The name—Jovanina’s Broken Italian—is your first hint that this 15-month-old restaurant in the heart of Denver’s Lower Downtown isn’t your grandmother’s Italian restaurant. “We love traditional red sauce-type Italian cooking,” says co-owner/chef Jake Linzinmeir, “but this restaurant isn’t about tables set with gingham cloths and candles in Chianti bottles. We’re creating a style of where we are and how people are dining.”
That is, foods and beverages that reflect a fresh, modern take on Italian cuisine, using the best local and regional ingredients that each season offers.
The pastas, for example, are ever-evolving—made on-site, by-hand and calibrated to the day’s temperature from flour milled in-house, purchased from Central Milling in Utah or imported from Italy. “We are constantly trying to find the best shape for how well it holds a sauce and feels in the mouth,” Linzinmeir says. “There’s nothing wrong with dry pastas, but we think ours is better.” A current diner favorite is calamarata, a ring-shaped pasta so named because of its resemblance to rounds of calamari. “We cut it in half-inch sections,” he says, and it is a perfect base for a Bolognese made from elk, rosemary mascarpone, whipped ricotta and sage salt.
This dish, Linzinmeir says, is so well-executed that it’s comparable to anything one would find in a top-flight restaurant in Italy. “You could say we’ve made it to the Italian border, but not quite to Bologna.”
In September, Linzinmeir closed the restaurant for two days so that he and his crew could concentrate on pickling the sweet corn, onions, green beans and grapes that are found on several menu and cocktail items. One of the pizzas on Jovanina’s spring menu features ramps that have been covered in hot coals and left overnight in the restaurant’s custom-built, wood-burning pizza oven. Pork jowl will be added to the pizza as a finishing touch.
An ambitious craft cocktail menu includes drinks made from liquors that are barrel-aged in-house, such as the silver tequila aged with Campari in a charred Madeira barrel for 90 days and then put in a keg that is chilled to 26 degrees F. Chief mixologist Chris Dunsmoor pours the resulting beverage over a 2-inch by 2-inch cube of ice, enabling the mixture to keep its full flavor and not be diluted by shaking or the ice.
Linzinmeir curates his key staffers as carefully as he does his food. Dunsmoor, whose skills have been recognized by the Colorado Bartenders Guild and others, came to Jovanina’s by way of The Populist, where he was bar manager. Prior to that he tended bar at such local hotspots as the RiNo Yacht Club, American Bonded and Izakaya Den. Linzinmeir considers pastry chef Ashley Morrison “an absolute force in pastry,” one who turns out breads and desserts like no other and “tolerates my whimsical side.” Her credentials include stints as pastry chef de partie at two of chef Thomas Keller’s storied venues—The French Laundry and Bouchon Bakery, both in the Napa Valley—and as pastry chef at The Bindery in Denver.
A garlic knot that she made for summer dining proved so popular that it remained on the fall/winter menu, albeit in a slightly different iteration.
“Ashley took a traditional garlic knot and made it her own by having it be the size of a baseball and filling it with burrata and roasted garlic. We called it a garlic knot on steroids.” Fall/winter diners knew it as Parmesan Soufflé. “It was served with balsamic gelato, so you’d be having your cheese course and dessert all in one,” Linzinmeir explains.
Jovanina’s Broken Italian opened Nov. 2, 2018, and is winning rave reviews from diners both local and out of state. Writing on the Open Table website, Lisa K from Denver says, “Fantastic food and great service. We ate downstairs and loved the cozy booth and funky old-time wine cellar/basement feel. It was a really fun dining experience. “Absolutely loved everything about it,” added OT, a diner from San Francisco.
The downstairs to which Lisa K refers is Sotto Voce, an intimate, Prohibition-era style lounge that can accommodate 35 people seated or 45 for standing cocktail service. Via Sopra, on the restaurant’s second floor, also offers a cozy dining or cocktail party space with a panoramic view of the hustle and bustle of Blake Street. The main dining room has exposed brick walls, a zinc bar and clear lines of sight to the open kitchen.
