People love to set boundaries around cuisine.
From Thai to French, soul food and Chinese — there seems to be a never ending stream of opinions when it comes to what does and does not belong in the dishes of these regional styles of cooking. And the pre-set rules of “Italian” cooking are no different. From the bread of Tuscany to the pizza of Naples, this iconic country is riddled with cooking styles and each come with their own set of expectations. For centuries, the line that divides properly prepared Italian food from the so-called imposters has been a thick one. And now, there’s a new eatery on Blake Street, aiming to help blur that line.
Jennifer and Jake Linzinmeir, both long-time restauranteurs, poured years of experience both in and out of the kitchen into their newest endeavor, Jovanina’s Broken Italian. They didn’t want to be “stuck in the box of an Italian restaurant,” so they ventured to create an Italian influenced eatery, that honored both tradition and change. And they’re doing it in a way that is, in their opinion, approachable.
“We’ve opened this restaurant because of her heritage [Jennifer,] and Jake’s passion. I’m very comfortable cooking this food. And people love to eat it,” explained executive chef Ben Halley. “This isn’t a restaurant where we’re pushing something on Denver that they’re unfamiliar with. There may be aspects of this menu that you don’t fully understand, but as you read through the menu, we’ve eliminated all of the Italian terms… so rather than having traditional names, we’ve ‘Denver’d it,’ and not to dumb it down so people understand… but to make it so it’s approachable. You can look at the menu and you’re comfortable with it.”
It’s not like Jovanina’s is bringing something Denver that we’ve never seen. From Tavernetta to Marcella’s, North and Osteria Marco, there are plenty of places in this city to get handmade pasta and perfectly baked pizzas. What the team behind this new eatery is doing, however, is expanding the culinary conversation past what we typically think of as “Italian.” While inspired by traditional Italian fare, Jovanina’s expands the usual suspects of ingredients to incorporate seasonal additions and unexpected preparations. From Elk bolognese to wood-oven cooked Colorado trout to milling their own flour and offering a grab ‘n go — Jovanina’s is offering both tradition and trend to Denver eaters. In doing this, Halley believes that he is making room for the wave of dining that has become more popular in Denver.
“The way people are dining is changing. …money is spent differently. We dine out more often. Mom and dad chased down the French restaurant, they went twice a year… we dine out three, four, five times a week and because we do that… the food is not so important,” explained Halley. “So [we’re] trying to create a space that acknowledges how people are dining at lunch, but then acknowledges how people are dining at dinner. I’m not trying to set trends or do any different… there have been people making great food in the city for a long time, I’m not saying that they haven’t been, but the onslaught of chefs and restaurants and attention is driven by [this] generation and they’re requiring and demanding a different dining experience that Denver has not traditionally had.”
Apart from accessibility, approachability and of course, delicious food — one huge aspect of Denver’s recent culinary shift has to do with booze. Restaurants all over the city have been elevating their beverage game to keep up with the changing culture and Jovanina’s is just one new restaurant, of the many, to catch the craft cocktail craze. With fun drinks like the First Empression ($12) made with gin, elderflower, lavender syrup and sparkling rose, to the Seelbach ($12) made with bourbon, Curacao and prosecco and even a Colorado Chokecherry Fizz ($12) made with house-made shrub and vodka — the beverage program is both classic and creative.
And that marriage between the old and the new seems to be a theme in this new Blake Street eatery — from the food to the drink and even the decor. With antiquitous touches like the old theatre marquee that hangs above the bar and the adjustable table for standing lunch-time diners this new joint is walking the line between old and new. And it’s even approachable for many types of diners — the atmosphere is cozy, but still approachable for a quick bite. And it’s romantic, but not to a point that group of hungry businessmen would feel out of place. This, coupled with the approachable menu and truly quality Italian fair make it unique to Denver’s dining scene — and for that, we are grateful.
All photography by Kyle Cooper. You can catch a bite at Jovanina’s Tuesday through Saturday, from 5 to 10 p.m. for dinner. Lunch hours have yet to be announced but are coming, soon. For more information, go here.