Cowboy food is comfort food, explains Lisa Damiano, who opened the new restaurant with her husband, Anthony Damiano, and combining it with an Italian flair makes good taste sense.
Take the dinner menu item bisteca de manzo florentina with a parmesan butter. It’s basically a ribeye prepared Italian-style for $19, and at a price you can’t beat, Anthony says.
On the appetizer menu, there’s campfire roasted mussels possilipo for $8, eggplant rollatini in a basil marinara sauce for $6, and pan-seared scallops on a bed of white bean ragu. Not exactly a plate of beans out on the range.
Those offerings are from the dinner menu, but dinner is only served on Friday and Saturday nights from 5 to 8 p.m. Daily breakfast and lunch, which the menu calls “blunch,” have been the mainstay of the restaurant, which opened last December.
Even the sausage gravy and biscuits on the breakfast menu carry out the cowboy/Italian theme, Anthony said.
“The trick is, we use Italian sausage and a little roasted garlic,” he said.
Burgers on the lunch menu range from the 16-ounce kickass burger for $14 to the cowgirl sod buster for $8 made of provolone cheese, cilantro-whipped cream cheese, lettuce, tomato, sprouts, cucumber, onions and avocado served in wheat berry bread and finished with a roasted tomato bruschetta dipping sauce.
Omelets are made to order, with other menu items include such as Bananas Foster French toast and turkey cranberry pesto panini served with sliced roasted turkey breast, cage aged Gruyere Swiss and candied cranberry pesto.
All ingredients are fresh, Lisa said, including seafood flown in by a local distributor, for dishes made with halibut, scallops, mussels, clams and salmon, such as “potato crusted salmon lemon vodka buerre blanc” or “halibut livornese con patane rustico.”
Anthony knows Italian, and he knows cooking. He and Lisa moved here two years ago for him to take over as food and beverage director and executive chef at Cornerstone Colorado, up for sale and under a management company, he said.
“We decided to buy ourselves jobs,” Lisa said.
The Damianos were able to open a new business in a bad economy by keeping overhead to a minimum, she said. Lisa decorated with the help of a photographer/artist friend, creating a warm feel with a distressed paint finish on the walls that’s a few shades darker than “Campbell’s tomato soup made with milk instead of water.”
The tablecloths are long strips of brown paper, and the window treatments are sheets of burlap tied with a lasso. On the walls are several large black and white photographs of Italian scenes, interspersed with authentic cowboy artifacts and a few framed newspaper articles about Chef Damiano.
But the restaurant has also created jobs, and staff includes three or four cooks, two dishwashers and four wait staff.
Although they don’t want to publicize it much yet, Lisa said, she and Anthony are also renovating the old Sicily’s Restaurant on East Main Street and plan to open it as a dinner restaurant featuring Italian cuisine, while focusing on breakfast and lunch at Cowboy Ciao.
“We hope to have a pizza oven that will open into the courtyard,” she said.
That’s not all they have in the works. The Damianos are also using their combined experience to teach, and for the last six weeks have taught an after school cooking class at Montrose High for 13 kids ranging from seventh to 12th grades, for about $25 per class.
“We tried to keep it 10 (students), but couldn’t turn the last three away,” Anthony said.
The classes will eventually lead to an international school of cooking that be a pathway to culinary careers, and will open at an undisclosed location on Main Street, he said.
As former executive chef for the Russian Tea Room in New York City, Anthony Damiano has an impressive resume. But he and Lisa like it here, and plan to stay and keep growing in a direction they both love.
“Business couldn’t be better,” Lisa said.