Best Italian Food: Mazzola’s Italian Diner

Joel Reichenberger

— Of course he remembers the year and the month, but Rex Brice still remembers exactly the day he took over as owner of Mazzola’s Italian Diner, voted as the Best of the Boat when it comes to Italian food.

It was September 13, 2004, 12 years ago.

He remembers, and so does a surprising percentage of his staff.

A lot has changed since then for Brice. He’d previously run a catering business before buying the restaurant, originally established in Steamboat by the Mazzola family. Since, he’s opened five other restaurants specializing in everything from tacos to tapas and biscuits to burgers.

He’s kept at least some of the same staff, however; not an easy feat in an industry that, in Steamboat, fluctuates greatly from season to season and, as a whole, sees high turnover.

“We genuinely care about people getting what they want out of their lives,” Brice says, considering those employees, roughly eight who were there in the early months of his stint owning Mazzola’s who are now scattered throughout his Steamboat restaurant footprint.

“It’s about listening,” he says. “It’s asking them questions, figuring out what they want and trying to make it happen.”

Running an Italian restaurant comes with its complications, not the least of which is satisfying customers who may come with specific ideas of what the cuisine’s staples should look and taste like. Can your Italian restaurant survive if your meatball doesn’t taste like an Italian grandmother’s meatball?

Mazzola’s has dealt with that by focusing on those staples, by relying on as much locally sourced ingredients as possible and by picking its spots to throw in some innovation. The lasagna, for instance, has noodles and ricotta, but ground buffalo in the place of other meats. The eggplant parmesan is lighter than most. Lamb, meanwhile, lifts the bolognese.

“We want to create something familiar that people can recognize and can identify with, but also give people something that’s a little outside the box and a little different,” Brice says. “We want to give it our twist. That’s that thing that sets you apart.”

It’s Italian — Best of the Boat Italian — but at the same time it’s Mazzola’s.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email or follow him on Twitter @JReich9

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