Going the extra mile is a theme at Manzo Lobster & Oyster Bar. For owner, Rich Manzo and executive chef, Darren Pusateri – providing premium seafood over 1,000 miles from the nearest ocean means ordering fish as early as 3 a.m. — and personally procuring their selections around sunrise. “I’m a geek when it comes to checking airline routes. By the time fish reaches us, it can be only six to 12 hours out of the water,” said Manzo. In addition to frequenting Denver’s outlying airport – every effort to source the freshest fare appears to be a labor of love. After all, the kitchen houses a 2,500-gallon, marine biologist-designed lobster tank. The state-of-the-art clear-water reservoir replicates the natural cleaning process of the ocean and maintains a constant temperature of 45 degrees.
East and west coast oysters, wild Tasmanian ocean trout ($14) and ahi tuna poke ($15) from Manzo’s raw bar are comparable to offerings from any seaside destination. The lobster Oscar poutine ($19) is a decadent dream. In fact — every lobster-forward item on the menu is adorned with a generous helping of luscious lobster meat. Prior to opening his brick and mortar restaurant on 19th Avenue at Pennsylvania Street, Manzo gave his concept a test drive with the immensely popular Lobster Bliss food truck. “My grandfather was in the business and owned a seafood market when I was a kid. I grew up fishing. It’s kind of in my blood,” said Manzo. He and Pusateri began conceptualizing a seafood market and restaurant hybrid over a decade ago while working at Denver’s acclaimed Izakaya Den. Pusateri’s impressive culinary background includes leading kitchens at Guard & Grace, Frasca, downtown Denver’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel and the Den Corner group.
Though introducing a full-service restaurant in 2020 may seem like a mission of madness – these shellfish-savants have multiple plans for pivoting the program. On Friday, November 20 — five weeks after opening its doors — the nautically-inspired Uptown space was forced to suspend in-house dining. As Denver shifted to the next stage of cautionary measures in accordance with the COVID-19 pandemic, Manzo’s team prepared for its own transition. Every menu item was made available for takeout and the seafood market was primed to shine. Manzo and Pusateri ensured the patio was heated by nightfall for limited outdoor dining.
Moving forward – sublime seafood and culinary camaraderie shall define the next chapter for Manzo. Subtly creamy, delightfully flavorful clam chowder is available by the quart as well as crowd-pleasing lobster roll kits. Fresh fish selections may include king salmon and hiramasa from New Zealand, branzino from Spain and ahi tuna from Fiji. For those who feel intimidated by the prospect of preparing these fish – Pusateri will be hosting a series of instructional cooking videos on the restaurant’s Facebook page. Every week, local chefs will join Pusateri to demonstrate the cookery of a featured fish for online viewers.
Manzo Lobster and Oyster Bar is located at 500 East 19th Avenue, Denver. It is open Tuesday – Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fridays at 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. and Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
All photography by Lukas Crosby.