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.
Something really right is going on at Pizza Republica’s new location at the Convention Center. Actually, there are so many things going right, I’ll do my best to fit them all in one blog post. Sitting on an angle [smart!] at 14th and Champa – as it’s said, location is everything – they have themselves some exceptional restaurant real estate.
The thoughtful and masterful design of the space put me immediately at ease. With 5000 square feet and 160 seats [plus another 4000 sf and 100 patio seats], it could easily feel cavernous and sterile, but it feels just the opposite. Cozy. Warm. Welcoming. Considerate details, like a ledge added to the back of the large, high-backed entry bench, allow for those standing in the bar to have somewhere to put their drink when the rest of the tables are full. It’s design decisions like this – ones that truly consider the comfort of guests and not showiness – that get my attention.
The food. The food! I had the privilege of hearing directly from George Eder, Executive Chef and Owner, about choices made in dishes that set them apart in presentation and flavor, while staying true to tastes we’ve come to expect and crave in Italian food. This is a man who sincerely cares about the quality of ingredients he puts on the plate, with a commitment to local, seasonal and organic. Mozarella and buratta are made in house and the pure, clean taste of both trumpets this. Chioggia beets – with their beautiful concentric stripes – are sliced in ½ foot rounds, making a pretty presentation on the plate for the Braised Beet Salad. Along with red and golden beets, goat cheese, toasted pine nuts and kale sliced in wide, tagliatelle-like ribbons, this is one stunning salad. Known for their wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas, San Marzano tomato is the base for the red pizzas. This is a prized ingredient, but like anything, can overwhelm if too much is used. Thankfully, a deft hand is applied for the margherita pizza – appreciated, so the wonderful flavors of mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil and basil can shine. The porchetta sandwich on housemade bread is a pork lover’s dream and was a highlight. Sided with au jus for dipping, this is a not-to-be-missed dish.
The meatballs get their own paragraph. The size of baseballs – and we all know there’s nothing more disappointing than a too-small meatball – the flavor was outstanding, but it was the marinara that stood out. As an Italian, I have three criteria I go by to determine the legit status of an Italian place: house red wine [you should be proud of the red wine you put the house’s name on and a watery red just won’t do], bread [I could write a book on the importance of good bread] and the marinara sauce. Pizza Republica’s marinara is not the typical red, but rather a deep burnt sienna. Just by looking at it, I knew something special was going on, and then I tasted it. Amazing. It took me a while to try and guess the secret ingredient, when George finally shared it. Cinnamon! Such a warmth and depth of flavor this adds and also explains the color. I’m already craving more.
Desserts came to the table in a triumvirate of delight. Tiramisu, chocolate ravioli [!] and lemon cheesecake with pistachio crust [there is a God]. Too many tiramisus are laden with alcohol, which interrupts the balanced flavors and makes them unpleasantly soggy. The cream can also easily go wrong and I’ve tasted many a bland cream or too-sweet cream, which are equal food crimes. Pizza Republica’s is perfectly balanced in all its flavors and the heavy sprinkling of cinnamon on top made me smile – having now gotten it in both a savory and sweet application. I think the two words – chocolate ravioli – speak for themselves. Just get some. And the lemon cheesecake was light and airy – with a subtle lemon flavor and creative crust that makes is seriously special.
I also appreciate their generous hours, since I’m often looking for a great meal mid-afternoon, only to find most places closed between 2-5p. An extended lunch from 11a – 3:30p, and early dinner service beginning at 3:30p, make this the perfect choice anytime.
I’m a raving fan and my admitted Italian bias has nothing to do with it. Pizza Republica stands soundly on its own.
Pizzeria Republica [Photo: Adam Larkey]
Today at 11 a.m., Pizzeria Republica opened the doors to its second location, downtown at 890 14th Avenue, right beside the Colorado Convention Center.
The 5,000-square-foot, 160-seat space will look nearly identical to the Greenwood Village location with a slightly expanded bar and a sizable 4,000-square-foot patio. The large patio, facing 14th Street, features a fireplace and seating for 100 guests.
The menu, designed by George Eder, owner and executive chef, will remain aligned with the Pizza Republica roots, offering the same menu items as the Greenwood Village location. The bar programs will similarly mirror the original location with the wine program and modern takes on classic cocktails directed byRona VanSlyck.
“I’m want to expose the city of Denver to the things that made the Greenwood Village location such a success,” says Eder. “I opened Pizza Republica to expose Colorado to the flavors and hospitality I enjoyed growing up in my family.” Eder also notes that favorites such as his Grandmother’s stuffed shells and the popular Pizza Republica meatballs will be highlights of the downtown menu.
The downtown Pizza Republica will be open seven days a week with lunch service beginning at 11 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Dinner is from 3:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. On Sundays, Pizza Republica will be open from 3:30 to 9 p.m.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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, email@example.com or twitter.com/williamporterdp
2240 Clay St., 720-287-1895 cornerhousedenver.com
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.
Our star system:
**: Very Good
Stars reflect the dining reviewer’s overall reaction to the restaurant’s food, service and atmosphere.