The fighting Irish need to learn from the Italians

Categories: Sheehan (RIP)

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My review of the Celtic Tavern (which will be posted here later today) started an interesting conversation among some of the more Hibernian-leaning staff at the Westword office, chewing over why Denver seems incapable of opening and maintaining a decent Irish bar. (RIP, Duffy's Shamrock.)

This discussion immediately struck me as reminiscent of a whole series of similar arguments I had soon after I came to town about this city's apparent inability to open and maintain a decent Italian restaurant. Remember that? Seriously, ye foodies, cast your minds back just a mere half-dozen years back and ask yourselves: What did we do before Luca d'Italia? Before Parisi really took off and made the move to 4401 Tennyson, before Venice Ristorante made the big jump from strip-mall champion to LoDo hero? What did we do before Frasca came and raised the bar for everyone; before Il Posto reshaped and made a success out of one chaotic block of 17th Avenue, Marco's Coal-Fired Pizza (pictured above) showed us the power of obsession, and everyone started making their own cheeses and curing their own meats and bragging about how much (or how little) they spent on Saturday night at Osteria Marco?

Six years ago, Denver was a wasteland for serious, high-tone Italian cookery. Sure, there were excellent neighborhood joints like Patsy's that had been dishing up spaghetti and meatballs and sausage-and-peppers sandwiches for decades. There was Barolo and Carmine's on Penn serving up pasta by the truckload, and Café Jordano for those who knew about it and were willing to alter their daily plans on the off-chance of getting a table, a glass of wine and some of the most amazing streetcorner Italian food anywhere. But what was missing was a place where the Italian-ness went deeper than a couple of flags, a map of the boot on the placemats and some candles in red glass on the table; where it started in the kitchen and flowed outward not just as food -- as fuel for the neighbors -- but as a considered and skillful demonstration of culture and possibility. The Old Spaghetti Factory makes Italian food (happy 45th birthday, BTW). But Luca d'Italia and Frasca and Radda Trattoria in Boulder make Italian cuisine.

So anyway, the Italian thing worked itself out as I think anyone with a little vision, a little foresight (read: not me) would've known it would. One great restaurant led to two great restaurants. Those two led to four more. And once people had a taste for it (and had gotten in the habit of occasionally eating stracci all' ossobuco, boccioli di girasole e pecorino sardo rather than a plate of spaghetti in meat sauce), it became difficult to remember a time when we couldn't have real Neapolitan pizza, handmade buratta and piccolo fritto whenever we wanted.

And if you're wise, you'll want it before 6 p.m. some weekday - and call Parisi to order its amazing economic relief take-out package. The deal is a $25 dinner for four (or $15 for two); after you call 303-561-0234 to order it, you pick it up between 3 and 7 p.m. weekdays. Through January 8, the package deal is chicken pizzaiola, penne pomodoro, house salad and a baguette; from January 12-15, it's chicken parmesan, penna marina, salad and baguette. (There's more info in the current version of our e-mail newsletter, Café Bites, and if you haven't yet subscribed, you should). -- Jason Sheehan


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