When a little cafe called Spuntino opened in the Highlands in 2011, no one could have guessed what it would become. Originally an ice cream shop, the space has grown into one of Denver’s top Italian restaurants under the guidance of its current owners, Elliot Strathmann and Executive Chef Cindhura Reddy. The duo used to work in the restaurant under the previous owners until in 2014 they decided to take the plunge and make Spuntino their own.
After traveling and working together in Italy in their twenties, Strathmann and Reddy set out to cultivate a seasonal Italian menu based on respecting Italian traditions with a local flair and space to innovate. The result is old world classics like the locals El Regalo Ranch goat stew served on Papardella ($27) share the menu with unique Colorado dishes as a Alce Crudo with Wild Rocky Mountain Elk Tartare ($18). Attention to detail sets them apart from other restaurants with every dough made from scratch and hand rolled, like their Cavatelli — a dumpling with tangy nettle pesto, Duroc pork sausage, pistachios and Pecorino ($26).
“We wanted to be the kitchen where everything is made from scratch and nothing is wasted,” Strathmann said.
But perhaps the most exceptional thing about the restaurant is the philosophy that guides them. By caring for their employees and encouraging their cooks to innovate and build on the foundation of tradition, they have been able to prepare incredibly unique dishes without sacrificing quality. The elk tartare, for example, includes grilled masala aioli and ajwain seed crisps – a nod to Chef Reddy’s South Indian roots.
The restaurant never closed during the pandemic and even expanded employee benefits during this time. By offering take-out wine tastings and holiday specials — including a delivery driver in a bunny costume for Easter — they’ve managed to weather the storm in style.
“Find out what’s important, the rest is just details,” Strathmann said.
The drinks menu offers a carefully curated wine list with an impressive selection of Italian bottles. Every other Wednesday, diners can enjoy themed flights of their favorite little production wines around the corner from the bar with a small group of like-minded drinkers.
“Wine is the synthesis of a life well lived — to farm and produce something that you really care about,” Strathmann said.
Besides the wine list, Spuntino also infuses its own liqueurs. While they started with a classic Italian limoncello, they quickly embraced their adventurous spirit and traditional roots and began to seek out local herbs to brew their own House Amaro. The cocktail menu follows suit — starting with classics like a Negroni ($12) and progressing to creative concoctions like the The Parola ‘F’ ($12) with CapRock Farmhouse Gin, Spuntino’s Finocchietto, Luxardo Maraschino, Lime and a Boozy Cherry.
And their efforts have not gone unnoticed. In the spring of 2020, Reddy and Chef di Cuisine Austin Nickel were nominated as semi-finalists for the James Beard Awards. Despite the amazing food and big name recognition, Spuntino’s maintains its neighborhood vibe. It’s a place where Highland regulars congregate in peace – enjoying the fruits of dedicated staff and a brilliant chef guided by a philosophy built to last.
Spuntino is located at 2639 W 32nd Ave, Denver. It is open from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday.
All photos courtesy of Spuntino.