From the moment beast + bottle’s Paul C. Reilly and Aileen V. Reilly announced their second restaurant, it was clear they knew what they wanted Coperta to be like:
“Coperta is the Italian word for blanket,” said Coperta’s Paul C Reilly in a press release. “At Coperta, we hope to offer a warm and welcoming dining experience, much as if we’d wrapped a blanket over the shoulder of our guests.”
For the last eight months, this was the only glimpse we had of the highly anticipated Italian restaurant. This week Coperta, located at the former Jonsey’s space on 19th and Logan, finally opened its doors. According to chef de cuisine Bob Blair, it seems Coperta is already living up to expectation.
“One of thing’s I loved hearing last night was, the restaurant looks like it’s been here for a long time, that it feels lived in,” said Blair.
The restaurant’s old world decor, reclaimed vintage touches, including some from Jonesy’s, and restored tile floors lend a hand in crafting such an atmosphere. Small items such as an old Coca-Cola cooler can be found perched on a side table, whereas cabinets filled with defunct pasta makers fill their shelves. Fresh flowers blossom at the hostess stand, drinking in the light of the large bakery windows that encase the northern edge of the restaurant. It’s meant to feel welcoming, like your grandmother’s kitchen—and fortunately, it does. This theme continues with the food.
The menu is centered around the cuisine of Rome and Southern Italy. Italian classics, that many Americans are accustomed to can be found peppered throughout. Familiar words like spaghetti, ravioli and carbonara act as a welcoming gesture to anyone exploring the menu dominated by a foreign language (flip it over and you’ll find translations). In this sense, Coperta works hard to have a mass appeal while retaining a sense of authenticity, something that is not new for an American-Italian restaurant (in fact, it’s so standard it’s corporatized). But unlike the chains that have desperately tried to recreate the warming allure of Italy in America, Coperta puts in the legwork to make it happen.
Similar to its sister restaurant, the food at Coperta is ingredient driven. Broken down into three parts, the menu kicks off with spuzzulia (spu-zoo-lee-a) —Campanian slang for “eating a lot of little things”—is a style of antipasti that utilizes whatever is seasonally available and rotates frequently. Diners can order a chef’s selection of five bites (mezzo $11) or up to eight bites (stupendo $14). Last night’s selection included a farro salad with roasted chanterelle mushrooms and charred corn, a cobia crudo, salata puttanesca, fried polenta with rosemary and a crostini served with lemon, fresh mozzarella, Scamorza cheese, anchovy, tomato and basil (this one, Blair intends to make a staple).
Next up is more traditional antipasti ($5-$15) including fritto misto, salumi, fried artichokes as well as a selection of house-made mozzarella ($10) that’s made only feet away at the “Mozz Bar” in the center room.
“I learned a long time ago [how to make mozzarella] from Simone Parisi at Parisi‘s and he taught me really well. I take great pride in that,” explained Blair.
Next comes the heavy hitter: the pasta—which is also made in house. Stars of the list include the notorious cacio e pepe ($8/$16) which, according to Blair is, “the most temperamental, prickly little shits of a pasta.” But Coperta does the infamous dish well. Served in two portion sizes, each thick rope of pasta is enveloped in a velvety butter sauce that allows hunks of coarse pepper to cling to its side as you twist and twirl the tangled noodles into perfect, satisfying bites. It’s simple, supremely comforting and bound to summon childhood memories. But if you’re looking to excite your palate rather than soothe it, give the orecchiette ($9/$18) a try. Made with sausage and sautéed broccoli rabe, the dish is memorable for its slight sting of garlic that borders on being overpowering, but lingers just below.
Other favorites include the eggplant Parmesan ($15) on the secondi section. Often known for its heavy, sometimes soggy recreation, Coperta’s rendition bears none of the sins of its predecessors. Instead, Coperta unlocks the secrets of the Italian-American classic by paying extra attention to the main ingredient. Sliced paper thin, then roasted, the eggplant remains crispy, yet chewy as it’s layered under thick coats of cheese and sauce. It’s decadent, but so well balanced that it somehow remains delicate. As far as chefs’ favorites go, Reilly recommends the salsiccia pecorino ($12), a heritage pork sausage he used to eat as a child.
“Italian deli in the town I grew up in, that’s their house sausage and I never realized it. Then I went over to Italy and realized it was a part of a region and had a history,” said Reilly.
For Blair, he loves the whole fish (market price), or the octopus ($13) —currently served with cannellini beans and peaches. He explained, it is his daughter’s favorite.
“She’s been eating octopus since she was really little. She’s very adventurous and keeps the chefs on their toes here,” said Blair.
In addition, the drink menu consists of wine, beer and cocktails on tap. Tapped selections include three cocktails that highlight classics such as a Negroni, three and two Italian beers including Moretti. The wine list is more robust and is broken down by region, featuring wines by the glass for $8 and many reasonably priced bottles that currently average $45 a bottle.
For dessert, pastry chef Jodi Polson continues the theme of Italian classics with a selection of rotating gelatos with permanent offerings that include her favorite, olive oil, as well as pistachio and a stracciatella. Alongside the gelato is the quintessential Sicilian cannoli dipped in dark chocolate and pistachios. Less recognizable desserts include a tartufo—gelato coated in chocolate—and a limoncello baba cake.
When Coperta announced that it would finally open this week, Reilly once again reminded patrons the meaning of Coperta:
“Coperta is the Italian word for blanket,” repeated chef Reilley.
After visiting the restaurant, it’s clear why this reminder is important. The name isn’t just what they’ve decided to call the restaurant. Rather, it’s an intention to create a physical manifestation of the word—a place that is warm, welcoming and made to comfort. So far, it seems Coperta is just that.
Coperta is located at 400 East 20th Ave. at Logan Street in Denver’s Uptown neighborhood and is open 5-9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 5-10:30 p.m. To make a reservation call 303.623.3223