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Exclusive first look: Pizza Republica opens tomorrow in the downtown theater district

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Pizza palaces, as we reported earlier today, are peppered throughout the downtown Denver restaurant landscape, and while some of those same pizzerias that opened within the past year have since shuttered, Pizza Republica, the original of which resides in the Landmark development in Greenwood Village, has proven that it has staying power (not an easy feat in the ‘burbs). And tomorrow, at 11 a.m. owner and executive chef George Eder will open a second outpost of Pizza Republica at 890 14th Street, directly next door to the Colorado Convention Center, and given its prime location (and what may the city’s best patio to date), we’re willing to bet that downtown denizens will greedily chew it up (and not spit it out).

The 5,000-square-foot space, which trumpets a 4,000-square-foot fenced patio, complete with a 28-foot-high chimney with a bricked, two-sided fireplace, flaunts an open kitchen flanked by a wood-burning pizza oven completely impervious to heat and bordered by a Ferrari-red solid steel panel with hand-pinstriped grout lines. The bustling kitchen presides over the dining room and bar, the latter of which is walled with garage doors that open to the outside patio. Oak tables, constructed from recycled century-old barnwood, share space with moss green banquettes, a twelve-seat stone community table in the bar and a chef’s counter that overlooks the cooks tossing — and rolling — doughs.

Designer lighting fixtures, most of them made in Italy, illuminate the space, including the bar area, which lays claim to an impressive, 160-bottle, all-Italian wine list and more than twenty grappas. “Rona Vanslyck, our general manager and sommelier went to Vin, Italy for the sole purpose of finding new wines and grappas for us, and we have an amazing selection of both,” says Eder, who notes that the beer program is formidable, too, with four brews on tap (Moretti and local drafts) and an additional fourteen in bottles, including local microbrews and Belgians.

Those of you who have been to the Landmark location will find this space familiar, and Eder stresses that the likenesses are intentional. “We have the same exact menu here as we do at Landmark, and the space is essentially the same, too, because we want to focus on consistency,” he says, adding that once he gets the downtown location up and running — a space, he says, that’s “in the heart of a great cultural and food environment” — he’ll open more. “We’re looking at Fort Collins, DIA and the Foothills,” he reveals.

In the meantime, I stopped by Pizza Republica earlier this afternoon to tour the space and sample a few dishes from the menu, shooting photos along the way. Here’s the gallery.

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Corner House, which opened in the RiverClay Lofts in Jefferson Park in January, is appropriately named. Walk inside the small, triangular space and you’ll face a counter with stools. Look to the left and you’ll see a small bar area with high-top tables and window-ledge seating. Look to the right and you’ll see a smattering of two- and four-top tables. The compact space, which makes heavy use of reclaimed wood and metal, has a modern, rustic, and unassuming feel, which makes chef Matt Selby‘s thoughtful menu that much more surprising.

On a recent visit I sampled each section of the menu, starting with a ham and cheese plate (which included a sharp cheddar sauce perfect for bread dipping), moved on to the delicately grilled avocado salad, and finally, the succulent chile-braised short rib served with sweet cubes of butternut squash and a rich, smoky salsa roja.

My favorite dish, the most fun and surprising on the menu, was the PMP (pictured), a shot glass filled with rich port and topped with a blanket of prosciutto and thinly sliced manchego. I loved folding the meat and cheese together and dipping it inside the port. The combination of sweet and salty proved the perfect way to launch the meal.

My main complaint, and it’s not insignificant, is that I’m not sure whether Corner House wants to be known as a hangout spot or a quality restaurant. At 8 p.m. on a Sunday night, when we were far from finishing our meal, a movie screen descended on the back wall of the dining room, the lights dimmed, and a collection of video clips—which I tried, unsuccessfully, to ignore—began playing. Instead of lingering over dessert, the noise and distraction caused us to pack up and leave quickly. A little warning would have been nice. (That said, I’ve since learned that Corner House screens a flick each Sunday night. Pineapple Express is this week’s movie.)

