"Ever since I could stand over a stove, I've wanted to cook," says AJ Paloni, the chef behind The Porchetta House, which opened earlier this month inside Spices Cafe at 1510 Humboldt Street.
Born in La Jolla in San Diego County, Paloni grew up in Albuquerque but moved to Arizona after finishing high school in order to fulfill his longtime dream of attending culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu. After graduating in 2010, he stayed in Scottsdale for a couple of years and continued working in restaurants before heading to Durango, where he took a job at a country club, a position that led to a private chef gig for a well-known family in the area.
"That gave me an opportunity to really branch out and do whatever kind of food I wanted to do," Paloni recalls. He continued to expand his culinary knowledge during that three-year stint, but also "got mixed up in selling drugs," he says, and ended up serving a three-year term in prison.
After his release, he went to the now-closed Chinook in the Denver Tech Center for a stage. "They gave me a basket of ingredients and told me to create a dish. After not cooking professionally for three years, I was nervous as shit," he admits.
After Chinook, he moved on to Parkside Village, a retirement community — and a gig that turned out to be ideal during COVID. Even as other restaurants were forced to close or pivot, the residents still needed to be fed, so the position offered stability during an uncertain time.
He'd been working as chef de cuisine at Tribe in Castle Rock for about a year and a half when its executive chef, Arthur Gonzalez, passed away last May. "The dynamic changed" after that, Paloni says. Tribe is where he'd first put porchetta on a menu, pushing a dish he's made many times over the years for family events. One day, he hoped to open his own concept with a focus on porchetta sandwiches.
On March 7, he began slow-roasting porchetta and slinging sandwiches out of the space. Spices Cafe is directly behind Tight End, Denver's only gay sports bar, and guests can opt to sit on the connected patio facing Humboldt Street, where they can order Paloni's eats via a QR code while sipping drinks from Tight End's bar. In order to cater to the bar's patrons, the Porchetta House stays open late, until midnight Tuesday through Thursday and until around 1:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Paloni also recently added lunch hours Tuesday through Thursday.
Rounding out the options is the banh mi version. "I have a huge love of Asian food," Paloni notes, and he wanted that passion reflected on his menu. The banh mi porchetta is marinated for 24 hours in red miso and served with cucumber, pickled carrots, jalapeños, cilantro and black sesame Kewpie on bread from Vinh Xuong Bakery.
Paloni isn't sure what the future holds for the Porchetta House — he's considering everything from a food truck to a stand-alone brick-and-mortar. But for now, Spices Cafe is the ideal first home for this meaty new addition to Colfax.
The Porchetta House is located at 1510 Humboldt Street and open from 11 a.m. to midnight Tuesday through Thursday and 4 p.m. to around 1:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, visit theporchettahouse.com.