Second Helpings

Second Helping: Patsy's

No question, I ate awesome sandwiches during my trips to Carbone's Italian Sausage Deli for this week's review. But the flavor of those sausage, meatball and salami subs was also enhanced by the place making them, a relic of the kind of Italian market that once stood on just about every block in northwest Denver.

I love cruising that neighborhood with my boyfriend's dad, who's lived in Denver for decades and remembers the names and stories of now long-gone cafes, bars and restaurants. One recent trip down memory lane ended at an Italian institution that's still going strong: Patsy's, which the Aiello family opened back in 1921 and, after some time with another owner, is now back in the hands of a cousin.

Stepping into this eatery is like stepping into the past: The saloon side, with its giant wooden bar, and the dining room are bathed in shadows -- which cover some, but not all, of the spots worn shiny on the walls and tables and wooden booths, a side effect of years of use. Sometime during the last few decades, Patsy's expanded, adding a generic addition reminiscent of a church's multi-purpose room; it's better to be seated in the original space.

Patsy's recently added to-go pizza, but then you'd miss the experience of eating in the dining room and being served by the incredibly efficient and caring staff. You'd also miss a classic plate of spaghetti and meatballs: a tangle of fat, chewy homemade noodles and fat, juicy meatballs, infused with parmesan, smothered in a thick, savory marinara that reeks of garlic and basil. If you dare, order it spicy, with red-pepper flakes adding a tingling lift to the rib-sticking heartiness of the pasta.

This dish, just like the restaurant that serves it, is a delightful window into a changing neighborhood's past.

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk