Just past South Sheridan Boulevard on West Mississippi Avenue in Lakewood, tamales and burritos are the staples that have held down the corner for years. Tamales Moreno, Tamale Kitchen and Alameda Burrito have been the primary go-to spots for neighbors, along with Hart's Corner, which is now another in a series of Mexican seafood-and-michelada joints. But the aroma of wood smoke wafting from a former liquor store at 5380 West Mississippi Avenue promises something different.
Pizzeria Lui opened on July 21 under first-time restaurant owner Zach Parini, a chef and baker who has lived in Denver for the past eight years and most recently worked at the Grateful Bread Company. Perini grew up in Michigan and has worked at fine-dining restaurants in Seattle and Chicago that specialized in what he calls "tweezer food."
The smoky aroma wafting over this corner of Lakewood comes from an Acunto wood-burning oven from Naples, Italy, which runs at about 900 degrees Fahrenheit and cooks pizzas faster than Parini can make them. The menu consists of several red-sauce pies and an equal number of "white" pies that come either unsauced or with a light layer of pesto. Those and a few craft beers, ciders and wines make up the entire menu — which is a good thing, because Pizzeria Lui is a one-man show for the moment. Parini acts as pizzaiola, cashier and server at the counter-service eatery, which sports only about twenty or so seats inside.
Prices range from $12 to $15 for the house specials, all of which are built on a fourteen-inch crust with a slightly thicker bone than the standard Neapolitan. Parini says he wants the bigger pizzas to differentiate his restaurant from other Neapolitan practitioners; his pies are easily shareable between two people.
When the chef decided he wanted to open his own pizzeria, he looked all over the metro area for an underserved neighborhood with a good rent price. He ended up close to his home in Denver's Harvey Park neighborhood — and he also ended up buying rather than renting, because the building seemed perfect for his needs and the price was right. After barely managing to squeeze his pizza oven through the old liquor-store double doors, he refurbished the interior and replaced the front door. The result is a spartan but sunny dining room warmed by wooden benches and live plants on every table.
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Once the neighborhood catches on that there's something new on West Mississippi, Parini plans to add a fenced-in beer garden in the back and a rooftop garden up top, where he'll grow herbs and vegetables to supplement his seasonal menu for next year's growing season. While the area doesn't seem particularly well-suited for a hip, modern concept, diners with long memories might recall that Maria Empanada got its start just across the street before moving to its current location at 1298 South Broadway. After the Argentinian cafe moved, Mayan Manjar Yucateco briefly served excellent specialties from the Yucutan before Alameda Burrito took over.
Pizzeria Lui is open from 3 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, stays open an hour later on Friday and Saturday, and is closed on Monday.