Tip: Go during the day and order the short rib chilaquiles. Crispy, rich, and messy, this dish is brunch at its best—even at 1 p.m. on a Wednesday.

2240 Clay St., 720-287-1895

—Photo by Jennifer Olsen

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Exclusive first look: Pizza Republica opens tomorrow in the downtown theater district

POSTED:   04/21/2013

Restaurant Solutions Inc. provides operational and financial management tools for the owners and managers of hundreds of restaurants. Blair Pennington, above, is the chief executive officer. (Joe Amon, The Denver Post)

Restaurant Solutions Inc. has done it again. The company is The Denver Post’s Top Workplace for small employers for the second year in a row.

The  Englewood-based company provides operational and financial management and training tools for owners and managers of 786 restaurants in 42 states. The company’s system helps the restaurants control costs, balance their books, plan menus and schedule employees.

Clients include the Wynkoop Brewery and Shanahan’s Steakhouse in Denver.

Restaurant Solutions began 13 years ago with three employees and now has 90. The company emphasizes perks and fun activities for its employees — ranging from trips to Black Hawk and Coors Field to turkey bowling and “Formal Thursdays.”

CEO Blair Pennington has been with the company since its founding. He was interviewed by Denver Post business writer Howard Pankratz.

Pankratz:What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as you’ve watched the company grow?

Pennington:I think the biggest challenge is maintaining the culture, maintaining the fun environment. As we grow, we just have to ensure we keep having fun and laughing through this. Because at the end of the day, that’s what it is all about — having a good time. There is definitely a serious (side) to Restaurant Solutions, of course. But we definitely have to have a good attitude, fun attitude, when we deal with a client.

Pankratz:How do you hire? How do you determine whether a potential employee will be a good fit?

Pennington:We usually have three interviews. It is a process where we meet with other members of the staff, get their rudimentary qualifications and see if they are a good fit. Some of the basic qualities (are) the education piece but, also beyond that, a good attitude, a fun attitude.

Pankratz:As a small businessman, are you optimistic about the future — not only for your company, but where the country is going?

Pennington:Yes, I’m extremely optimistic. I see us hiring more individuals. I see more restaurants being created. Our restaurant owners are opening more restaurants in multiple locations. To me, personally, we’ve got a good future coming.

Pankratz:What makes you most proud of your employees?

Pennington:What makes me most proud of my employees is not only a can-do attitude. They give Restaurant Solutions their all and smile through it. All the work gets done. I couldn’t be more proud of the 90 people running around this place.

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Dining review: Corner House a great addition to Denver dining scene

POSTED:   04/17/2013 12:01:00 AM MDT


Corner House is a sunny spot for afternoon drinks and small plates, but it serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Lyndsay Ward walks her dog Lola past the restaurant. (Karl Gehring, The Denver Post)

When Matt Selby parted ways with the triumvirate of restaurants run by Josh Wolkon —Vesta Dipping Grill,Steuben’s and Ace— it was one of 2012′s bigger stories on the Denver dining scene.

Selby, one of the city’s most respected chefs, had worked with Wolkon for more than 15 years. The pair seemed joined at the culinary hip.

Things change.

Now Selby is back in the kitchen, albeit a small one, at his own place: Corner House at 2240 Clay St., directly across from the grassy hillock of Jefferson Park and two blocks north of Invesco Field at Mile High. The restaurant’s major stakehorse is James Iacino, president of Seattle Fish Company.

The vibe is casual. It’s a spacious, contemporary room with large west windows that let the afternoon sun pour in, illuminating the dining room and bar and back-lighting the park’s trees, still bare-limbed in early April. Floors are stained cement. Water is served in glass Ball canning jars.

Diners are a mix of folks from the neighborhood and food fans drawn by Selby’s reputation.

It’s a well-edited menu. Open daily except Mondays, the restaurant offers a breakfast-lunch-dinner trifecta, emphasizing small plates with big flavors. Make no mistake, however. You can fill your belly here.

