Red alert: Denver's old-school Italian joints are disappearing

If you're a relative newcomer -- i.e., not someone with a "Native" sticker on the bumper -- you might be surprised to hear that Highland wasn't always a synonym for "hot, new restaurant." Back in the day, the area once known as Little Italy was full of family-owned restaurants dishing up spaghetti and meatballs, chicken marsala and spumoni to northwest Denver's Italian population -- and anyone else with a car and an appetite. See also: - Photos: Last supper at Pagliacci's - Longo's Subway Tavern reaches the end of the line - Lechuga's in northwest Denver is famous for its canolis - Patsy's Italian Restaurant has a rich, colorful, unbeatable history

Then in August, Pagliacci's Italian Restaurant closed after almost seventy years, breaking the hearts of generations of diners who'd swooned over its seven-layer lasagna and other traditional fare. Barely a month later, mourning continued as Longo's Subway Tavern, purported to be the first place in Colorado to serve pizza, shuttered after more than a half-century.

Now, it seems, Denver's original red-sauce institutions can be counted on one hand. There's Patsy's Italian Restaurant, which opened in 1921 and is now owned by a relative of the founder; Carl's Pizza; Lechuga's Italian Restaurant, home of the famous meat canoli; and Carbone's Italian Sausage Deli, which is part-market, part-sandwich shop. Outside city limits, there's Dino's Italian Food in Lakewood and Romano's Italian Restaurant in Littleton.

And then there's Gaetano's. After closing for renovations this summer, the 65-year-old restaurant -- once owned by one of Denver's old crime families, the Smaldones, now owned by another family altogether, BW Holdings, a joint venture of the Wynkoop group and Breckenridge Brewery -- reopened this fall with a new vibe and a new menu.

Is a meal at Gaetano's still an offer you can't refuse? Find out tomorrow when this week's review is posted here. And in the meantime, if you know of other old-school Italian joints around town, let us know in the comments section below.

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Gretchen Kurtz has worked as a writer for 25 years; during that time she's stomped grapes in Napa, eaten b'stilla in Fez, and baked with Buddy Valastro, aka the Cake Boss. Her work has appeared in publications including Boulevard (Paris), Diversion, the New York Times and Westword. Our restaurant critic since 2012, she loves helping you decide where to eat and drink tonight.
Contact: Gretchen Kurtz