Marcella's Ristorante | Italian Favorites & Our New Favorite Happy Hour

Outside & Inside

Outside & Inside

Italian cafe and restaurant, Marcella’s Ristorante, Pizzeria and Wine Bar, recently opened on Central St. in LoHi. Just by the looks of the beautiful façade and the extremely inviting, comfortable yet upscale interior, we knew this place would be a worthy addition in the distinguished Highlands restaurant scene.

Marcella’s was named after a house manager and chef at a villa in Tuscany, Italy, that founder Cameron Mitchell visited with his family. Cameron is an Ohio-based restaurateur who also runs two Marcella’s in Ohio as well as Ocean Prime on Larimer Square. Their Executive Chef Jacob Glowacki worked at several Cameron Mitchell Restaurants and also relocated to the Denver venue to head up Marcella’s here.

Braised Veal Meatball

Braised Veal Meatball

The menu features dishes such as a braised veal meatball with tomato sauce, wood-fired pizzas, pastas, chicken entrees, and Italian desserts. Their drink menu is just as expansive with a selection of 50 Italian wines served by the bottle, half bottle or glass, sangria, draft beers, and over a handful of interesting, Italian-geared cocktails with house-made liquors and syrups. What we were most impressed by was that such an upscale, lovely place offered such an incredible Happy Hour every Monday through Friday from 4 to 6pm! All the drinks are half off, meaning all the beer is only $3 and fancy cocktails $5.50! For Happy Hour food, the entire menu is half off minus the entrees, so salads, cured meats, cheeses, antipasti, appetizers, and even pizzas (gluten-free available) are half priced!

From Left: Milan Manhattan, Grapefruit Basil Fizz, Italian Rye

From Left: Milan Manhattan, Grapefruit Basil Fizz, Italian Rye

We sampled so many of these Happy Hour dishes that by the end it was clear Marcella’s definitely has one of the best bang-for-your-buck and largest Happy Hour selections in Denver. Our favorites were Grappa Cured Salmon, Braised Veal Meatball (they are known for this one), Melted Pecorino with crostini, apple and truffle honey, their Sweet Sausage with roasted peppers and cheese, and of course the Pizzas. We sampled the Crispy Potato Pizza which was a flavor overload in a good way, and the lighter, more mild Pesto Shrimp.

Crispy Potato Pizza top, Pesto Shrimp bottom

Crispy Potato Pizza top, Pesto Shrimp bottom

After all of this Happy Hour goodness we really didn’t need anymore food, especially as we already had full to-go boxes, but we forged ahead and tried their Gnocchi Bolognese and Spaghetti alla Carbonara. The Carbonara is made of only a few basic ingredients but was overly saturated with oil or butter, the Gnocchi was great however, hearty, flavorful and melted in our mouths. Other entrées we didn’t try but want to include a daily risotto, chicken marsala, linguine & clams, and the Chianti braised beef short rib.

Tiramisu and Chocolate Almond Cake

Tiramisu and Chocolate Almond Cake

For dessert we were treated to a traditional Tiramisu, a moist Chocolate Almond Cake, and their flaky Cherry Crustada that has a hint of almond and vanilla gelato on top. All three were delicious and met different flavor palettes, but the Cherry Crustada was our favorite.

We recommend you make your way to Marcella's  someday soon to fully indulge in all their Happy Hour has to offer - it's worth skipping out of work early for or fighting that 5 o' clock traffic! https://marcellasrestaurant.com/locations-menus/marcellas-denver/

Words by Tiffany Candelaria      Photos by Samantha Bliss

Family Jones Spirit House | Unique Drinks & Surprising Eats

The Family Jones Spirit House, a distillery and tasting room featuring crafted spirits and food, opened this Saturday, Nov. 11 in LoHi next door to Root Down. The location is fitting, as one of the “family members” is Justin Cucci, chef and owner of Root Down, among other notable Denver restaurants. The rest of the “Jones Family” includes pioneering distiller Rob Masters and entrepreneurs Jack Pottle, Denielle Nadeau and Paul Tamburello, and bar manager Nick Touch creating what could be the ultimate blended family. “One of the perks of being an adult is choosing your family,” said Pottle. “Another perk is choosing your home away from home, and now we have that place: The Family Jones Spirit House.” The new venue emphasizes the relationship between distiller, chef, bartender and guest, with a focus on hospitality.