A chef and certified sommelier who graduated from the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration in 1992, Linzinmeir is no stranger to the restaurant biz. After Cornell he spent 19 years in Telluride as executive director of restaurants for the Telluride Ski Co., helming such popular spots as Bon Vivant and Alpino Vino, the highest-elevation fine dining restaurant in North America. He also owned the now-closed Excelsior Café there.
In addition, he has been a sous chef at Le Calandre, a 3-star Michelin restaurant near Padua, Italy, and has appeared numerous times on NBC’s “Today” show, demonstrating how to make such things as Telluride Ski Patrol Pasta and his upscale take on corn dogs.
Telluride Ski Patrol Pasta is al dente orecchiette that is mixed with diced tomatoes, julienned red peppers, garlic, hot pepper flakes, spinach and oregano that have been sauteed in olive oil and finished with a dusting of pecorino Romano. Instead of having a hot dog at the center, Linzinmeir’s corn dogs have centers of lobster, buffalo short ribs or mac and cheese.
“My family is really into food, although I’m the only one who went into the industry. My parents both worked for airlines, so we traveled a lot. And of course the first thing we’d do wherever we’d land is check out the local cuisine.”
In fact, Linzinmeir adds, his original plan was to go into restaurant administration. He was 21 when he moved to Telluride after graduating from Cornell. “I helped open a restaurant there and when the chef quit, I ended up in the kitchen and discovered I had a knack for cooking.”
Jennifer Linzinmeir, a certified public accountant, is the co-owner and general manager of the Red Lion in Vail, an establishment her husband describes as the last of the great ski bars.
“We were classmates at Cornell; friends who graduated together but didn’t date,” he recalls. “We both ended up moving to Colorado, and 25 years later, when we both happened to be single, we’d visit each others’ restaurants and started to date.” They married in 2016 and divide their time between their primary residence in the Vail Valley and a condo in Denver.
They are also partners in Bespoke Concepts, a hospitality planning and development collective that, says Jake, “Provides the tools and business guidance required to create exciting and financially sound food and beverage concepts. We help them recognize trends and movement in the industry to keep them current or to build a non-stale restaurant in a hotel that guests would want to go to.” Denver clients include the Hotel Teatro restaurant, Nickel, and Union Station. Milo, a hotel and restaurant in Santa Barbara; Saltwood, a restaurant in Monterey, Calif., and 100 Sails, a restaurant in Honolulu also are clients.
But that name? How did the couple settle on something as crazy—but attention-getting—as Jovanina’s Broken Italian?
Simple: Jovanina is a mashup of Giovannina, a nickname given to Jake’s wife and business partner, Jennifer. “We changed the G to J and there you have it: broken Italian.”
Jovanina’s Broken Italian
1520 Blake St.
Denver, CO 80202
2 cups 00 flour
2 cups plus 1 tbs durum flour
12 egg yolks
2 tbs water
Put the flour in the bowl of a mixer with a paddle attachment and dough hook.
With a paddle running on low speed, gradually add the egg yolks until the dough comes together.
Switch to a dough hook and mix for 20 minutes.
Rest for a minimum of 45 minutes before rolling and cutting into long noodles.
½ lb ground elk
½ lb ground pork
½ white onion
1 celery stalk
3 garlic cloves
5 cremini mushrooms
¼ cup red wine
1 cup milk
40 oz crushed canned tomatoes
Cut the onion, carrot, celery, garlic and mushrooms and set aside.
Sear the elk and pork in a large pot until thoroughly cooked.
Remove meat from pot and add vegetables. Sauté until cooked through.
Deglaze the pan with red wine and reduce by half.
Return the meat to the pan along with milk and crushed tomatoes.
Simmer on low for about four hours.
Makes one 9-inch pie; serves 6-8 people.
1 1/3 cup cream cheese
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
½ cup sweetened condensed milk
¼ cup heavy cream
Graham cracker pie crust
In a mixer, paddle together cream cheese and ricotta until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Add sweetened condensed milk, eggs and heavy cream and paddle until smooth.
Add to prepared graham cracker crust and bake in a water bath at 250F for about 50 minutes, until the center is set.
Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature.
Dining out, without a doubt, is what Joanne Davidson enjoys most. After reporting this story, she’s definitely adding Jovanina’s Broken Italian to her list of “gotta get there soon” places.
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