House of Marrakesh: Traditional Moroccan cuisine hits the mark in downtown Denver.
Back for more... Oblio's: A neighborhood standby gets another taste.
House of Marrakesh
By Carol Maybach
(out of 4)
1530 Blake St.
Traditional Moroccan cuisine and belly dancers.
Because everything in the kitchen is made from scratch, dishes take a while—but it's definitely worth the wait.
Chicken bastella, lamb shank, hummus, chicken Tfaya, mint tea, Moroccan halwa.
"Seven vegetables" couscous, hummus, carrots chermoula, and the eight-course Zarda combination.
Back for more... Oblio's
A neighborhood standby gets another taste.
By Kazia Jankowski
(out of 4)
6115 E. 22nd Ave.
Must-Try New Dishes Deep dish pizza, the Fat Tommy
Old Favorites Bread sticks, vegetarian calzone
In Oblio's early years, owners Danny and Dawn McKay manned the restaurant's tables and its humble kitchen. Their service, somewhat unaccommodating, received low marks from the surrounding Park Hill neighborhood. But when 5280 critic Lori Midson visited the spot in early 2001, she praised the restaurant's golf motif and its crispy-crust pizzas. A few months after Midson's visit, the McKays decided they no longer wanted the responsibility of a small business. They sold out to their original business partner—Tommy Gilhooly, a young Regis University grad—who immediately gave Oblio's a face-lift. We returned to see what Gilhooly, as Oblio's exclusive owner, has been up to.
A Sunday dinner at Park Hill's Oblio's Pizzeria was on my calendar, and previous dinners had suggested that the neighborhood hotspot was a family joint. I needed a husband and kids, and I needed them fast, so I called my good friends Ross and Renee. At 6:30 Sunday evening, the stylish young couple slides into an Oblio's booth with their two-year-old son and nine-month-old daughter. As Sebastian throws his bottle on the floor and Francesca feigns a freak-out, I help myself to a warm, garlicky bread stick. I'm in the perfect company to appreciate that Oblio's now has both a full bar and a restroom with a changing table.
Since taking over Oblio's, Gilhooly has shaped what was once a tasty but slow and temperamental neighborhood restaurant into a bustling joint where, on weekend nights, it's often tough to find a spot. Making Oblio's such a place has taken hard work on Gilhooly's part. He built Oblio's bar with his own two hands, put in fountain soda machines, and exchanged the kitchen's slow conventional oven for a professional model. While this kind of gritty effort is typical of the restaurant industry, Gilhooly has gone out of his way to give his work a personal touch. A photo of his young family hangs over the bar, and he's often the man to hand you your fountain soda. In recent years, Gilhooly has even invited families waiting for dinner to take a spin in his flame-painted golf cart.
Tonight, though, Gilhooly is missing, leaving his friendly staff and menu of generous salads and cheesy pizzas to convince Ross and Renee, Oblio's newbies, of the restaurant's charisma. Oblio's doesn't flinch. Many of the restaurant's employees are Gilhooly's personal friends or longtime hires, and the flavorful, if simple, menu has had years to work out the kinks. On our table cluttered with stuffed ducks and baby bottles, our server finds a place to pour a sampling of the full-bodied Ravenswood Merlot ($6.50 glass, $24 bottle). She makes room for an Italian salad ($8.50) layered with fresh romaine, mildly spicy pepperoni, olives, and tomatoes. And between the salad plates, she clears a place for Oblio's most popular pizza—the Fat Tommy ($16.50-$19), a pie layered with white sauce, mozzarella, grilled chicken, feta, Roma tomatoes, and jalapeño. As he bites into the pizza, Ross looks at Renee and says, "This is good." I suspect he's talking about more than just the spicy pizza. Oblio's, after all, gives an overscheduled family a chance to sit down and relax.
While over the years the restaurant has strived to reach the quality and consistency to host such a dinner, it's avoided being trendy or gourmet. No goat cheese, prosciutto, or figs modernize the menu. Instead you'll find the same traditional Italian ingredients appearing in several forms. The sweet marinara accompanies the sauceless, thin-crust, deep-dish pizza ($16.50-$19.50) and dresses the hearty meatball sub ($7.75). The soft pizza dough bends its way into bread sticks, pepperoni-stuffed stromboli ($7.25), veggie-packed calzones ($10.75), and, of course, regular pizza. The repeating flavors make Oblio's dining a warm and reassuring experience, where a diner always knows what he's going to get. Perhaps that's why so many Park Hill families have made it a dinner ritual.