Designed and built by Tres Birds Workshop, the space was really cool, pairing industrial elements with rich wood details. The high ceiling showcases the second-floor loft where a beautiful 17-ft. copper still distills their special spirits - everything from vodka to gin, whiskey and rum. The still is a beautiful, shining focal point above the crescent concrete bar below. Guests enter the space through a large, square, wooden door made from reclaimed, on-site materials. Inside, they are met with juniper-lined concrete walls (a nod to the key flavor component in gin), low-slung seating, deep blue booths and soft lighting.

“We are making things that push the boundaries of a traditional cocktail bar; we are putting our own spin on it,” explains Masters. “This is a distiller’s dream – to create all sorts of crazy things in small batches. It’s a test kitchen: If it doesn’t work, we can try something new.” Cucci agrees and says his collaboration on The Family Jones was a no-brainer, “Getting to work with Chef Tim Dotson and Bartender Nick Touch, as well as entrepreneurs like Paul and Jack has been incredible; we are all committed to excellence. What we have come up with is a surprise, and we are excited to share it with Denver.”

Their experimentation and surprise elements extend to both the food and cocktail offerings. The menu offers 12-15 small plates, as well as a variety of cocktails made exclusively with The Family Jones spirits, which we sampled during their preview party. Both menus are designed to be clean, vibrant, accessible and had a wide range of flavor profiles and unique ingredient pairings like their classic martini that uses a house-made crème de violet and crème de cacao to add a unique twist. Their Rock-n-Rye blends Stop Gap Rye whiskey with a selection from the more than 100 botanicals and spices made in their distillation lab upstairs! Highlights from Executive Chef Tim Dotson’s menu include three-cheese fondue, served in an heirloom pumpkin with vegetable skewers, and a spin on pork and beans with house-made sausage, heirloom beans, sour cherries, pistachio, collard greens and a chorizo vinaigrette. A tableside bar-cart tasting service rounds out the eclectic, one of a kind experience at The Family Jones.

The Family Jones Spirit House is open from 4-10 p.m. Tuesday—Thursday; 3 p.m. to 12 a.m. Friday; 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Saturday; and 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. www.TheFamilyJones.co

Words by Tiffany Candelaria          Photos by Samantha Bliss

Lifestyle | A Restaurant Rooted in Seasonally Local Ingredients & Creative Cooking

Ultra5280’s visit to Root Down, Justin Cucci’s first Edible Beats Restaurant, wraps up our series we began late December. If you happened to miss the previous two, scroll down and start at the beginning with Linger, then Ophelia’s. And by the time you’ve finished reading this article you’ll see why we felt it was important you knew about this trendy trio and how their focus on flavor, quality, sustainability and creativity makes them a staple in the Denver food scene.

Devils on Horseback

Devils on Horseback

Root Down opened back in December 2008 in a former mid-century gas station, and in pure Cucci fashion he incorporated many of the original elements into the new décor. A style that has rung true in each restaurant debut since. Root Down’s menu is focused on offering sustainable protein and vegetable based dishes using produce from their gardens, local growers and purveyors to create globally influenced seasonal cuisine.

We started with their most popular starter, Devils on Horesback, which we noticed is on the menu at Linger too. What’s cool though is each restaurant’s version is different to reflect their individual style. At Root Down the Devils are smoked almond-stuffed Peppadew Peppers, wrapped in tender belly bacon, and sauced in Gournay cheese fondue. Take my word that these little Devils rode us straight to taste bud heaven.

