted chicken with all the sides.

Wiggins is working with Sarah Brown of Semple Brown Design as well as Jordy Construction, Smith & Greene kitchen designers and Gearbox Graphic Design to build out the restaurant, which she hopes to have open by late fall or early winter.

If that's too long a wait for you, Wiggins will be heading up an "Epicurean Outdoors" retreat, which will include two five-course dinners and a cooking class, at the Water Valley Ranch in Southern Wyoming over Labor Day weekend. Tickets will go on sale soon on Eventbrite.