By Paul Albani-Burgio
It’s no secret that Denver has been hemorrhaging beloved Italian restaurants at roughly the same rate it’s been losing affordable apartments.
The unfortunate trend dates back to at least 2012, when Northside mainstays Pagliacci’s and Longo’s Subway Tavern closed within months of each other. It’s continued to gain steam ever since, as icons Carbone’s, Dino’s Italian Food in Lakewood and red sauce grand dame Patsy’s Inn all shuttered in the last few years. More recently, we learned The Saucy Noodle, which has been a fixture in Bonnie Brae for 55 years, could be nearing the end of its line after its owners were notified that their landlord was applying to demolish the restaurant’s building.
Now, the owner of another longtime South Denver destination for Italian comfort classics said its future is also up in the air after it closed its doors in September.
The events leading to the current uncertainty at Pasquini’s, which has been serving up pizzas and pastas at the southeast corner of Broadway and East Louisiana Avenue since 1986, date back to the fire that occurred in the older portion of the restaurant in 2016.
Following the fire, owner Melinda Pasquini decided Pasquini’s would continue operating only out of the newer side of the restaurant until the older side could be brought back online, a process which she was originally told would take three months.
However, Pasquini said the older side, which dates back to the late 1800s, ended up requiring “a complete rebuild” to bring it up to code that has continued for the last three-and-a-half years. Plans began to change further when that renovation entered a stage last summer that required both sides of the space to temporarily be closed.
“We were going to reopen when construction was done but, of course, it’s taken way too long and COVID-19 happened and everything kind of went crazy,” said Pasquini. “So what we decided to do was rent out the newer side to another restaurant, and then we were just going to reopen in the original side when the construction was done. But at this point, I just don’t know.”
Pasquini has found a new tenant for the newer side of the space, which has the address 1300 South Broadway, in Tikka & Grill, a new Indian and Nepali restaurant that is set to open next month.
Peter Sitaula, who lives in Thornton, will own Tikka & Grill. Sitaula also owned the now-closed Royal Nepal restaurant in Commerce City and is currently the owner of Sherpa Grill, an Indian and Nepali restaurant with locations in Greeley and Fort Collins.
Tikka and Grill manager Avi Jha said that restaurant will be similar to its northern siblings with a menu focused on classic Indian and Nepali dishes, including chicken tikka masala and lamb and chicken kabob. Jha said a highlight will be the momo, filled dumplings that are popular in Nepal.
“We are going to have three kinds: a steamed version, a fried version and one that is immersed in broth,” Jha said. “We’re really going to be pushing those.”
There are also plans for Tikka & Grill to offer a buffet, although that is on hold for now because of COVID-19 concerns. Instead, the restaurant will open with a focus on take-out and delivery, although the team is planning to set up three tables inside the restaurant and three more on the patio to allow for social distanced dining before eventually adding more seating once the viruses eases up.
Jha said the space is undergoing a total makeover that will replace the previous old-school neighborhood Italian vibe with a south Asian look and feel. There will also be a full bar with a TV that Jha is hoping brings in a crowd that wants to watch a game while gorging on tandoori and sipping beer (or maybe a lassi).
Situala hopes to add one other attraction when health regulations allow: live Indian music.
“We want to have sitar (an Indian string instrument) music,” Jha said. “It really sounds nice inside the restaurant.”
Tikka and Grill is set to open over the July 4 weekend.
Pasquini, meanwhile, plans to continue to evaluate the changing nature of the restaurant landscape in the wake of COVID-19 while construction continues. She said part of the reason she preferred to reopen inside the original space is that the newer space was never set up for a full kitchen (Sitaula has invested in significant improvements to the makeshift kitchen Pasquini’s built in that space following the fire). However, COVID-19 has significantly altered that calculus.
“It’s going to be hard for us to navigate,” Pasquini said. “If I had known COVID-19 was coming, I would’ve rented out the original side and kept the newer side for Pasquini’s because that is the side with the parking and the patio space, which is more ideal for this climate.”