Lori Midson, Zagat food editor, talked about Little Pepina's atmosphere and incredible food when we asked her about one Denver restaurant she misses the most. Midson is consumed by nostalgia when she thinks of Little Pepina's.
I grew up on the west side of town, in Applewood, and our go-to restaurant was Little Pepina's, a white tablecloth Italian place that still, even after two decades, is the Denver restaurant I miss the most.
It was my mother's favorite restaurant, too, and while more than 20 years has passed since chef and owner Richard Blick walked away from the kitchen, she still wistfully reminsces. We danced, often, with Dino Santoro, the restaurant's flirtatious maître d’, and we spent plenty of time in the kitchen with Blick, who made the most amazing shrimp fra diavolo I’ve ever had.
I had my first underage cocktail at Little Pepina's. My stepfather, an academic curmudgeon who despises just about everything except history books, adored Little Pepina's, at least until that one evening when he inhaled too many martinis and found himself face-down on the sidewalk. One night, while Pepina's was closed for a private party (it had been bought out by some marvelous transvestites from Trinidad), we were summoned by phone to join them, and it was one of the best nights of my life. My rehearsal dinner was at Little Pepina's. Someone -- I don't remember the culprit -- had way too much wine and teetered backwards, breaking the window. Santoro celebrated by uncorking another bottle of Champagne. No matter the circumstances, Santoro always had a smile — and smiling eyes — that lit up a room.
When Little Pepina's closed, I was devastated. Several years later, when Santoro passed away, I sobbed. Blick is now living in Seattle, and we still keep in touch, and whenever I get the chance, I never hesitate to tell him that his food, not to mention his and Santoro’s genuine hospitality, made an indelible mark on my life. For years after it shuttered, I’d drive by, stopping in front of the boarded up building – now Kobe An - to plot how I could sneak back at night to pilfer the scripted Little Pepina's sign that was bolted to the stucco exterior. That sign is now long gone, but the memories I have of the hours upon hours I spent at Little Pepina's are still fully etched in my mind.