Next we had the Butternut Squash Risotto with the Root Down/local touch of purple quinoa from Southern Colorado. The dish itself was beautiful and the texture was dense and creamy even with the added the quinoa. The butternut squash flavor was rather subtle, but I could be a tough critic having just returned from ten days in Italy. My bad!!

The next dish was even more interesting, one because we didn’t order it, two because it was the nightly special thus not on the menu, and third because it required you to work for the meal and get a little messy. The dish consisted of two diver scallops atop prawns in a Thai based sauce with jam, baby carrots and Brussels Sprout garnish. The scallops were soft and buttery, but the prawns underneath took a fearless eater, some figuring out and extra napkins.   

The Longs Peak Rack of Lamb was a pleasant surprise after defiling a couple prawns in the previous course.  The dish consisted of two large bone-in lamb chops atop Farro with baby carrots, a layered sweet potato and apple tower with a melted cheese top, and Pear-Pepita Salsa. The creamy sweet carrots and potatoes were perfectly offset by the crisp tartness of the pears and apples and rounded off by the hearty herbed Farro base. The lamb was exceptionally tender and flavorful without tasting gamy and was the perfect dish to satisfy winter warmer cravings!

If you’re looking to surprise us with something, we’d tell you to follow suit of the Root Down staff and surprise us with a free dessert trio! The kind and gracious staff and Executive Chef Jeremy Kittelson prepared a sample of the first three desserts listed on the menu: Chocolate Bombe, Eggnog Bread Pudding and Banana Crème Brulee Pie. So this “Pie” … its texture was more like flan than a crème brulèe and was topped with whipped sour cream instead of the traditional caramelized sugar crust, the banana slices next to it had a brulèed crust though. The base of the pie was that amazing flavor combo of crunchy peanuts and creamy chocolate. The Eggnog bread pudding was fluffy and saturated with rich eggnog flavor, but our favorite part was the side of Bourbon ice cream! And for the chocolate aficionados there’s the almond brownie tucked inside a whipped chocolate ganache wrapped in a chocolate shell with vanilla cream, appropriately named the Chocolate Bombe. They’re right, it’s bomb.

Based off their names none of these desserts were what you would expect, but now that I’ve said that I realize nothing is really quite what you expect at Cucci’s restaurants. Everything they create has its own twist and incorporates unique local and seasonal ingredients, like the risotto that unexpectedly had little specks of purple quinoa!

We were happily surprised to see all three of Cucci’s restaurants participating in Denver Restaurant Week February 26 to March 6th which offers a three course menu for only $30 per person. If you’ve never treated yourself to any of these restaurants there’s no better time than snagging that special someone for a Valentine’s Day retreat!

Tiffany Candelaria

Lifestyle | "Island of Awesome" New F&B

Along with our growing population, Denver's food and beverage scene is really exploding, not only in quantity but in quality too. It's no longer a matter of driving across town for a great restaurant or heading downtown for a day of on-foot, food and booze hopping. Now, nearly every neighborhood in Denver has its own collection of distinct and delicious options. For example, the Highlands have become known for having an organic, progressive, on-trend restaurant scene. Unsurprisingly enough, this neighborhood, and its reputation, continue to spread its roots. Follow me to the "Island of Awesome" as described by co-owner Lauren Bailey of Postino Lo-Hi. This "Island of Awesome" is one triangle-shaped block at roughly 17th Street, Erie, and 32nd Avenue where three brand new restaurants sprouted this September: Postino Wine Bar, Recess Beer Garden, and the Occidental.   

Postino

Postino

Postino, a Phoenix, AZ favorite, branched out to Denver this month re-opening the former Denver BookBinding Company built in 1962. The craftily reconstructed space tells the story of the building's history with a warm, cozy interior, a book wall and colored glass light fixtures. And for those Denver view snobs- a big, bright outdoor deck takes advantage of the never disappointing downtown Denver skyline.

Lounge around with some fine wine.

Lounge around with some fine wine.

