Forgive Rich Manzo for sounding a little like Bubba Blue in Forrest Gump when he lists off all the different ways lobster will be served at his soon-to-open seafood restaurant, Manzo Lobster & Oyster Bar, at 500 East 19th Avenue. There will, of course, be steamed lobster, but also in the works are two styles of lobster roll, lobster risotto, lobster gnocchi, beef tenderloin with lobster Oscar, lobster Benedict, lobster tacos, lobster poutine and lobster panzanella salad.
Is that about it? Not even close. Manzo is so dedicated to serving lobster that he's installed a 2,500-gallon tank designed by a marine biologist that replicates the exact conditions found in the North Atlantic off the coast of Maine. The tank is self-contained, so the tasty crustaceans (up to 2,000 pounds of them) can live, eat and grow in clean, frigid water just like they would in their natural environment. And the restaurateur's many years in the seafood business have allowed him to build a network of producers and purveyors to help him bring the freshest catch to Denver from waters near and far.
"Getting the very best product, that's what we're really all about," Manzo explains. "My goal is getting things from point A to point B in twelve to 24 hours, but some things, like Santa Barbara uni, get here from the water in five or six hours."
Manzo worked for the Sushi Den family of restaurants for several years before operating the Lobster Bliss food truck several years ago. He initially planned to open a full-scale seafood restaurant in 2016 just half a block from the current location, but the deal fell through. He didn't give up, though, and eventually landed the Uptown space formerly occupied by Marg's Taco Bistro, which closed a year ago. Manzo signed the lease in October 2019 and received his building permits the second week of March 2020, just when the coronavirus pandemic took off and business ground to a halt all over Denver. Every aspect of the buildout and city approvals took longer than planned, he points out, but Manzo just received his certificate of occupancy and is ready to open, save for a few details such as the sign out front and a finishing coat on the glossy blue floor painted to resemble ocean waves (both of which will be ready for opening day).
Also on board is executive chef Darren Pusateri, who Manzo worked with at Izakaya Den and Ototo, and who has also worked at TAG, Guard and Grace, and Frasca Food and Wine locally. The two have come up with a menu that will encompass raw bar favorites, crudos, special selections such as Tasmanian ocean trout and wild-caught Patagonian salmon, and seafood house classics. But they also recognize that many neighbors still prefer to eat at home, so the restaurant will offer market-style seafood (whole fish, oysters, parboiled lobster, for example) and take-home kits that customers can finish in their own kitchens.
The bar will serve ten wines on tap, including several from Denver's Attimo Wine. "The wine list is very Mediterranean and oriented toward shellfish," Manzo points out, adding that there will also be barrel-aged Negroni, Old Fashioned and Black Manhattan cocktails.
Manzo's lobster rolls, which were the main attraction at the Lobster Bliss truck, will come either Connecticut-style, served warm in butter, or Maine-style, served chilled in housemade lemon aioli. Manzo adds a leaf of butter lettuce between the lobster and the New England brioche roll to keep the bread from getting soggy. And if you order takeout or delivery, the sandwiches come as a kit that you assemble at home so that everything's at its freshest.
Manzo Lobster & Oyster Bar will also have a wholesale component to offer fresh seafood to other restaurants, and the Lobster Bliss truck will get rolling again for special events.
Beginning Wednesday, September 23, the restaurant will be open from 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, with lunch and brunch to be added in October. Call 303-862-9282 for reservations and details.
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