Authentic Italian: Italy-born chef brings his meal-making mettle to South Jeffco

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By AJ Vicens

Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, now has a South Jeffco namesake.

Bacco Trattoria, a new Italian eatery on South Kipling Street just north of C-470, opened Jan. 26 with an eye toward bringing fine wine and authentic Italian cooking to South Jeffco — as well as an actual Italian chef.

"It was something to do," said co-owner Leslie Young. She and her sisters Laura Leovic and Melissa McKay formerly operated Cassoulet Entrees out of the space, a meals-to-go operation that opened in November 2005. But Leovic has a separate career in the insurance industry, and McKay works in software and computer programming.

"We had partners come and go, and eventually I was pretty much running the place by myself," Young said. "When Marco came around, he seemed to offer a more optimistic future. An opportunity presented itself."

Marco is chef Marco Monnanni. He was born in Rome and was a restaurant apprentice at age 14, making fresh pasta and other specialties by hand. He later attended hotel school in Verona and went on to work in high-end kitchens around the world, from Switzerland and Germany to New York City and Las Vegas.

In his thick Italian accent, Monnanni says he was looking to open a restaurant in the South Jeffco area because he saw a need for authentic Italian food. He happened upon Cassoulet, and the idea for Bacco Trattoria was born.

"The idea is based on the trattoria," Monnanni said. "In Italian, it means a neighborhood restaurant where you make most things homemade, families come over there, the price is affordable. It's a place for everybody."

Monnanni formerly owned Antica Roma in Boulder, but he sold his interests there in 2005. He then worked as a chef at Acqua Pazza in Boulder, and in the months before Bacco Trattoria opened, he was executive chef at Parisi, an Italian restaurant in north Denver.

Young credits Monnanni for the inspiration behind their joint operation.

"It's pretty much Marco's baby," Young said, even though she co-owns and manages the restaurant, and her sisters are also still part-owners.

Young said recent economic troubles don't have her worried.

"I'm not really worried," she said. "People still need to eat, and we tried to put together a menu where people could go out and enjoy time together and have an affordable menu, and do it two times a week. This is not a place you have to save all your money to go out to once a month."

Young said the restaurant also offers an "economic take-out package" — a meal for four for $25 — but she promises the name has nothing to do with all the troubling economic news of late.

Bacco Trattoria has a growing wine list, other liquors and a range of authentic Italian plates. The recent Valentine's menu included Monnanni's mozzarella caprese salad, featuring his homemade mozzarella. Monnanni also makes what he calls the "Filetto Al Pepe Verde," a sliced filet mignon with brandy and green peppercorn sauce served with mashed potatoes and sauteed spinach. Most entrees are under $15.

Young said she wants Bacco Trattoria to be a traditional Italian eatery that people can treat as their community spot. The decor is soft and cozy, and Young said that often area residents see friends and pull tables together to share some wine. And she loves that.

"We're trying to offer an escape," Young said. "We want people to have a good meal, spend some time together and enjoy some wine."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.

Swing by

Bacco Trattoria, formerly Cassoulet Entrees, is at 10125 W. San Juan Way, Unit 150 (just off South Kipling Street north of C-470). Hours are from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday for lunch, from 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday for dinner, and from 5 to 10 p.m. for dinner on Saturday and Sunday. Call the restaurant at 303-979-COOK (2665) with any questions or to set up a reservation for six or more.