Beast +Bottle opened three and a half years ago, bringing the vision of brother-and-sister duo Paul and Aileen Reilly to fruition in the Uptown neighborhood. Since then, the tiny and charming eatery, with an ambience that is equal parts homey and sophisticated, has been a favorite with Denverites seeking creative cooking, farm-fresh ingredients and warm, welcoming service. So any anticipation over the Reillys' new Italian eatery, Coperta, is well earned.
Paul says Coperta will fall somewhere between an osteria and a trattoria on the Italian-restaurant scale; it's slated to open early next week in the space formerly occupied by Jonesy's, at 400 East 20th Avenue.
"I've lived in this neighborhood for six years," Aileen explains. "This spot has been missed." She and Paul have transformed the decor of the casual, eclectic space (which had previously been the Painted Bench, the Dish Bistro, Jonesy's Eatbar and the Centennial Tavern) into something more akin to the look of Beast + Bottle, with antique and vintage furnishings, deep-brown tones and white stone, and tile accents that add a gleaming newness alongside brickwork that dates back to the building's 1900 origins.
According to Aileen, the space was once a pharmacy, and what is now the front bar was at one time a soda shop. The restaurant is divided into three separate rooms, with the bar in the front, a main dining room and raised "mozz bar" with five stools in the middle, and more dining space next to the open kitchen in the back room, which was once a tailor shop.
The theme behind the new restaurant (which takes its name from the Italian word for blanket) derives from the Reillys' tour through southern Italy last year, where they discovered regional specialties from one small town to the next, generous hospitality and small bites called spuzzulia.
Those spuzzulia (roughly, "eat a lot of little things") are the first items you'll see on Coperta's menu. They're not specifically listed, but are available in two sizes: mezzo, with five bites for $11, and stupendo, with eight for $14. The options will vary with seasonality and availability but will include things like anchovy and scamorza cheese wrapped in a lemon peel and served on crostini. "The idea is rapid-fire hitting your table," explains Paul.
Next up are antipasti and mozzarella, with a classic frito misto (loaded with Rhode Island squid and small fish fried whole, among other seafood delights); traditional octopus with cannelini beans given a Colorado burst with Western Slope peaches; and a salumi board loaded with meats from Salumeria Biellese in New York and a housemade, Roman-style veal tongue. There will be two choices of mozzarella: a housemade version pulled from grass-fed curds from the Caputo Brothers Creamery in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, and an imported, D.O.P.-certified cheese from Campania, which by law must be shipped fresh (never frozen) in its own whey.
Housemade pastas come in two plating sizes and range from a simple cacio e pepe to large, tubular paccheri with monkfish sugo. And the secondi will be made up of beef, lamb, sausage and chicken served a la carte (with a separate list of sides), as well as one whole fish preparation that will vary by market availability.
Chef Bob Blair, most recently chef/owner of Fuel Cafe, joins Paul in the kitchen, and Beast + Bottle bar manager Jon Feuersanger has designed a beverage program to complement the traditional Italian fare. He says his selection of Italian amari will only grow over time, and that house cocktails will include a Negroni made with Malfy gin from Torino and infused with citrus from the Amalfi Coast. You'll also be able to order a Sgroppino (a summer quencher with vodka, mint, lemon sorbet and sparkling wine) and an Aperol spritz, three wines and two beers on tap.
Since they have a trusted core staff in place at both restaurants, Aileen says, she and Paul will split their time between the two.
Coperta will initially be open for dinner seven days a week, but the Reillys plan to add lunch hours soon. Keep reading for more photos.