Its very existence came as a surprise. I’d driven past this red-and-glass shopping center several times a day for months without realizing that Viàle had joined the lineup; at the start of the year, its name still hadn’t been added to the list of tenants. Even when you’re driving slowly, stuck in traffic on Colorado Boulevard, you can’t see the restaurant — named with the Italian word for “avenue,” appropriately enough — from the road.
Owners Erica and Dan Dunne are the first to admit that they’re not chefs. But that didn’t stop the wife-and-husband duo from opening a restaurant that’s already beating projections, despite next-to-no advertising. Dan works the room, hair slightly mussed, shirttail hanging out beneath his sweater, laughing heartily when someone recognizes him from his longtime role as the owner of a cigar shop, which he sold last year. Meanwhile, Erica spent a decade as a server and banquet captain at Elway’s, a gig that gave her an eye for detail and a thorough understanding of service, plus gilded connections that have filled Viàle with Elway’s alumni. Opening chef Alex Sepulveda, former executive chef at Elway’s Cherry Creek, was one of them; although he left Viàle this fall, his fingerprints are all over the menu, from the short rib propped on rosettes of garlic mashed potatoes with a cup of au jus to the gooey, ice-cream-topped chocolate chip cookie. Now in charge of the kitchen are Felix Escobar and Oscar Hernandez, who also worked at Elway’s, as did the bar manager, three servers and the rest of the kitchen staff. “It almost feels like a bunch of friends got together and opened a restaurant,” says Erica.
Their camaraderie and easy competence are welcome in this chain-dominated stretch of Denver. So is the food, a familiar lineup that strikes a happy medium between what you might make at home and what you might order at a more chef-driven restaurant. Think of a cross between Elway’s and the authentic neighborhood spot that Olive Garden has spent decades trying to convince us it is, and you’ll get the idea.
For most of his life, Dan wanted to open a casual joint serving pizza by the slice. He even tried to open one next to his cigar shop ten years ago, but that project fell through. So it’s no wonder that pizzas steal the show at Viàle — even the gluten-free variety, with crust sourced from award-winning Gluten Free Explorer. Pizzas aren’t served by the slice — not even at lunch, which runs Monday to Friday — but with crisp edges brushed with garlic oil, plenty of cheese and a generous load of toppings, you’ll want more than one wedge anyway. Thin, twelve-inch specialties play up Viàle’s neighborhood appeal: the Virginia Village Veggie — pretty self-explanatory with lots of veggies — and the meat-heavy Bonnie Brae Bronx. But you’re rewarded for venturing further (past the wall that would keep out the bad hombres) and trying the Good Hombre, with pork green chile in place of red sauce, a thick layer of smoked mozzarella, wisps of red onion and sliced avocado. If only the green chile had more kick; Erica says that some customers were complaining (ah, the stereotypical perils of older palates), so the green chile — originally sourced from La Loma but now made in-house — has been heavily toned down. Also notable is the Denver Diavola, with red sauce flaming from cayenne and red-chile flakes, plus salami, sausage, jalapeños and mini-rounds of so-called cup and char pepperoni that blacken at the edges and curl up like Shrinky Dinks. Since this is an accommodating place, the kitchen welcomes custom-pie orders, too. The menu lists thirty toppings to choose from, ranging from sausage and mushrooms to holdouts from the California pizza craze of yesteryear, such as bacon and green olives.
Pappardelle’s Pasta, widely known around Denver thanks to its presence in local farmers’ markets. Traditional Bolognese brings a delightfully tomato-shy sauce of beef, pork, veal and pancetta clinging to long, wide strands of pappardelle; the kitchen makes a creamy white version, too, but it has too much cream and too little everything else. The jumbo bison ravioli are also tempting — the ravioli made by Pappardelle’s and then stuffed with braised Colorado bison in the Viàle kitchen — but the filling is dense and the marinara one shade away from straight-up San Marzano’s.
Come in whatever, then stay for a laid-back, neighborly meal full of welcome surprises. Care to dance?
Viàle Pizza & Kitchen
1390 South Colorado Boulevard
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday, 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday
Select menu items
Artichoke bruschetta $9
Italian salad $15
Blanco Bolognese $15
Good Hombre pizza $15
Denver Diavola pizza $14
Warm chocolate chip cookie $6.50