At Corner House, there are no mission statements or manifestos. They don’t belabor you with provenance, that the pig went to Harvard and the lamb graduated cum laude from Yale.

What you have is a talented, seasoned chef at the top of his game turning out vibrant food that is — dare we use the word — accessible. You don’t need an instruction manual to make your way through this menu. While it rewards serious food fans, casual diners will be pleased, too.

The wine list is short but smart, six whites and seven reds. By-the-glass prices run $8-$12, and when we arrived one evening at 5:55, the friendly waitress informed us as we took our seats that we still had five minutes left in happy hour. Nice.

Gerard Collier runs the bar program. He’s crafted an array of signature cocktails. Try the Geri Halliwell, named for the former Spice Girl, which doesn’t seem to make sense until you get a zap of Fresno chile that’s in the drink. It’s something of a variation on a Moscow Mule, fueled by Spring 44 vodka, blood orange, lime, ginger beer and that chile.

We started with a bowl of almonds. At $5, it was a generous helping, though they appeared a bit lost in a soup bowl that was too big for the presentation. They were slick with olive oil and toasted rosemary, garlicky with a touch of chile. Just the thing to keep you sipping on a glass of crisp Cadaretta sauvignon blanc.

A selection of small plates showed creativity, both in the prep and the plating.

The grilled avocado salad ($8) came atop a bed of arugula dressed with a citrus vinaigrette. The avocado, warm with char-marks from the grill, was paired with mandarin orange slices, apple, slivered red onion and pickled red Fresnos. It was a great balance of sweet, savory and spicy.

A wedge of crispy grilled polenta ($10) came ringed with peppered olive oil. Creamy on the inside, it was topped with asparagus, grilled fennel, cheese and a tart yogurt studded with black olives.

Another winner was the shrimp cocktail, four jumbo shrimp perched on a shot glass with a puddle of cocktail sauce at the bottom. At $17 it didn’t exactly scream “value,” but it was executed well, with flavors that popped.

Chile-braised short rib ($15) was a beautiful chunk of beef, about the size of a kid’s fist. Boneless and slow-braised, it was served with creamy whole white beans, roasted and diced butternut squash and a vivid salsa roja. Hearty and deeply flavorful, it was like a last silky mouthful of winter. This cow did not die in vain.

Lunchtime sandwiches showed creativity.

I quite liked the one billed as Gina’s Pear & Manchego Panini, and not just because it’s named after a woman I also quite like, Selby’s wife, Gina, who in another lifetime worked the bar at Jax Fish House in LoDo. Along with the pear and cheese, the sandwich is finished with spinach, apple chutney and whole-grain mustard. At $8, it comes with either chips or a house salad.

A curry-smoked chicken panini ($10) is also tasty, with a nice textural and flavor combo of brie, pear, slices, pickled onions and a chive mayo.

Corner House is a great addition to the Jefferson Park neighborhood, and is worth a drive for anyone interested in seeing Selby in his latest incarnation.

It’s great to have him back in the kitchen.

William Porter: 303-954-1877, wporter@denverpost.com or twitter.com/williamporterdp

CORNER HOUSE

Contemporary American

2240 Clay St., 720-287-1895 cornerhousedenver.com

*** Great

Atmosphere:Hip, relaxed

Service:Smart, personable

Beverages:Wine, beer, cocktails

Plates:Starters, $5-$14; mains, $10-$17

Hours:Breakfast: Tuesday-Friday, 7 a.m.-11 a.m. Brunch: Saturday-Sunday, 9 a.m.- 3 p.m. Lunch: Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Dinner: Tuesday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Closed Monday.

Details:Street parking

Two visits

Our star system:

****: Exceptional

***: Great

**: Very Good

*: Good

Stars reflect the dining reviewer’s overall reaction to the restaurant’s food, service and atmosphere.

The grilled avocado salad combines arugula, apples, oranges, pickled Fresno chile and a citrus vinaigrette. (Photos by Karl Gehring, The Denver Post)

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Best Chef
Matt Selby

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Best Bartender
Gerard Collier, Corner House

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