Exclusive first look: Patxi's Pizza opens in Englewood

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First thing's first: Patxi's is pronounced "pah-cheese" ('t' before 'x'), and its name, which is Basque, also happens to be the first name of co-owner Patxi Azpiroz, who opens his namesake restaurant -- a shrine to pizza -- late this afternoon at Cherry Hills at Kent Place, a new mixed-use development in Englewood at University Boulevard and Hampden that will also be the site of the city's first Fresh Fare by King Soopers, as well as another Glacier Homemade Ice Cream & Gelato, which is based in Boulder.

And the location, says Bill Freeman, the second owner, is partially what prompted him and Azpiroz to open an outpost in Denver following the success of their seven stores in Northern California, the first of which opened in Palo Alto in 2002. "We were running out of space in the Bay area, and we love the beautiful outdoors and the access to the mountains in Colorado, plus my wife went to CU, so we figured that if we were going to open a place outside of California, it needed to be somewhere that we wanted to spend time, and we love it here," says Freeman, adding that he and Azpiroz chose the Englewood neighborhood specifically because of its burgeoning population. "There are a lot of households here already -- and 300 luxury lofts that are being built -- and those people don't have a lot of options when it comes to restaurants. It's an under-served area," he notes.

Azpiroz says the pizza concept started percolating in his apartment kitchen in 2001. "I started making doughs and sauces to start with, and then Bill and I went to Chicago to tour every pizza place we could find, and that sort of planted the seed," explains Azpiroz, whose restaurant dispenses thin-crust pizzas as well as deep-dish, Chicago-style pies. "The thin-crust pizzas are awesome, and the deep-dish pizzas are the real Chicago deal," he says, noting that all the pizzas are baked in a revolving pan oven that has the ability to bake sixty pizzas at one time. "It distributes heat evenly, because it's always moving, and while wood-fired ovens are great, because of the depth of the center of a deep-dish pizza, the middle would stay cold, so a wood-fired oven wouldn't work."

But while pizzas are the main draw at Patxi's, the restaurant also serves several salads, including a Greek and a baby arugula with shaved Grana Padano, along with a few starters -- burrata, antipasto, artichoke dip and a gigantic meatball sauced with marinara. The meats are sourced from Zoe's Natural Meats, an artisan purveyor based in Petaluma, California, while Patxi's, the kitchen of which is absent of stovetops, deep-fryers and freezers, makes everything else in-house. "The quality of our products is extremely important to us, so our meats are all-natural, we make our own doughs and sauces from vine-ripened tomatoes, and our produce is the best we can find," says Freeman. He notes, too, that the pizza crusts are all vegan, and that he and Azpiroz also offer a gluten-free crust as well as a whole-wheat crust. Half-baked pizza are available, too.

And the partners have put the same thoughtful consideration into the space (aside from the industrial aluminum chairs, which are popular but cold and uncomfortable), designing a simultaneously cosmopolitan and rustic dining room and bar furbished with reclaimed woods, concrete floors made with rocks that were ground down to tiny pebbles, red brick walls, vintage-inspired partitions, and a pizza window that showcases the expansive kitchen.

They've also donated more than $200,000 in the last two years to non-profits as part of their "52 Weeks of Giving," a program that Azpiroz and Freeman started in 2011 to give back to their community -- and they're doing it in Denver, too. "It's our eternal brand to support the well-being of children, including education," says Freeman, "and so every week, we choose a day to donate ten percent of our entire day's proceeds to an organization based in the community where the restaurant resides." And if you want to nominate a non-profit that can benefit from their generosity, you can do so by going to the restaurant's website.

Patxi's opens today at 4 p.m., and its regular hours will be 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The partners are also opening a store in Cherry Creek, at 185 Steele Street, within the next few months. In the meantime, I had the opportunity to check out the Englewood piehole palace last week, the photos of which are on the following pages.

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