Restaurant review: Go to Brodo Italian Scratch Kitchen for the pasta, but skip dessert

2 stars (out of 4)

It’s always tough for the second child, particularly if his or her older sibling is a success and is constantly getting praised. So it must be for Brodo Italian Scratch Kitchen. The Belmar restaurant is the second eatery from Brett Shaheen and Jane Knauf, business partners who opened the Wooden Table in Greenwood Village in 2011. They aimed to bring an elegant downtown dining experience to a suburban strip mall. Rave reviews quickly followed.  

Five years later, Shaheen and Knauf launched Brodo (the name means “broth” in Italian) in Lakewood’s outdoor mall with the same goal: elevate the suburban dining scene. Brodo is intended to be more casual, with a menu of familiar, mostly scratch-made Italian dishes.

While there is plenty to like about Brodo, the atmosphere and the dishes lack the finesse and coziness that make Wooden Table so enjoyable. Siblings are different, of course, but one can’t help but compare them, and Brodo has a few kinks to work out if it wants to impress like its older sib.

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Vibe: Italian cooking is homey and inviting, and the bar, just inside the restaurant’s entrance, gives off the same impression. Open shelving and custom-made wood stools and bar tops create a sense of being in a friend’s kitchen (if said friend had a few dozen bottles of liquor lying around, that is).

The industrial look extends to the dining room’s light fixtures and tables, but a startlingly bright orange wall overwhelms the relaxed setting. The dining room half of the restaurant feels a bit contrived and corporate-y; opt for a seat at the bar, or at one of the high-tops, to best experience Brodo’s pleasant energy.

Hits: Any dish featuring house-made noodles — perfectly al dente, with a velvety texture — is a good bet. Currently, that’s the first four pastas on the menu: ravioli, tortelloni, tagliatelle and pappardelle. The tagliatelle ($16) is the clear winner, with the fettucine-like noodles providing the foundation for a fairly traditional chicken marsala. The mix of mushroom varietals and the earthy broth make for a succulent and homey dish. The belly-warming pappardelle ($16), twirled with veal Bolognese and exactingly diced carrots, are just the right thickness for scooping up puddles of a cheesy Bianco sauce with each (slightly oversalted) bite.

To start, the spinach salad ($9) strikes the right balance between sweet (courtesy of strawberries and goat cheese) and nutty (pumpkin seeds and a tahini vinaigrette), and pancetta crumbles add a touch of richness. You’ll smell the mussels ($13) before you taste them — and that’s a good thing. The classic sauce of garlic, white wine and butter is aromatic and enticing; scoop up every drop with the triangles of grilled ciabatta from Trompeau Bakery (based in Englewood) that come with the dish. The crisp arancini ($13) arrive plated around a rainbow arc of saffron aïoli and five cooked-just-right shrimp. While it’d have been more enticing to see the shellfish incorporated directly into the fried risotto balls, it’s a satisfying meal starter.

Misses: The entrées section of the menu is less impressive. The chicken piccata ($19) has the makings of a lovely meal, with its tangle of house-made noodles and a bright, lemony brown butter sauce that’s enhanced with the saltiness of capers. But the entire plate is underseasoned, and the accompanying roasted vegetables are bland and forgettable. Same goes for the chicken parmesan. There was a lack of seasoning, the vegetables were lackluster, and while the chicken itself was juicy, the breading was soggy and underwhelming.

Pocket that dessert money, too. The three options — Amaretto chocolate tart ($9), rum raisin bread pudding ($8) and vanilla bean panna cotta ($8) — are well-crafted but feel like an afterthought. (The exception is the delectably creamy ice cream from a neighboring shop.) The tart had a pleasant boozy flavor but needed a knife to cut through its density, while the panna cotta ($8) quivered just a little too much, as if it needed a bit more gelatin.

Drinks: Wine is always a reliable pairing for Italian food, and Brodo has a laudable selection–including four house wines on tap, two white and two red ($8) — that gives diners options without the anxiety of having to hunt through a 10-page list. Italian and American vinos reign. The beer and cider list, which included 21 brews, is focused on Colorado and includes a couple of less-ubiquitous brews such as Ska Brewing’s Pinstripe Red Ale and Telluride Brewing Company’s Whacked Out Wheat. A quick scan of the bar shelves reveals that Brodo is committed to supporting local spirits; you’ll spot Carbondale’s Marble Distilling and bottles from Laws Whiskey House in Denver, among others. From the concise cocktail list, go for the Last Will ($12), a light and refreshing sip made with gin and Ex Gratia (an herb-based liqueur) from Golden’s Golden Moon Distillery.

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Service: Like many restaurants in the Denver metro area, Brodo struggles with consistent service. Servers are friendly, knowledgeable about the menu and quick to address small hiccups (missing silverware, for example), but water glasses often go unfilled and the quality of service can vary depending on where you’re sitting (the bar versus the dining room). Drinks also take too long to arrive.

Bottom line: Brodo is a reliable non-chain dining option for folks shopping at Belmar and those living in and around the neighborhood. The menu is approachable and has something for everyone without being overwhelming. If the staff can work out some service kinks and bring every dish on the menu to the level of the house-made pastas, Brodo could become an Italian standby for suburbanites and downtowners alike. But for now, stick to the carbs.

Price: Appetizers and salads ($6-$15); entrées and pastas ($12-$21); desserts ($3-$9)

Fun fact: Executive chef Brett Shaheen honed his Italian cooking skills under prominent Denver restaurateur Frank Bonanno. Shaheen worked as the chef de cuisine at Luca D’Italia and executive chef at Osteria Marco before opening his first restaurant, the Wooden Table.

Restaurant Info

Brodo

7167 W. Alaska Dr.
Lakewood
303-953-1121
brodoscratchkitchen.com
Hours: Open for lunch and dinner daily (11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday)
Reservations: Accepted
Parking: Metered street parking

Star Rating Guide: Ratings range from zero to four stars. Zero is poor. One star, satisfactory. Two stars, good. Three stars, very good. Four stars, excellent.

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