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Gaga for Grapes 

The South Hill gets more grapes and savory treats. Plus, Geno's gets a Zola-esque overhaul.

click to enlarge A five-cheese tray with a glass of cabernet at Mezzo Pazzo - MIKE MCCALL
  • Mike McCall
  • A five-cheese tray with a glass of cabernet at Mezzo Pazzo

The paint is on the walls, the doors are open, and the wine is flowing at Mezzo Pazzo. This South Hill wine bar is still waiting for a few final touches, like the rest of the furniture, but the mood is warm and inviting. There’s a couch for lounging, seating at the bar, and a large, wooden table, suitable for groups to gather. Live music is planned for the weekends.

“We started working on this six years ago,” says Nita Martinez, who owns the wine bar with her husband, Ron. “The name ‘Mezzo Pazzo’ means ‘half-crazy’ in Italian,” explains Nita, who jokes that “we must be half-crazy to do this.”

Plenty of sweat equity went into making the dream a reality; Ron and Nita did most of the interior finishing themselves, with help from family and friends. Soft lighting, warm, earthy colors and plenty of shelves of wine give the place an unpretentious, relaxed feel.

The wine list features over two-dozen wines by the glass, including a few dessert wines. The wines are approachable and familiar, consisting mainly of Washington, Oregon and California wines in the $7-$12 per glass range, with a handful of Italian and New Zealand choices thrown in. Bring a few friends and share something from the bottle menu, which contains a more extensive selection, including Spanish sparklers, Italian chiantis and some smooth old-vine zinfandels.

Mezzo Pazzo opens at 11 am — early enough for lunch. The menu is a work in progress, but so far there are a few salads — like a mozzarella salad with a sun-dried-tomato sauce ($8) — and a couple of sandwiches. There are several kinds of crostini to go along with the wine, including Danish blue cheese toasts with honey and nuts ($7), which was generous enough to serve two.

Nita chats with customers while Ron pours the wine, and the service is personal. “We just wanted a neighborhood place with a fun atmosphere,” explains Nita. “It’s the kind of place everyone knows your name.” Cheers. (Kirsten Harrington)

Mezzo Pazzo Wine Bar • 2718 E. 57th Ave. • Open Tues-Sat, 11am-close • 863-9313 

Oh, Make Me Over

When William Webster brings out the photos of the old Geno’s Italian restaurant, he has a smile on his face. The chef and owner of the new Geno's points to each photo and tries to explain how, exactly, the building was transformed from what is pictured to what it is today. He uses the word “gutted” a lot.

Webster’s team included contractor Sean “Smitty” Smith, who is known for his unique work on Webster’s other business, Zola. In all, they took about six months to flip the Geno’s building, pulling out wood paneling, decorative trellises and two suspended ceilings.

Today, the bar, restaurant and music venue takes on the same aesthetic as Zola, by using salvaged vintage circus materials. Between the two main rooms, the detail is extraordinary. The bar, located in a smaller, cozier room, is made of refurbished piano parts and vintage target-shooting games, with broken piano keys as design accents. In the main dining room and music area, the walls are lined with siding from an old clown trailer, and sections of striped circus tents are hung everywhere, all the way up to the exposed rafters of the ceiling.

As guests are seated at their tables, necks crane to try and take in as much of the detail as possible. Until the food arrives.

Webster has kept with the Italian vibe of the original Geno’s, but called in a long-time friend from Philadelphia to design a new menu from scratch. It features appetizers, sandwiches, salads, entrees, and pizza. The majority of the dishes fall in the $10-$15 range.

For his pizzas, Webster ships dough in from New York’s Lamonica’s Pizza Dough Co., Inc., which he says is a childhood favorite of his. It makes for a fantastic foundation for Geno’s pizzas, which come served right out of the oven on a pizza stone. There are classics like the pepperoni pizza ($10) but also bolder options, like the Italian breakfast pizza ($10) — a pie covered in pancetta, Red Bliss potatoes, rosemary, and a fresh egg, then topped with smoked mozzarella and baby arugula.

Although many folks were sad to see the old Geno’s go, we’re excited to see what lies ahead for the new one. (Tiffany Harms)

Geno’s • 1414 N. Hamilton St. • Open daily, 11 am-close • 368-9087

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