The Cherry Creek Valley is all about neighborhoods. Each possesses a sense of connectedness you only find in places small enough that you won’t get lost in the crowd. We think of them like we think of snacking, as small plates filled with cultural canapés: Food for the soul where each bite carries its own distinct flavor.
That’s why Shells & Sauce, a neighborhood dining spot at 2600 E. 12th Ave. in Congress Park, is one of the Valley’s splendid delicacies. It isn’t a breathtaking setting, but it has that indefinable something else — call it heart — that makes you say to yourself, “I’m home!” A people-friendly food and wine haven with hearty dishes such as fresh clams in a traditional red or white sauce (Linguini Vongole), veal scaloppini (Scalloppine alla Senape) and a 12-ounce top sirloin.
In recognition of the swift approval by Congress of legislation to have an abandoned cemetery converted to a park, Denver named this neighborhood Congress Park. Just as quickly — and without a vote of Congress — Shells & Sauce has won the vote of hungry Valley residents by stuffing them from a ballot-filled menu of simple, straightforward urban-Italian cuisine. You won’t find complex Italian or rustic Tuscan dishes here but rather good ol’ vote-getting American Italian, along with steaks and seafood.
Eat Like A Local
So forget the tablecloths and come hungry because small loaves of warm bread are waiting to say welcome and quell your appetite. Moreover, you won’t have to deal with grumpy bow-tied waiters and a confusing array of silverware. Instead you’ll find genuinely friendly waiters with a come-as-you-are attitude, where the bar is full and the kitchen is humming. Yes, the waiters are racing but they are also a friendly and accommodating bunch. The servers are knowledgeable about the menu and wine list and eager to make sure you have a good time.
Beyond the menu, there’s a chalkboard on the wall above the pass-through kitchen listing the day’s antipasti. This can range from artichoke hearts with gorgonzola to a selection of cured meats and artisan cheeses. They’re inexpensive, so order a few. They will be good and worth the price.
Shells & Sauce is both busy and packed, filled with family, friends and neighbors connecting in this food lover’s haven. It’s the sounds of customers in conversations, gossip and laughter. And since it is a neighborhood restaurant, the place also welcomes families with hungry, tired kids that can add to the noise level before nodding off after being filled with cheesy shells, spaghetti marinara and ravioli (just $4 each) from the kids’ menu. Tables and chairs on the main level are very close together, adding to the charm and noise level of the place. But if you want less crowded, or on the weekends if the main area is filled with dinner reservations, ask to dine on the rooftop patio for a charming, quieter and more romantic experience.
Dishes Worth Trying
Evening diners should always check the chalkboard for an ever-changing selection. The wait staff is quick to recommend the chicken piccata (also available with salmon or veal chop), with lots of capers in a lemony-cream sauce with cappellini pasta and sautéed spinach. For a more adventurous chicken dish, order Grigliata. This plate features a marinated chicken breast, endive, mushrooms, red peppers and zucchini and potatoes, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic reduction.
If fish dishes are your choice, order the traditional Italian stew — Seafood Cioppino — loaded with assorted seafood. Or try the equally tasty Lobster Ravioli, ravioli filled with lobster, ricotta, and Italian parsley in a chardonnay cream sauce with caramelized shallots and tarragon.
Weekend brunch, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., features a selection of sandwiches and pasta, plus dishes called Weekend Wonders, mostly egg dishes including Eggs Carbonara — pasta tossed with bacon, asparagus in a white wine cream sauce and topped with two eggs your way. Other Italian offerings include an Italian Benedict, Garden Omelet and Italian Denver Omelet. Or try the hearty and delectable Vesuvio Country Breakfast — peppers, onions and potatoes hash with choice of Italian sausage, bacon or mushrooms topped with melted provolone cheese plus two eggs your way. Shells & Sauce is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday (until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday). Happy hour is from 3-6:30 p.m. and features $4 antipasti, select wines, plus Harp and Guinness. Information: 303-377-2091 or www. shellsandsauce.net.