All of their locations feature an eclectic yet approachable wine list alongside simply satisfying food sources paired with local ingredients. In addition to the extensive wine list, Postino has become known in Arizona for their supped up bruschetta's, with 11 different versions to choose from; including one seasonal selection and one with gluten free bread upon request. The "choose 4 bruschetta" dish is an adventurous  and delicious way to try new flavors and share your thoughts (and food) with friends. The menu also has a variety of starters, including: salads, paninis, desserts and rotating wine and beer. Looking for a bargain? On Monday's and Tuesday's after 8pm Postino's puts on a special pairing of bruschetta and a bottle of wine for only $20! And for the earlier eaters, they have $5 pitchers of beer or glasses of wine before 5pm.

Recess Beer Garden Outdoor Area

Recess Beer Garden Outdoor Area

Recess Beer Garden opens up right as school lets out on weekdays at 3pm and at 10am Saturday & Sunday's. They feature both a large indoor space with booth seating and a wrap around bar stretching the entire length of the inside as well as a spacious outdoor beer garden as their name alludes to. The beer garden's design of scattered tables, gravel underfoot, fire pits, and games such as corn hole, hula hoops and hopscotch encourage us adults to enjoy our own version of recess. One equipped with strong drinks and nostalgic memories of playgrounds past. We visited a couple weeks ago for some night time fun and as one could have expected, the bar was packed with tons of patrons who had the same idea. People were unleashing their competitive spirit while playing a various assortment of schoolyard games (obviously not without a drink in hand!).  We would have liked to dueled it out on the playground as well, but there were only two sets of corn hole boards, two chalked on hopscotch drawings and a few free hula hoops . . . which only entertained the people standing around us. Just more incentive to get there early!

Chili tots, beef sliders, and green chili artichoke dip.

Chili tots, beef sliders, and green chili artichoke dip.

As a rule of thumb, recess is normally accompanied by some sort of snack-whether that be lunch or tots-it was always something to look forward to. At Recess Beer Garden there is a nice assortment of American staples like burgers, mac & cheese, ribs, salads and starters. We had the chili tots, beef sliders and green chili artichoke dip with a Breckenridge Brewery Autumn Ale. All of which were tasty but made us wish we had the metabolism of a kid again.

Recess Bar's Beer Menu

Recess Bar's Beer Menu

Their beer selection is substantial, but not as eclectic as we would expect given the word beer is in the name. But, we believe they plan/hope to expand the list of Colorado and "Beyond" beers. For those looking for something a little stronger, or lighter depending on how you look at it, there are a couple wines and a few cocktail staples as well.

Occidental

Occidental

The third stop on this "Island of Awesome" is William & Graham's new offshoot Occidental. This is a much more laid back, punk rock style bar featuring plenty of can, bottle, and draft beers, classic cocktails and a handful of special concoctions that highlight the award-winning bartender Sean Kenyon's creativity and class.

Kenyon himself was in New York when we visitied, but we enjoyed having bearded-bartender Brandon mixing up our cocktails for the evening. We tried three of the House specials and for our last drink we asked Brandon to come up with something semisweet using their homemade Ginger Beer. This resulted in a crushed ice tall glass of Ginger Beer, Vodka, pineapple and lemon syrup and bitters that went down way too fast. Before this we had shared a Paul Collins, Sailin' On, TV Party and Sonic Reducer (had we had a third person, or it been a weekend- we would have tried them all for you). The staff brought out little circus bags of roasted whole peanuts for each group at the bar to enjoy, which helped us imbibers to keep on drinkin' a little bit longer. Every drink was different and exciting. The price was on point given the reputation and quality of the establishment. 

With winter's inevitable arrival almost upon us, our internal clock is telling us to couple down, cozy up and pack on a few pounds for the chillier months ahead. And in our opinion, there is no better place to do this than at Denver's own, "Island Of Awesome". Grab a date and a plate and hunker down, because it's going to be a long winter. 

www.postinowinecafe.com    www.recessbeergarden.com   

-Tiffany Candelaria