Destination level catering in a former gas station.
Benzine Pizza | Photo by Thomas Lockwood
Benzine Pizza | Photo by Thomas Lockwood
Parts of Colfax Avenue have changed over time, but not only have the best parts not changed, and hopefully never will. The story of Denver’s most infamous stretch of sidewalk is written largely in mid-century architecture, with gaudy neon signage, and contractors who respect it by giving old structures new life are assured. of the goodwill of the inhabitants. This includes restaurateur Brad Anderson, owner of the brand new Benzine– who also deserves credit for having spent over a decade turning their long-held dream of a humble neighborhood pizzeria into a destination-level reality with a major culinary muscle behind it.
The concept of Benzina as it currently stands âStarted with the building,â says Anderson, in 2017. âI lived about three blocks away and walked by everyday, and I said, ‘Dude, that run down Meineke muffler store is cool, and someone should do something about, one, save it from the bulldozer, and two, keep the architectural integrity that we have here. “Built in 1963, it was originally a Phillips 66 gas station, so” it wasn’t rocket science,“Anderson admits:” WWith those big slanted windows and the huge awning facing the street, we said, âWe have to play on thisâ when designing Benzinaâwhose name, of course, is Italian for “essence”. The results are as retro-chic as it gets, from the Nelson and PH5 pendant lights on the ceiling to the molded fiberglass chairs and the tiki bar that serves as a host stand for the JBL and shiny speaker covers. Thin aarons photos on the walls. PÃ©tanque grounds and planters for growing herbs, lettuce and edible flowers are installed outside to complete the picture created by the design firm Semple Brown.
The fact that it took more than three years for Benzina to be up and running should come as no surprise, between the usual zoning and obstacles and the anything but usual pandemic. But for Anderson, the project has been taking shape a lot longer: it was in the middle of the year, when he and his wife lived part-time in New York City, that he first became fascinated by pizzerias. of Neapolitan style which multiplied then in all the districts. Traveling in Campania âTo visit tomato growers and bufala mozzarella farms and Caputo flour [mill], “ he received his certification from the US delegation of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana before the trend even reached Denver (Marco’s AVPN-certified charcoal pizza opened in 2008), but then spent years working on a deal for a space that ultimately fell through.
Perhaps all the delays have been a blessing in disguise, however, when it comes to attracting prodigious talent. Boulder native Brian Lockwood’s resume includes stints at none other than The French Laundry, El Celler de Can Roca, The NoMad and, most recently, Eleven Madison Park, where he served as a chef until that time. that the pandemic forces its temporary closure. When a New York acquaintance suggested Anderson look for him last summer, “I googled it and started laughing and said, ‘We’re just doing a little neighborhood pizza place and sub-shop and you send me one of the best chefs in the world. country? ‘ But Lockwood, who had returned to his hometown after the arrest, was interested.
Coming on board as a consultant chef, Lockwood âwas very aware of his great reputation, so he wanted to make sure that everything we did would have a good impression,â Anderson says. As he worked to expand and elevate the contemporary Italian menu beyond pizza, Anderson managed to hire other top chefs in the form of Italian-born Executive Chef Daniele Bolognini and General Manager Justin Dano, who had worked together at the highly acclaimed Acorn until it closed last September.
The only problem, now that they’re finally open, is âthe same as everyone else,â Anderson says: the staffing. As a result, the inaugural menu is much smaller than expected, with five pies from the imported Pavesi oven complemented by a handful of other items, including lavash salmon rillettes, citrus-brined spatchcock chicken, and a salted caramel pie. chocolate. The current drink list is also reduced to six classic cocktails plus a few wines and beers. But rest assured the slate full of antipasti, handmade pasta, and wine by the bottle is coming soon: Benzina is just starting to crank her engine.