Executive Chef David Gross of Panzano. Photo by Matt Delgado
Executive Chef David Gross of Panzano. Photo by Matt Delgado

Chef David Gross was no stranger to Panzano’s classic Italian menu when he was offered the job of executive chef in June 2021. Gross acted as sous chef there for two years before accepting a position at Angeline’s in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he honed his culinary skills for five years before moving back to the Mile High City to return to Panzano on 17th and Champa streets.

Now six months into the role, Gross is breathing new life into the 23-year-old institution with Northern Italian dishes laced with Colorado flavors—think: elk loin chops served with charred broccolini and juniper berry jus and braised veal pappardelle with wild mushrooms and chestnuts. Here, Gross shares why he loves hanging out in the Highland neighborhood, what Southern-inspired dishes he loves to eat at home, and what you should try on Panzano’s menu this winter.

5280: When eating at other restaurants, what do you look for on the menu? How do you order?
David Gross: I look for adventurous dishes—‘chef food’—or food that is rich, fatty, and fun to eat. It’s the food you know the chef is having fun with and is excited to share with guests. These dishes generally always have a personal story connected to them.

What’s your favorite Denver neighborhood to hang out in? Why?
I have to go with the Highland area. It has the perfect balance of unique bars and amazing restaurants, although within a residential area, which creates a laid back and relaxing environment. My wife and I know that if we go out in this neighborhood, we’ll always have a great time.

When you have a day off at home, what’s your go-to breakfast, lunch, and dinner? What else are you doing that day?
Breakfast is a pot of coffee, and my go-to lunch is an Italian grinder. While morning and lunch are light, I like to make dinner a time to fire up the smoker, load it up with any kind of local meat. I love to pair it with grilled veggies and grits. (After living in the South, my love for grits is real!) And of course, a few beers.

Who’s your culinary idol and why?
Ever since I ate at Eleven Madison Park, [chef-owner] Daniel Humm quickly became my culinary idol. His style of cooking and his ability to incorporate complex flavors while letting the ingredients speak for themselves is uncanny. While his story and technique come across in his cookbooks, dining at his restaurant really brings everything to life and shows you how incredible he is.

What should people order at Panzano, or what is the one thing you want people to know about Panzano’s menu?
The pasta—of course—it’s house-made. While our menu has classic Northern Italian dishes and ingredients, I want our guests to feel like they are still in Colorado when they dine with us. It’s my goal to ensure local produce and meats shine on our menus—in fact, wild game has made an appearance on the new fall menu. Aside from the menu, our team here is family. Some of our staff has been here for over 20 years, while others have left and come back because of the family atmosphere, including myself.

909 17th St.