The other day, I got a chance to check out Marcella’s Ristorante, Pizzeria and Wine Bar that just opened on Central Street in LoHi (right down the road from Prost Brewery, with a beautiful patio facing downtown). And I have to say, this just might be my new go-to for Italian food — so if you’re a fan of Italian, you’ve got to check it out. It’s the perfect balance between some of the fancier, dimly-lit Italian restaurants around town — and the slightly-kitchy family style Italian chains. Marcella’s has a fun, lively, vibrant atmosphere that’s the perfect mix of traditional Italian with modern, trendy Colorado — making it ideal for a happy hour with coworkers, a casual date, or dinner with the family. And the food is just soooooo good!
Some timing details: The restaurant is open Monday-Thursday 4-10pm; Friday from 4pm to midnight; Saturday and Sunday for brunch 10am-3pm; Saturday for dinner from 4pm to midnight; and Sunday for dinner 4-10pm. Happy hour is Monday-Friday 4-6pm and includes 50% off many of the drink and food options from the regular menu! That’s an amazing deal if you’re a happy hour fiend like me!
I decided to try one of the specialty cocktails, the Grapefruit Basil Fizz (Finlandia Grapefruit Vodka, Italian basil, hand squeezed lemon) — and was very impressed. I’m looking forward to trying some of the other cocktail options and seeing how they evolve their cocktail menu.
Now for the aforementioned delicious food! The #1 must-try is the Braised Veal Meatball with a simple tomato sauce. It’s bigger than the size of my fist — and it’s so incredibly flavorful that I’m salivating just thinking about it again. It’s not like any other meatball I’ve ever had: it’s not densely packed together like most meatballs I’ve tried, but literally falls apart as you touch it and melts in your mouth. I know I’m getting this again during happy hour when I come back! (The 1st photo below is mine, but the 2nd was borrowed from Marcella’s, since I think the day lighting does it much more justice.)
Next on my list of favorites are the parmesan crusted onions from Marcella’s brick oven. It’s not something I would have thought to order if they hadn’t suggested it — but I’m so glad I did. I loved this with the meatball, but they’d make a great sharing plate on their own, or a side for something else. That sharp parmesan flavor is just perfect with the slightly sweet caramelized onions.
Another highly-recommended appetizer is the melted Pecorino cheese imported from a Tuscan farm in Italy — with crostini, apple, and truffle honey. I mean, how can you go wrong with melted cheese?!
Alright, now for some main dishes. We decided to go with the chef/house recommendations for the table, and we weren’t disappointed. They were all traditional Italian dishes that were just perfectly executed and full of flavor — and exactly what you’d want from an Italian restaurant. This is the Chicken Parmesan, a classic:
My personal favorite was probably the Spaghetti Alla Carbonara with crispy pancetta and a whole egg yolk (I took the photo after I broke the yolk and swirled it around — woops). It’s just so creamy, and the salty pancetta is the perfect addition, especially for a carnivore like me!
My husband would probably say his favorite was the Gnocchi con Bolognese. It’s not what you typically imagine “bolognese” to be — since it’s made with big chunks of braised lamb. So if you’re a lamb fan like my husband, this dish is perfect for you!
You’d think we’d be way too full to eat anything by now — but thankfully we didn’t finish our entrees and took them to go, so we could leave room for dessert. And the desserts here are awesome. This is the chocolate almond cake, and I’d eat it again anytime. It’s not overpoweringly almond-flavored, but just enough to give it that unique flavor.
And we all agreed the Cannolis here were the best we’ve had outside of Italy. You may think you’ve tried a cannoli elsewhere in Denver, but these will redefine what you think of as cannolis.