Sometimes the best thing about a food scene is not what occurs at the high end but what’s happening in the middle. One of the glories of New York, for example, is the scores of neighborhood restaurants that serve reasonably priced, straightforward Italian food that’s still cooked with a lot of love and technique.

Now Denver has at least one great neighborhood Italian place: Bar Dough. Chef Max Mackissock, who has lived in Italy, knows that Italian food rarely benefits from being shotgun-wedded to another cuisine, and that it looks forced and fussy when plated with tweezers. Max does just enough—he adds a little complexity to tiramisù with a sprinkling of almonds and cocoa nibs, and a welcome crunch to corn polenta with a garnish of dehydrated corn—to make the food his own.

One of my favorite dishes on Bar Dough’s menu is the garlic squid, which is a happy combination of two Italian standards, insalata di fagioli, the Tuscan salad of white beans which is often combined with canned tuna, and insalata di frutti di mare, an antipasto of poached chilled fish usually tossed with onions, celery, and peppers.

The garlic squid shows the influence of New York Italian chef Mario Batali: It’s tossed with a fennel pollen vinaigrette (Batali was one of the first American chefs to use that exotic Italian ingredient) and is abundantly mixed with celery leaves, another favorite Batali ingredient.

But the best thing about the dish is something that an Italian grandmother would appreciate: The white beans—heirloom Yellow Eyes—are cooked to an ideal creaminess and served just warm.

2227 W. 32nd Ave., 720-668-8506