Cranking out handmade pasta in a shipping-container kitchen can test a chef's endurance. Two years is about the limit, according to the Chow Morso team, which has been serving traditional Italian street food inside Avanti Food & Beverage since October 2016. Now owner Ryan Fletter, who also operates Barolo Grill at 3030 East Sixth Avenue, and executive chef Darrel Truett are ready to spread their wings a little: They'll open a full-service version of Chow Morso at 1500 Wynkoop Street on Tuesday, September 4.
The new version, officially called Chow Morso Osteria, takes over the corner space most recently occupied by the Squeaky Bean (which closed a year ago). Fletter says the basic theme of the Avanti food counter will carry over to the osteria, but with more space to explore the food and wine of Italy. "We get to broaden the menu here," he explains. "Over there, we were maxed out. We were making everything in that shipping container."
Fletter adds that the style of food and service will fall somewhere in between the 24-year-old Barolo Grill (which he has worked at for most of that span and purchased three years ago) and the fast-casual Chow Morso. Customers won't have to order at a counter and grab a number or a buzzer; they'll be able to sit down and order food and drinks in an open and airy dining room or at the U-shaped bar, recently redone in white and slate blue. New to the space is a cafe-style counter perfect for lunch visits, where guests can pop in for a quick meal, an espresso and a phone or laptop recharge. There are also four seats at the chef's counter, looking into the kitchen and strategically placed for diners to watch pasta being made.
The menu comprises favorites from Avanti, including the gnocco fritto, puffy pillows topped with paper-thin salumi; the arancini, fried risotto balls oozing with fontina; and fried calamari. Flatbread sandwiches called piadini will also carry over, but the pasta menu will be greatly expanded and there will be a few larger entrees, including a flatiron steak, Alamosa striped bass and breaded chicken with lemon butter.
Barolo Grill is known for its upscale, creative takes on Italian cuisine, but Fletter says Chow Morso will give regulars a chance to partake in more rustic classics like spaghetti carbonara (which Barolo Grill will make on request, but doesn't offer on its regular menu), caccio e pepe, linguine alla vongole, spaghetti puttanesca and slow-cooked Bolognese over tagliatelle.
"The original inspiration for Chow Morso was agnolotti and Bolognese," Fletter notes. "That's the heartbeat of it. And it's the same with the wine — it's not so geeky [as Barolo Grill]." Fletter's love of Italian wine and regional grape varietals like verdicchio and timorasso will be evident, but he wants to make sure his cellar — visible from a large window where the Squeaky Bean's bingo board once hung — will have something for everyone, while occasional wine dinners will give guests a chance to explore new territory.
Chow Morso Osteria will give Fletter and Truett the opportunity to tap into a new customer base downtown. "We're lucky on this corner, because you see a little bit of everyone," he points out. Two Italian scooters parked out front (which Fletter and Chow Morso's general manager ride to work every morning) hint at the casual, breezy style of the space, transformed from the darker, closer digs of the Squeaky Bean. Whites, blues and burgundies, illuminated by light fixtures that mimic pasta shapes, give the bar and dining room an almost coastal feel. And a coffee station up front, backed by the Bean's vintage Bevador cooler (which will eventually be filled with Italian bottled drinks and snacks), give daytime passersby something to stop in for.
Chow Morso Osteria will serve lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, transitioning to happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. and dinner every night but Sunday. The original Chow Morso will close inside Avanti Food & Beverage on September 30.
Update — September 6, 2018: Chow Morso has pushed its opening date to Thursday, September 13, 2018.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.