While Paul Reilly, the former executive chef/owner of Encore on Colfax, continues to search for a new pad to perch a restaurant, the space he left behind at 2550 East Colfax Avenue, will soon have a familiar tenant: Udi, Etai and Robin Baron, of the Udi's empire, which includes seven restaurants, a bakery and a catering company, have snapped up the square footage, and, in late October, they'll open Udi's Colfax Pizza Bar.
"We signed the deal a few weeks ago," says Etai, "but we looked at this space years ago, pre-Tattered Cover and pre-Encore, and we passed on it, because we weren't in a good position back then to take on a big restaurant like this." But after recently selling Udi's Gluten-Free Foods to Smart Balance for $125 million, the family is in a position to spread the bread. "We're ready for it now, and we have Udi's Pizza Cafe Bar, a successful pizza restaurant in Arvada already, and this is going to be very similar to what we're doing there," he adds.
And since Reilly left the restaurant in great condition, according to Etai, the quarters don't require much of a makeover. "The space is beautiful as it is, so there isn't a lot of work to be done" -- and that includes the kitchen, which comes equipped with wood-fired pizza ovens, a deciding element in the decision-making process to sign the lease. And Robin, who will be the opening chef, plans to make the most out of it, turning out more than a dozen artisan pizzas, using the dough recipe that was given to the Baron family by the baker at Forno Campo de Fiori, a holy food mecca in Rome.
"We're members of the Bread Bakers Guild of America -- all of the best artisan bakeries are -- and a few years ago, we were in New York at a place called the Sullivan Street Bakery, and Jim Lahey, the bread baker and owner, told us that he'd gotten this great recipe from a bakery in Italy, and, as it turns out, Nancy Silverton got the recipe, too, and now we're all using the same dough recipe from this amazing little bakery in Rome," says Etai, adding that the Roman dough is "why we got into the pizza-making business."
And the secret to the crust, he adds, is the fermentation process. "We pre-ferment the dough for 24 hours, and then it ferments for another 24 hours in the refrigerator," he reveals, noting that the result is "more of a baker's dough: It's chewier, breadier and has a rich crust," he says.
In addition to pizzas, Udi's will serve sandwiches and burgers, as well as Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Israeli cuisine, much of which will be vegetarian. "My uncle Doron Baron lives in Israel, but he's been commuting to Denver to collaborate on the menu with Robin, and with him here, we're going to try to incorporate a lot more of the food we grew up with, and much of it will be vegetable-centric," says Etai.
The new Udi's will also feature a fresh-juice bar -- an attribute that none of the other Udi's has. "Robin has been working on a great fresh-juice concept, which will also pump up our bar program," notes Etai, adding that the bar will pour ten beers, along with keg wines and cocktails, which will be mixed with the fresh-squeezed juices.
And the patio, which was always a popular gathering place at Encore for cocktail consumption, is being expanded to include seating on the north side, facing Colfax. "We're super-excited about that, and we're excited, too, about opening in a great part of Denver," says Etai. "That area of Colfax has been going through a renaissance for the past few years, and we're looking forward to branching out from the suburbs and playing in the big kids' sandbox."
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When Udi's Colfax Pizza Bar opens, it will serve lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, and down the line, says Etai, breakfast will be added.