There’s no place like home when you follow the recipe for this inviting red sauce provided by The Wooden Table
When chef Brett Shaheen finally opened his own restaurant, he knew the one piece of equipment he absolutely needed in the kitchen: a flat-screen TV.
“I was tired of missing football games,” he says.
That flat-screen—with a framed Broncos photo underneath—isn’t the only unusual thing about The Wooden Table, the Italian fine-dining restaurant that Shaheen opened with partner Jane Knauf in 2011. (The pair also owns Brodo in Lakewood’s Belmar Center.)
As the TV attests, the Wooden Table is a restaurant that considers the needs of the chef, but the thing that really sets the place apart from its counterparts in the Denver restaurant scene is its location. It’s not in LoDo, not Rino, not LoHi, but in an unassuming strip mall at Orchard and University that also is home to a T.J. Maxx and a Trader Joe’s.
“I wanted to do something that wasn’t downtown,” says Shaheen, who grew up in Denver and now lives in Lakewood. “Living in the suburbs, I thought there was really nowhere good to eat. I was driving around down here and I checked out the [shopping] center and saw there was a former restaurant space for lease. This is a really nice neighborhood, so I figured this would be a really good spot.”
The hunch paid off—diners from nearby Cherry Hills Village and elsewhere in south Denver pack the Wooden Table regularly for Shaheen’s refined Italian fare. Among the crave-worthy dishes on the menu are ravioli with red sauce and house-made ricotta, a classic veal saltimbocca, and a roasted duck breast with pumpkin risotto and cranberry orange relish.
When it comes to Italian food, Shaheen trained with one of Denver’s masters—restaurateur Frank Bonanno, owner of Luca d’Italia. Shaheen served there as chef de cuisine, as well as at Osteria Marco, where he was executive chef. Prior to that, Shaheen cooked at the downtown Denver restaurants of Adega and Sambuca. His culinary education came from Johnson and Wales’ South Carolina campus, where he landed several years after graduating from college.
“I always liked cooking and I liked food, and I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life,” he says. “I had a degree in history and I didn’t really have anything I was going to do with it. [Culinary school] was kind of a spur-of-the-moment decision. Those don’t usually work out for people, but it worked out for me.”