Cart-Driver draws it’s inspiration from Italy’s Carrettiera, a man who traveled the Italian coast in a horse-drawn carriage sharing the best ingredients from Southern Italian farms with everyone he met along the way.
Having opened a year ago in an intimate 640 square foot shipping container placed in the heart of the River North Arts District, the new restaurant has quickly become one of the top foodie destinations West of the Mississippi.
Loki Media spent an afternoon with Chef and Co-Founder Andrew Birkholz to discuss the story behind Cart-Driver, and to taste the divine pizza and fresh-from-the-water seafood that has put this establishment in the national spotlight.
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“I spent a year and a half traveling all over Northern Italy studying Viticulture [winemaking]. I was working in cantinas and wineries learning the language and studying the cuisine.”
“I lived in Le Marche, outside of a town called Senigallia which is on the Adriatic Coast of Italy. You’d start your night off at four thirty or five o’clock walking right along the ocean, with a nice glass of Rosé and almost Shashimi style seafood, raw or lightly cooked Langostine, scallops, oysters. A little bit of Prosecco, a little bit of Rosé, and really fresh seafood.”
“Next, you’d go down the street and the next door would be la pastaia, or the pasta maker. here, you’d enjoy a nice glass of wine with some pasta. Then, you’d visit the bars and go drinking, and at the end of the night comes the pizzaiolo, or the pizza maker. All of this would be within a block or two of each other, and I just loved the idea of this roving, progressive dinner.”
“There’s always this romantic notion of Italian food, but I was seeing it a bit differently. There were guys in rubber boots pulling in scallops directly from the ocean. At that point you realize, ‘wow, this is the real deal’.”
“We’ve always been intrigued by and passionate about wood-fire cooking. Whether that happens with pizza, which is the mainstay here, or sea bass, chicken, and so on, we love what happens when food touches wood-fire. That’s the basis of what we do.”
“Engrained in Italy is an agricultural economy. You have grain and seafood on the coast, and Italy is about the size of California, so this is what these people subsist on.”
“In Italy, if you’re going for authenticity, you wouldn’t be too many things at once. You’d be the pizza guy and that’s it, the seafood guy, and that’s it. We love that.”
“We didn’t want to completely replicate the Italian experience, we just took cues from Italy and other places in Europe and the United States. It’s more about taking the Italian idea of sourcing locally and responsibly, really paying attention to the providence of your foods. Even if you’re only doing one thing, make it fantastic.”
“We do only a couple of things here, and we want to do them right. A lot of people think that because we are landlocked geographically, and in the center of the United States, that it’s not convenient for seafood. But, in reality, it really is. It may be a little expensive, but we love oysters and fresh seafood, and so we can pay a little more to do these things right.”
“We get oysters shipped directly from both coasts. They come from FedEx nearly every morning and we serve them that afternoon. All of the oysters are a couple days out of the water max. The West Coast are usually same day, and we have exclusive deals on some of these oysters in the state of Colorado.”
Cart-Driver doesn’t take any shortcuts. Ingredients, preparation, service, ambiance, and every other aspect of the thriving Denver restaurant is well executed. It’s no surprise this place is garnering national attention, the hype is well-justified, far exceeding our already high expectations.
All Photos Courtesy of Brad Gustafson of Loki Media