The term "brewpub" seems quaint and antiquated by current standards; it's no longer acceptable to serve bland British pub grub with a standard lineup of ales arranged from light to dark. Restaurant diners expect more, and beer drinkers want sophisticated food to go with the creative, complex and experimental beers being brewed in Colorado. We've moved from the brewpub to less concise but more descriptive phrases like "taproom and restaurant," "brewery and eatery," and even "ales and eats" (all used by metro-area establishments). But how about "osteria and oenobeers?" That's the concept that Liberati Osteria and Oenobeers will run with when it opens on Monday, October 29, at 2403 Champa Street.
Liberati is the nearly overwhelming undertaking of Italian brewer/restaurateur Alex Liberati, who began building his eponymous restaurant/brewhouse nearly three years ago in the former Golden Bell Press building across the street from La Fiesta in a neighborhood between the much more active RiNo district and Five Points. The 36,000-square-foot building houses a brewery and Italian restaurant where chef Marta Biasotti, who has worked with Liberati since he opened Brasserie 420 and Smoke Ring in Rome, leads a team dedicated to making nearly every ingredient in-house.
Liberati's passion is beer, but his knowledge of Italian cuisine is also deep. "As a Roman, you have to know how to cook, or you can't call yourself a Roman," he notes.
But Biasotti is the driving force behind the menu. "My dad was a chef, so I was basically born in a kitchen," she recalls. She started her culinary career as a pastry chef (because it was the only thing her dad couldn't do), but expanded her repertoire when she started working with Liberati. The partnership has paid off for her, since the restaurant owner has provided her with a full kitchen of modern equipment for turning out traditional Italian cuisine.
Biasotti will be making, among other things, her own pasta, fresh mozzarella, cured meats, fresh sausage and gelato. Baker Federica Ansani is also on board to make traditional Italian breads and pastries. Liberati explains that he and Biasotti gathered salumi recipes from the chambers of commerce of small towns all over Italy; many were typewritten recipe cards dating back generations. And Ansani adjusts the mineral content of the water in her dough recipes to match that of the regions where the breads originated.
Biasotti's approach to cooking relies on Italian tradition and her own innovation. She's importing specific ingredients when she can't make them herself, but she also says Colorado has great farms and ranches that she'll be relying on, especially for high-quality lamb and beef. "I definitely don't want to teach anyone what Italian food is," she says. "I just want to share what I've learned in 34 years."
In Italy, osterias are typically country restaurants with simple food intended to complement the wines of the house. At Liberati, grape-based beers — Liberati coined the word "oenobeer" — will take the place of wine, but otherwise Denver diners will be familiar with the basic menu layout of antipasti (appetizers), primi and secondi piatti (pastas and entrees) and verdure e contorni (vegetables and sides). There's also a full section devoted to ravioli, one of which turns lasagna into a ravioli dish, with slow-cooked meat and tomato sauce on the inside and bechamel spooned on top. Forget the thick layer of gooey mozzarella, though; Liberati says that's not part of the Italian lasagna tradition, even if "lasagna is made a thousand different ways in Italy — and everyone fights about it."
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Other notable dishes inlcude arrosto di papa Flavio, roast pork loin with apples and prunes named after Biasotti's father; mondeghili, a specific type of Milanese fried meatball; and zuppa de ceci, made with smoked baby octopus, chickpeas, housemade guanciale and broccoletti.
Biasotti recently made a special trip to Rome to study under a master of gelato; the results will be available on the dessert menu, along with regional Italian pastries, such as zeppole di San Giuseppe, a doughnut-style dessert filled with lemon custard and topped with an amarena cherry.
That's Liberati's version of an osteria, but there's also the entire brewing side of the operation. (See our separate coverage of Liberati's oenobeers here.) Between the restaurant and the brewery, Liberati will hold 285 guests inside, with a sprawling patio outside that will soon have a working fountain as its centerpiece. DIY may be the fashion in many other breweries, but comfort was one of the owner's major considerations, so you won't find handmade bar stools and chairs here. And guests will also have plenty of room to spread out across two dining areas and a long butcher-block bar inlaid with white marble. Creative director and artist Paul Vismara (who literally wrote the book on Italian beer) has added his hand-painted beer posters to the decor, and has also created a booklet that describes the company's mission, its beer and its food, so customers can delve into the details at their leisure while sampling from the many tap handles.
Liberati Osteria and Oenobeers will be open for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily beginning October 29. Liberati also has its own parking lot, with forty spots. Visit the brewery-restaurant's website for more information. See our complete Liberati slideshow for more photos.