Butternut-squash pizza returns to Osteria Marco, joining other veggie delights

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Regulars at Osteria Marco, one of Frank Bonanno's Larimer Square staples, crave the seasonal butternut-squash pizza. Staffers say patrons ask for the pizza year-round, but they can only get it in the fall. And as of Friday, it will be back on the menu-- so if you've been craving this unusual blend of ingredients on a pie, your time is coming.

See also: The vegan pizza at the Marquis Theater is a show-stopper

We visited the downstairs eatery -- with ample bar space plus a decent-sized dining room for table-dwellers -- during an off-hour, at 4:30 p.m. on a weekday, but the spring in the steps of everyone catering to the few diners scattered here and there showed they were full of the energy they'd need to hustle through the busy night to come. Osteria Marco has a nice ambience without feeling uncomfortably upscale; thick linen napkins and gleaming wood complement the hefty wine list. (Thankfully, the bartenders and servers can guide you through what pairs with what, because it's a little dizzying without some help unless you're a total oenophile.)

There are a lot of vegetarian options on the menu -- among them housemade cheeses, grilled ciabatta bread with pesto, burrata fritters, panzanella salad, eggplant panini -- and some of the salads can be made vegan if ordered without the cheese. About half the pizzas are vegetarian, too, with options like spinach florentine, wild mushroom and artisan, several of which boast housemade cheeses.

But the butternut-squash pie is the standout veggie dish. Instead of being roasted and added as a chunked-up topping, as you might expect, the squash is used to create a creamy base, offset with pine nuts, sage, brown butter and Gorgonzola. The result carries a surprisingly meaty flavor. Those who fear strong cheeses might enjoy testing their mettle on this one; the other ingredients balance out the Gorgonzola beautifully.

Osteria Marco is open daily for lunch and dinner; visit osteriamarco.com to see the menu.

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