New Jersey native Josh Pollack is doing his best to re-create his childhood food memories for a Denver audience. He started with Rosenberg's Bagels & Delicatessen in Five Points in 2014, creating bagels, smoked fish and other Jewish deli items that were part of his family's holiday traditions. Last spring he added Famous Original J's on the same block as Rosenberg's, this time channeling New York City pizzerias. And for the trifecta, Pollack is ready to launch Lou's Italian Specialties, an Italian market and sandwich shop that will open at 3357 Downing Street on December 11.
Lou's will be far more than a simple sandwich shop. While an impressive roster of hot and cold subs will be the stars of the menu, Pollack is building a menu of housemade pastas and sauces, deli salads, heat-and-eat meals, and meats and cheeses, both imported and from some of Colorado's top purveyors. In addition, the market will sell Italian pantry staples like olive oils, vinegars, dried pastas, spices, grains and canned and jarred goods.
To handle food production, Pollack has brought on longtime friends and fellow Garden Staters Jason Somers and Nick Severino, who both have extensive experience as chefs in East Coast Italian restaurants and delis. Somers, who's been with Rosenberg's for three years and launched the Stanley Marketplace outpost of the bagel shop, is Lou's executive chef, and Severino is culinary director of Bridge & Tunnel Restaurant Group, which covers Lou's, Rosenberg's and Famous Original J's.
"We've got this shared memory of what this thing is supposed to be," says Severino. Pollack and Somers have known each other since before they both moved west to attend the University of Colorado, and Somers and Severino worked together at two different establishments in New York and New Jersey.
Every detail has been thought out to bring out the best in the ingredients. There's a custom-painted meat slicer built by Snaidero, an Italian company known for its precision, hand-cranked machines that can slice salumi down to a tenth of a millimeter. "The underlying mantra is doing things right," Pollack explains, adding that the slicer must be oiled daily in eight different spots on the machine, and that even cleaning it is a slow and exacting task, since rushing the job could result in a lost finger. The avocado-green paint is a custom color matched by the cabinets behind the deli counter, and the red and white details are Ferrari paint colors from the year of Pollack's birth (Snaidero was so proud of the result that the company posted a photo on its Facebook page.)
Even something as simple as iceberg lettuce on sandwiches is given thought. "The way the shaved lettuce holds the dressing is why it's shaved," the owner notes. "It's like mise en place — everything has its place."
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Other details? Hot and cold sandwiches are made on different kinds of bread (made by City Bakery) for the best texture; the chicken Parmesan is breaded with crumbs from day-old Rosenberg's bagels; hand-stretched mozzarella is made at regular intervals throughout the day and is never refrigerated (Pollack says he had to work out the details with the health department to ensure a safe product). East Coast transplants will be pleased to see Italian ice made by Ice Cream Riot, run by South Jersey native Jim McNutt.
Lou's is set up for both variety and volume; catering will be a big part of the business, and menu items have been designed with portability in mind (Pollack says he's tested sandwiches himself to see how they hold up to road trips). In fact, there's no seating inside the deli, so everything is takeout; come December 11, Lou's website will have online ordering so you'll be able to pick up your food quickly or have it delivered.
Pollack purchased the building where Lou's will open three years ago, knowing he'd turn it into a deli. It was vacant for years before that, hunkered on a triangular lot with views of 34th and Downing streets. Across the street, there's a Family Dollar store and a per-scoop Chinese restaurant. Pollack understands the working-class roots of the neighborhood, so he's offering sandwiches and other items at a variety of price points. Whether you opt for a classic Italian sub with inexpensive meats or shoot for high-end charcuterie, the portions are big and filling. Standard subs are built on two-foot loaves cut to small and large sizes, and there will also eventually be three-foot (and longer) subs available for parties.