Mezzaluna: just ‘treat ’em nice’
ASPEN ” On any winter afternoon, the bar at Mezzaluna is a hive of apres-ski activity: bartenders mix drinks, pizza cooks throw dough, and locals and visitors mingle over $2 beers and $7 thin-crust pies from the wood-burning oven.
It’s a scene Deryk Cave envisioned since the day he and partner Joe Cosniac took over the 20-year-old restaurant in 1993.
“You can have a guy who just got finished working the lifts next to a woman in a full-length fur coat,” explains Cave, a native of Liverpool who moved to Aspen 25 years ago. “And some of that’s missing a little bit from Aspen now. And the more we can have of that, I think, the better.”
Of course before Cave and Cosniac took over Mezzaluna, things seemed headed in a different direction.
“It was a good location ” high visibility,” says Cave of the establishment, located at 624 E. Cooper Ave. “But there seemed to be a drop in business. I think at the time it was the trendy, hip place … not always a place that took care of everyone equally, and maybe that’s why business started to drop off.
“We always thought that if you took care of everyone equally, treat ’em nice, that they’d keep coming back.”
And they have, making Mezzaluna one of a select few Aspen eateries to reach the two-decade mark.
And as the clientele has changed since its inception, so has Mezzaluna’s menu. Largely a pizza and pasta joint when it was opened, Mezzaluna has changed to meet the needs of today’s diners under Cave and Cosniac, who splits his time between Aspen and San Antonio, Texas, where he owns other restaurants.
“We’ve tried to create a menu of things that people are going to eat,” says Cave, who before taking the reins at Mezzaluna worked with Cosniac at Omi, where Gusto is now located. “Not necessarily a special-occasion restaurant, but a place where locals will come over and over again and a place where visitors might come more than once during their stay.”
To that effect, Mezzaluna’s entrees run the gastronomic gamut. The restaurant serves a peanut-dusted ahi tuna served rare over shrimp sausage and three-potato hash, a pepper-seared tenderloin with gorgonzola-greens, and truffled potato croquettes ” “things you might not expect to see at a traditional American Italian restaurant,” Cave says ” as well as staples like chicken parmigiana and pasta bolognese.
Other keys to Mezzaluna’s continued success are simple, says Cave, and most revolve around the horseshoe-shaped Italian marble bar dead set in the middle of the restaurant and anchored by the open-hearth wood-fired oven.
“We like that the bar is busy, because when the bar is busy the whole place seems busy,” explains Cave. “Plus, it’s a good spot to wait for a dinner table and a good place for locals and visitors to blend together.”
Whatever Mezzaluna’s secret to success, there’s no denying the steady foothold it has in Aspen’s volatile restaurant scene. In fact, the formula is so popular that Cave and Cosniac opened a sister Mezzaluna in Vail about four years back. Which leads to the question: Will more Mezzalunas be in the local restaurateurs’ futures?
“I’m not going to comment on that,” says Cave.
Apparently, time will tell.
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