Where Nas and Handmade Pasta Collide – The Ongoing Refinement of the New and Improved Bar Dough

In Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci’s 1996 film Big Night, there’s a scene in which Tony Shalhoub’s character Primo is in the kitchen of his small trattoria, ruminating on the joys of Lasagna Bolognese as the eyes of a rapt love interest dart between the chef and his busy stovetop. “You can’t believe how good this is. And when my uncle, in Rome, at this restaurant, when he makes this,” he begins, before bursting out, “You eat and then you go and you kill yourself, you have to kill yourself. After you eat this, you can’t live!”

This is one of two scenes in the movie in which the ecstasy caused by Italian food gives rise to violent outbursts where threats of murder or thoughts of suicide are only barely presented as hyperbole. In the best of cases, the cuisine is all about passion.

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Though on any night, it’s unlikely that Bar Dough’s chef Russell Stippich will be yelling. The music might be loud — so as artists like Anderson .Paak, Rick Ross and Murs handle much of the audible exclaiming — Stippich can be found peacefully executing items like meatballs, piada bread and any number of handmade pasta dishes with all the same deep affection and precision exhibited by Big Night’s more boisterous counterparts. “I love Italian food. I’m pretty traditionalist about it,” said Stippich. “Going to Frasca for my first super serious kitchen job, I learned from people who are extremely serious about the cuisine.”

Stippich was born in Albuquerque and spent most of his formative years in Northeastern Wyoming, where he attended the University of Wyoming in Laramie. He came to Boulder in 2010 and very quickly took a job at Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson’s celebrated ode to the food of Fruili, Frasca. Beginning at the bottom rung, Stippich worked his way through the stations — crudo, hot apps, pasta and finally, meat and fish. Over the next decade, he would hone his talents across some of Denver’s most rigorous and celebrated kitchens, including Acorn, The Squeaky Bean, The Nickel, The Populist and Mister Oso. He left Oso in February 2020 to take over the chef role at Bar Dough.

“I had the pleasure of starting here three weeks before the restaurant shut down,” smiled Stippich.

READ: Top Chef Carrie Baird on Her Departure From Bar Dough

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“Of all the restaurants we had, COVID beat up Bar Dough the most,” said Culinary Creative head honcho Juan Padro. Culinary Creative is the restaurant group currently responsible for Bar Dough, A5 Steakhouse, Ash’Kara, Aviano Coffee, Senor Bear, Mister Oso and Forget Me Not.

So on September 10 of last year, Bar Dough reopened after a 10-day shutdown in which the inside was fully refurbished. Employees did 45 hours of intensive training, educating them on the intricacies and rich histories of everything that builds the new food menu and the significantly expanded wine list. An ingredient-focused Stippich shared his enthusiasm for importers like La Mozzarella, who are responsible for providing all the exquisitely-picked Mozzarella di Bufala found throughout the dishes.

“The neighborhood was saying we want a place to come sit down and maybe get a bottle of wine instead of a glass of wine,” said Padro. “We needed to reintroduce what the DNA of the restaurant was. It was almost a rebirth of the place,” he continued, noting that the interior makeover was just one part of a full holistic transformation. And while the place is still all about pasta and 90s hip-hop, the vibe has been deliberately shifted in favor of the softer and more refined.

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Stippich says he changes large chunks of the menu every few weeks, introducing brand-new dishes and altering existing ones by adding or subtracting seasonal ingredients. The garlic bread isn’t going anywhere, nor is the burrata or the Bucatini All’ Amatriciana ($26), with guanciale, fennel sausage, heirloom tomato, pecorino and chili flake. “These dishes have survived the rise and fall of empires,” said the chef. “Everything is rooted in centuries of tradition.” The meatballs and the cacio e pepe are also here to stay. “Aside from these dishes, nothing is permanent.” Seasonally dishes are developed whimsically, with the citrus and prosciutto ($16) — with brown butter, almond and Castelvetrano olive oil — acting as a good example of a plate built for brevity.

The desserts are handled by Natalia Spaminato, who runs pastry for all the Culinary Creative concepts. The espresso and cookies ($11) — with chocolate espresso mousse, hazelnut biscotti and Frengelico chantilly — is a must.

“Bar Dough had to grow up because Denver’s grown up,” grinned Padro. Stippich has been a key player in that growth. The new Bar Dough feels like a coalescence, where food, drink, vibe and talent are perfectly in rhythm with a city ready to appreciate the finer things.

Bar Dough is located at 2227 West 32nd Ave., Denver. It is open Monday – Thursday from 3 p.m. – 10 p.m., Friday from 3 p.m. – 11 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. – 11 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.

All photography by Alden Bonecutter.