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Jovanina's Brings "Broken Italian" to Downtown Denver

A Vespa scooter finds second life as a host stand at Jovanina's.EXPAND
A Vespa scooter finds second life as a host stand at Jovanina's.
Mark Antonation
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Another Italian restaurant? Well, not exactly. Restaurateur Jennifer Linzinmeir and her husband and business partner, Jake Linzinmeir, have something just a little different in mind. That's why they're calling their new eatery Jovanina's Broken Italian, slated to open next week at 1520 Blake Street.

"The name gives people direction, but it won't be red sauce, gingham tablecloths or Chianti bottles," Jake explains.

Jennifer, who is also a co-owner and managing partner of the Red Lion in Vail, comes from an Italian family who have called her Giovannina for her entire life. That was the original name of the restaurant, but after realizing that the spelling and pronunciation were a little tricky for non-Italians, she and Jake simplified it to Jovanina's and added "Broken Italian."

The name is appropriate, given Jovanina's overall vibe. Located in a long, narrow space that was most recently Aoba Sushi, which closed two years ago, the restaurant borrows from Denver history, rather than traditional Italian dining room decor, for its style. The Linzinmeirs stripped back the space and added antique elements from the building and from other historic downtown locations. Most prominent is a hanging table made from an old mechanical lift found in a sealed elevator shaft at the back of the building (that shaft is now the restaurant's bathroom). Gears and pulleys hang from the ceiling, and the floor of the lift was replaced with new wood, creating a tabletop suspended at perfect dining height above the floor.

Antique lamps and a mirror frame are part of downtown Denver history.EXPAND
Antique lamps and a mirror frame are part of downtown Denver history.
Mark Antonation

The bar and kitchen pass also include antique elements; Jake salvaged wooden icebox doors from his grandmother's farm in Indiana and found an old Italian stove covered in green tile. While exploring the basement below the restaurant, he discovered that the building had once been a tobacco shop and cigar factory, so he used some of that history for inspiration too. Brass light fixtures that were once gas lamps were salvaged from the remodel of the Hotel Teatro four years ago, and an enormous bronze mirror frame behind the bar is actually a salvaged billboard box that held stage and movie posters at one of Denver's original theaters.

Other more modern elements add a touch of whimsy, from a Vespa scooter remade into a host station to wallpaper from Walltawk, a Denver-based design company. The entryway wall is covered in blue and white wallpaper with what appears to be a floral pattern, but closer inspection reveals iPhones an other contemporary elements hidden among the flowers and leaves. More wallpaper covered in images of hands holding mirrors (which have actual reflective surfaces) decorates a stairwell leading to a wine cellar that will soon become the "Soto Vocce" room, a subterranean lounge for wine lovers.

An antique door serves as the ADA entrance at the front of Jovanina's.EXPAND
An antique door serves as the ADA entrance at the front of Jovanina's.
Mark Antonation
A vintage stove and ceramic basin make up part of the bar.EXPAND
A vintage stove and ceramic basin make up part of the bar.
Mark Antonation

Jake, who developed the concept and menu at the Nickel when it opened in 2014, will be heading the kitchen, along with chef Ben Halley, where they'll turn out wood-fired fare from a custom-built Mugnaini oven that takes a prominent position at the back of the dining room. Ash-roasted vegetables and house-baked breads will emerge from the oven, along with roasted fish and meats and tempting appetizers along the lines of seared Colorouge cheese with beech mushrooms. Extruded and hand-rolled pastas are also part of the program, including wood-grilled king crab spaghetti, butternut squash gnocchi and elk bolognese with "badly cut pasta ribbons."

Despite the wood-burning oven, pizzas won't be a major part of the menu, but there will two choices — one with vegetables and burrata and another with fennel sausage and mozzarella — that will be available in either a regular or gluten-free crust (and gluten-free pasta will also be offered). The chef has also installed a soft-serve ice cream machine right next to the espresso machine behind the bar, so guests will be able to end a meal with an affogata made with tiramiso ice cream.

"Office Baroque" wallpaper decorates the front entrance.EXPAND
"Office Baroque" wallpaper decorates the front entrance.
Mark Antonation

Along with a long list of wines by the bottle and glass, the bar is making its own curacao, vermouth, limoncello and other infused spirits. Taps will pour several house cocktails in addition to beer and wine.

Jennifer and Jake are hoping to have their final inspection from the city completed by Friday, October 12, so they can open to the public on Tuesday, October 16, but that's just a tentative schedule right now. Once open, Jovanina's will serve fast-casual style lunch with a limited pasta, pizza and salad menu Tuesday through Friday, with dinner service Tuesday through Saturday, and eventually a Sunday brunch. The restaurant will be closed on Sunday nights and all day Monday.

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