Enter this delightful spot and you know you are going to have a wonderful experience. This is what every neighborhood restaurant should be, warm, friendly and fun with delicious food and great wine. The restaurant is designed with warm colors of terra cotta and gold, tile floors, lovely oak tables and terrific tableware. Add an open kitchen, a focal bar with great lighting, and big windows and the scene is set for the Italian California food prepared to please the crowds. Start with homemade bread with terrific marinara dipping sauce and peruse the wine list that offers so many choices at great prices by wine or bottle. Then pick your appetizer from calamari fritti, bruschetta al forno, sausage and peppers, Caprese salad, mussels or clams oreganato. House salad, Caesar, or soup is included in the price of an entrée. For pastas try shrimp scampi, linguini with white wine sauce, penne pomodoro, amazing stuffed shells, and lasagna or cheese ravioli. The seafood cioppino is a must with tomato tarragon stew. Entrées are divine with chicken, eggplant or veal parmesan, chicken marsala, leg of lamb, an amazing balsamic glazed salmon, an unbelievable grilled prawn brochette, rib eye, filet or diver scallops. Each dish is complemented with accompanying sides that add texture and flavor. Desserts are mandatory with chocolate ganache torte with chocolate mousse filling, crème brulée, gelato or fruit tart. Service is friendly and excellent, and prices very affordable. Shells and Sauce is dream come true.
In just eight months, Shells and Sauce has become a Congress Park favorite. The cozy Italian spot with Tuscan orange walls is popular with families and neighbors, most of whom have been patiently waiting years for 12th Avenue to come into its own. Chefs Julia Doman and Michael Estes make that wait worthwhile with hearty dishes such as baked ravioli, rustic cioppino, and Colorado lamb meatloaf with Vesuvio potatoes and glazed carrots.
- Best Bites Lasagna with layers of sirloin and sausage marinara, noodles, and cheese
- Hot Seat Sidle up to the bar for a cocktail, or, if it's really crowded, dinner.
- Inside Tip Check the chalkboard for the evening's appetizer and small-plate specials.
- Twenty Under $30
When we stumbled into this Congress Park staple during a swirling snowstorm one evening, it was like being welcomed into a friend's cozy kitchen. The food, like the atmosphere, is unpretentious. One bite of the lobster ravioli, swimming in Chardonnay cream sauce with Italian parsley, was enough to make us regulars, and the vongole alla puttanesca (spaghetti tossed with little neck clams in a tomato and white-wine sauce) transported us to the Italian seaside. This summer, we're excited to head back for our next meal al fresco on the restaurant's rooftop patio.
What Other People are Saying:
|What a sweet little place. My fiance took me to dinner here after driving by and noticing a sign about a rooftop patio (knowing I am a HUGE fan of rooftop patios)- AND a street level patio too (2 patios!! 2 patios!!) Grabbed a table on the rooftop looking out on the neighborhood trees and started with some wine and an italian marg (not sure whats in there but i like it). pasta for dinner- a special scampi diavola and penne russa, both delicious. service was fine, food was very very good, and setting was divine. can't wait to go back.
I love this place. If I could have them cater my food at my wedding, I would. And I might. The food is always consistent; there is no one night with a bad chef. I have eaten at all the Cherry Creek Italian lush lush restaurants, where the pasta comes out overcooked, or the sauce too oily, or the scallops cold. Shells and sauce rises aboves that with beautiful appetizers, dinners, and desserts. Favorite dishes: Clams with linguine with white sauce and tiramisu. Go early because it can get crowded. As it is a wonderful neighborhood gem with good prices and 5 star food.
I like this place. Came here for a date with my girlfriend, and we both had a great time. Service was friendly. The complimentary bread was so good we asked for seconds. We got big glasses of happy hour wine for $4 apiece, and our waiter's recommendations for dinner were quite delicious. I had the stuffed chicken w/sundried tomatoes and ricotta. And my girlfriend had a chicken penne pasta thing. It's just fancy enough inside for special occasion type nights, yet you can still feel comfy in jeans. I'll be back for sure!
I adore this place. I have eaten here more times then my waistline cares to admit. The bread is amaz.ing. Dessert are divine. Brunch is creative. The servers are always top notch. My impossible-to-please mother requests Shells and Sauce every time she's in town, and that should say it all.
They have very interesting, unique dishes (pasta with spicy tomato sauce and blackened chicken, stuffed shells with butternut squash) and fabulous desserts. The red velvet cake is a must try. Another great feature is the bread with olive oil dip. The olive oil has balsamic, herbs and garlic and is good enough to drink. Prices are also extremely reasonable. I find myself going back again and again, and I have yet to take someone here who does not love it.
||I LOVE this place. The gnocci is amazing and I actually crave it quite regularly and have to go back often to induldge! The calamari is amazing as is the homemade bread. This has become my favorite restaurant and I'm so glad that they're open! Also they recently added a rooftop patio that is absolutely gorgeous!!!!!
Live in the neighborhood and watched it being remodeled and couldn't be happier with the job the owners have done. after being named one of denver's top 20 restaurants under $30 in 5280 we finally made it in and we were not disappointed. the food was wonderful as was the service. We will definitely be back.