By Brittany Anas/NewsBreak Denver
(Lakewood, Colorado) Front Room Pizza was a Lakewood institution—the kind of strip mall pizzeria anchored by a salad bar with pictures of Little League teams hanging on the wall. After 35 years in business in the Green Mountain neighborhood in January, Front Room said goodbye, citing a familiar scenario: labor shortages and soaring food prices.
But the pizzeria happens to be a favorite of one of Denver’s most notable chefs, James Beard Award-winning Alex Seidel (Realization, Mercantile, Shock), who lives in the neighborhood and had been a regular at Front Room for years. And it also happens that Seidel got his culinary debut in Italian restaurants. Thus, the great chef took over the restaurant and reopened it this week as Pizzas and pastas from Roca (13795 W. Jewell Ave. in Lakewood), a consistently welcoming (albeit brighter) restaurant with black-and-white checkered tablecloths. Roca’s serves pastas, thin and crispy pizzas and thicker crust pies made with Seidel’s signature sourdough.
However, one of Roca’s biggest hits is the classic salad bar. “There’s nostalgia in a salad bar,” says Seidel, who remembers hitting Ponderosa buffets as a kid after soccer games.
As his team transformed the restaurant, a brand new salad bar replaced an old wooden bar in the center of the dining room. For $10 a ride and $14 for unlimited rides, the salad bar offers classics (crispy Chow Mein noodles) and new ones you’d expect from a chef dreaming of a salad bar (fried onions made house) because Seidel says he likes salads to get a bite to eat. The bar is also loaded with mixed greens, crunchy cucumber slices, tomatoes, shredded carrots, mozzarella cheese and a homemade giardiniera that refills frequently.
Like portable menus, the salad bar was one of the first victims of the pandemic. Colorado pizza chain Beau Jo’s close their signature salad bars (there are no plans to reopen anytime soon) and restaurants like Sweet Tomatoes – where you’d drag a tray down a long, cafeteria-style line filled with every salad ingredient imaginable – closed for good.
Seidel is right: the salad bar is nostalgic (who remembers birthdays at Pizza Hut?) But perhaps the return of the salad bar is also symbolic of a return to normalcy as we enter a third year. pandemic and makes us nostalgic for the “times before” too. Could he be convinced to add chocolate pudding to the salad bar? Time will tell us.