Spuntino is a cozy, neighborhood Italian restaurant in the Highlands of Denver that’s owned by wife and husband team, Chef Cindhura Reddy and General Manager, Elliot Strathmann. The two had managed the restaurant together since 2013, but they purchased it from the previous owners in September of 2014.
I have a soft spot for husband-wife restaurants because running a restaurant is hard enough, let alone with your partner. Not only does it impress me, but it shows such gumption and commitment to the love of their craft. Spuntino is no exception – it’s incredibly well executed. Their seamlessness is like watching an effortless, beautiful dance they do together with thoughtful food and menu building from Reddy, to personalized front of the house service and an inventive beverage menu from Strathmann. There’s a gentleness and graciousness from both of them that I don’t always see in restaurants, but don’t confuse that for softness, they don’t skip a beat on any detail and are both sharp.
The space itself is long and narrow with just a handful of tables flanked by the reclaimed wood bar and open kitchen. In the back, there’s a room for larger parties. Hanging Edison lightbulbs make for rustic and delicate lighting and I love all the wooden decor from the tables to walls.
With the small kitchen they have, I loved watching Chef Reddy’s calm and cool demeanor while she smiles and cooks with focus.
When it comes to their Italian inspired menu the attention to detail and focus on doing everything themselves from scratch, is obvious. From hand making pasta everyday like pappardelle and bigoli, to Strathmann’s house-made amari liqueurs (more on these later), to making their own ricotta and baking their own bread, to their dedication of working with local farmers, to growing their own urban garden out front.
Set like a traditional Italian menu, they start with antipasti, spuntini, primi (traditionally pasta, and never the final course if you’re a true Italian), to secondi which is more traditional entrees and proteins. The menu changes seasonally, based on the produce but falls about four times a year to reflect their local approach.
There is also a holistic thoughtfulness to their approach. For instance, for their risotto and arancini (fried risotto balls) they’ll use the whey from their cheese making to help add a creaminess to their risotto. There’s also the dedication to time. For their polpo (octopus) carpaccio style, they poach the tentacles for four hours and then use a cheese cloth, to almost create a head-cheese like texture, to come out as carpaccio with potatoes, chorizo, celery and bright sweet peppers. It’s also worth noting the incredible value, for their food.
With the addition of their Fall menu mid-October, these are the dishes you must try on their new Fall (2016) menu.
Elk Tartare – Rocky Mountain elk, preserved lemon aioli, ginger garlic, shallot, and cured yolk. Alongside their house-made bread. I was floored to learn this was Colorado elk and not farm raised, but through a program with one of their providers this is actually Colorado hunted wild game. So often when you see elk (if you do at all) it’s going to be all the from Australia or New Zealand. Furthermore, if you’ve tasted wild game this may not be as gamey as you expect. This interesting tartare is mild, yet creamy in texture and the tangy aoili is a delicious addition.
Arancini – fried risotto with cauliflower, fontina, tumeric fried pickles, and marina. You could just serve arancini because who doesn’t love fried food, but their thoughtful plating and unique addition of creative elements make it special.
Bigoli – Wild mushrooms, aged balsamic cream, and toasted pine nuts. Bigoli, is a type of pasta made into a long thick tube. All pasta is house made and prepared perfectly al dente. This dish exuded fall and I love how with well-made pasta, you can still feel light after. Afar Magazine named them as one of the 12 best places to enjoy pasta in the country.
Risotto – Butternut squash, prosciutto brown butter, Thai basil and Pecorino. This has that creaminess from the risotto whey they make, but the crunchy of the prosciutto was a great texture addition.
There needs to be a whole section on their house made liqueurs. Amaro is an herbal liqueur from Italy that’s known as a digestivo, which you drink after dinner to help digest your food and settle your stomach. It’s also known to help reduce that “I ate way too much and I’m full,” feeling. It’s not as if Strathmann has enough on his plate co-owning a restaurant, but he took the time to develop a house-infused amaro program where he has landed on 11 infusions in the last few years. These infusions are made from herbs that he grows either at his house or at the restaurant garden.
Sitting above his bar, you see the barrels aging where he has infused the likes of saffron, basil, marigold petals, fennel, anise, and chokecherries. The basil amaro (first one on the left), was made out of seven types of basil from their garden!
I love that they’re available traditionally as a digestiv for sipping on after your meal, or they’re also used in their cocktails like my favorite, Gardener’s Collins which is CapRock Gin, citrus, and Spuntino’s garden liqueur topped with marigold petals (top photo, below).
The bottom drink is the Sgroppino di Spuntino Redux which is Mell Vodka, sorbet, lemon, prosecco, and their own choke cherry syrup. I loved the frothiness of this drink.
Their wine program focuses on small production vineyards and it’s about 80-85% Italian wines and it rotates about 80 bottles. Their bottle list “The Off List” showcases their current favorites and rotates with frequency, beyond their standard wine menu.
Strathmann admits he lets Reddy own all of the food, besides a few snippets of his won, but the one food item he does own are his house made truffles he infuses with his liqueur. He uses 72% dark chocolate via Boulder’s Fortuna Chocolates.
The previous owners were well known for their gelato, and the gelato program has continued with freshly made house-gelato. I recommend the olive oil gelato. It has that savory creaminess of extra virgin-olive oil that’s drizzled on top of vanilla gelato. Zeppole, what I like to call “Italian fried-dough” is a traditional Sicilian dessert they offer. Of course, don’t forget to end your evening with an amaro
If you go to Spuntino, I know you’ll feel welcomed, comfortable, and be wowed by their attention to detail, the locally seasonal food, and the charm of the space and people.
Find Them: spuntinodenver.com | 2639 W. 32nd Ave, Denver, CO