Brad Anderson has made quite an impact on the Denver dining scene over the past few decades, running the Rocky Mountain Diner, Rick's Cafe, Chopper's Sports Grill, the Castle Cafe and the Next Door Bar with partners Tom Walls and Jerry Good. Now Anderson is ready to jump back into the scene with Benzina, an Italian restaurant built from the bones of a former Phillips 66 gas station at 4839 East Colfax Avenue.
Anderson began planning the restaurant three years ago when he purchased the property, which had most recently been home to a Meineke muffler shop. His plan at the time was to have the place open by late 2019 or early 2020; he hadn't picked a name at that time, but he knew that wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas would be at the heart of the menu.
Permitting delays and construction slowdowns caused by the pandemic pushed the opening date out much further. "A six-month project turned into a year," Anderson points out, noting that even after getting the go-ahead for construction to begin, things still took longer than planned. "I thought we would be able to open in December, but now it's looking like the end of April."
The delays had at least one benefit (in addition to not having to open during the worst part of the pandemic): Anderson was able to secure the services of someone he says is in the top handful of chefs in the country. "I started looking around in New York for chefs looking to get out of the city...and a friend gave me the name Brian Lockwood and said, 'Just look him up,'" he recounts.
As it turned out, Lockwood had recently left his position as chef de cuisine at the three-Michelin-starred 11 Madison Park, which had been named best restaurant in the world in 2017 and which closed at the beginning of the pandemic. A Boulder native, Lockwood had returned to his hometown in 2020 to be closer to his family, so Anderson was able to bring him on as consulting chef to conceive the menu and oversee the opening of the kitchen. Anderson also hired Italian Daniele Bolognini, who was with Acorn until it closed last summer, as executive chef.
Anderson's vision of a simple wood-fired pizza and pasta place expanded to encompass Lockwood's ideas and expertise. It was always Anderson's goal to create pizzas that would compete with the best in town, but he decided to add a Spanish Mibrasa charcoal oven that will be used to turn out smoke-tinged steaks, chops, chicken, fish and vegetables. So even though Anderson describes the menu as "good comfort Italian food," the handmade pastas, Neapolitan pizzas and entrees will certainly exceed neighborhood expectations. And the bar will explore hard-to-find wines from all over the world, but will also have six house wines on tap to keep things down-to-earth.
The gas station, with its flying-V car port, was built in 1963; Anderson hired Semple Brown Design to handle the interior renovations, and the firm has given the dining room and bar a Midcentury Modern aesthetic that matches the building's style. Outside, there will be plenty of patio space, with bocce courts and galvanized steel tubs that will serve as herb and vegetable gardens to supplement the kitchen during the growing season.
When Benzina opens, it will initially offer dinner Wednesday through Sunday, but will eventually expand to daily service, with Friday lunch and weekend brunch to be added as well.
Despite Anderson's many successes in the restaurant business with Wall and Good, this is his first solo effort. In its heyday in the 1990s and 2000s, the Rocky Mountain Diner was always packed, and the food was always a notch above what guests expected. Benzina feels destined to become a worthy successor. Follow the restaurant's progress on the Benzina Instagram page.
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