Ryan DiFranco is from New York. Many New Yorkers who wind up in Colorado move here for the lifestyle — not the Italian food.
Simply, the availability of really good, affordably priced Italian in Denver is limited. DiFranco noticed this, so he decided to do something about it. The 27-year-old opened DiFranco’s
in the luxury Beauvallon condo building less than a year ago in an effort to cure the city of its mid-priced Italian food blues.
“In general, there was an opportunity for better Italian food in Denver at a medium-range price point,” DiFranco said. “It’s why I opened.”
Simple motivation. Simple restaurant concept.
DiFranoco’s is a mix between an old-school Italian deli and a more contemporary gathering place. Two classic deli cases welcome guests, but beetle kill pine was used throughout to bring a more modern aesthetic.
The menu is filled with fresh pastas, subs and salads, with all menu items falling under $12. Ingredients are local and organic when available, and the flavors are refined yet simple. “Locally sourced Italian food … I want to educate people that local is not a trend; it’s a lifestyle,” he says.
The wine list offers Bonacquisti by the glass and a selection of boutique beers. A 16-seat community table serves as the majority of the seating with only two other tables available.
“The idea is to create this sense of community,” DiFranco says.
DiFranco's background in food preparation has always been experiential, not professional. His grandmother, a first-generation Italian immigrant, introduced him to the delicious and simple flavors of her native country at a young age.
“Growing up, when we were eating, we were always talking about food, and talking about the next meal we were going to cook,” he says.
A two-month trip to Turin in Northern Italy served as further inspiration for the new restaurant.
“I called it my cultural immersion,” he says. “I ate a lot of food, drank a lot of wine and tried to figure out what they are doing in Italy that we are not doing here.”
While not a professionally trained chef, DiFranco knows the restaurant industry. It’s actually the reason the Niagara, N.Y., native moved west. He was working for Hillstone Restaurant Group, and was transferred to Cherry Creek to help open the now shuttered Houston’s.
During that time of his life he learned the ins and outs of the Denver restaurant scene, saw some deficiencies in the city’s offerings, and a clientele hungry for more good food. He also decided to venture off on his own.
“There’s plenty of opportunity in every direction. It’s a developing scene,” he says of Denver.
And now it’s a developing scene with a little more affordable Italian on the menu.
Pair It with Bonacquisti:
Try a glass of the Bonacquisti Cabernet/Merlot blend from the keg ($6.50 per glass) with the Chicken Parm Sub ($9.50). “His Cab/Merlot comes across to me as a little smoother. It has a nice earthiness to it. It won’t overpower the chicken and our red sauce has a little cinnamon, a little sweetness that plays to it,” DiFranco says.