Another roadside cucina

The one where Massimo and Vittorio dish fine Italian cuisine at a self-serve gas station in Lyons.

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Nobody expects to taste authentic spaghetti carbonara dished from a food truck parked next to a U Pump It gas station on the highway into Lyons. 

If I had blinked as I was driving by, I would have missed the tiny sign for Massimo e Vittorio Cucina Italiana. The concept seemed so out of place that I turned around and circled back. 

Tucked next to the propane service area and the ice machine, Massimo e Vittorio is a new outpost of fine regional Italian fare, the kind of cuisine usually presented by a skilled waiter on a linen-covered table with heavy silverware. 

I sat at a picnic table under a tarp. While cars, motorcycles and Winnebagos streamed by on the way to Rocky Mountain National Park, I sighed over strands of chewy fettucine robed — not drenched — in an egg-yolky sauce with Parmesan, red onion strands, a little cream and the critical spaghetti carbonara ingredient: guanciale, the ham-y salty Italian cured meat product made from pork jowl. About the only thing missing was a glass of Nebbiolo or Sangiovese.

Massimo Sangermano is originally from Naples in southern Italy. Vittorio Colunga is a native of Monterrey on Mexico’s Pacific coast. Like the roads that lead to and from Lyons, the path that brought them to Lyons was long and winding. 

“I was living in Mexico for more than 30 years. Me and Vittorio had two very busy Italian restaurants in Monterrey,” Sangermano says in his rolling accent.

He and his wife moved to Boulder several years ago. After working in several Mexican restaurants and dining at local Italian trattoria, Sangermano says he was confused because neither style of eatery was serving the fare he had known in Italy and Mexico. 

One day while chatting with a friend who owns the U Pump It gas station in Lyons, he noticed a shuttered food truck parked next to it that had been a takeout coffee shop. Sangermano decided to rent it out to serve market fresh Italian food. “I called Vittorio to see if he wanted to do it. He said, ‘Give me two days,’” Sangermano says. 

Massimo e Vittorio debuted at 4065 Ute Highway in early January, mid-pandemic. That turned out to be ideal because suddenly everybody was getting takeout and delivery. The word quickly spread in the nearby towns that these guys were dishing beef carpaccio and real chicken Marsala. 

Massimo and Vittorio don’t serve spaghetti and meatballs or other classics of Italian-American cuisine. They do serve pizzas, but they are personal: 12-inch Neapolitan pizzas ranging from classics like the margherita, the pesto and the pepperoni to the campagnola topped with zucchini, red onion, lime, red pepper flakes, and grated parmigiano. 

On a return visit, I cut into a Bosco pizza using a pair of scissors. The chewy, nicely charred crust was layered with a barely-there tomato sauce, fresh, young, local asparagus, roasted portabello mushrooms, and eggplant cubes, and dotted with fresh mozzarella. It’s a legit pizza contender. 

Massimo and Vittorio aren’t super-purist. “If we have an ingredient available, we’ll put it on a pizza. But no Hawaiian,” he says with a smile. 

According to Sangermano, Colunga is notoriously picky about the quality of ingredients and won’t buy meats and vegetables that aren’t right. “Even if it’s on the menu, we would prefer not to serve it that day,” Sagermano says. They won’t be serving pappardelle tartufo nero with cream and mushrooms until the next time his sister sends him black truffles from Italy. 

The duo also discourages customers from ordering certain fresh pasta preparations like pasta carbonara for takeout because they don’t travel well compared to pizza and lasagna. Better to sit and enjoy these under the tarp with gracious table service by Sangermano. 

Everything on the menu is created to order, from a summer Caprese salad to spinach gnocchi. Their serious lasagna Bolognese bears little resemblance to the cheese-y bricks served elsewhere. Likewise, the duo’s parmigiana di melanzane, is a stellar take on eggplant Parmesan.  

Tiramisu is a dime a dozen at local Italian and other eateries, but Massimo e Vittorio’s does it traditionally, with sponge ladyfingers held together with creamy, barely sweet mascarpone cheese dusted with espresso powder. 

Sangermano and Colunga hope to open a small brick and mortar location in the area. “We want to be able to serve wine. Hopefully, it will have a terrace, too, so everyone can sit al fresco,” Sangermano says.  

LOCAL FOOD NEWS

By the end of October, the corner of Broadway and University Avenue will be a construction site for a hotel complex. Already, Kim’s Food to Go, You & Mee Noodles and Formosa Bakery have closed. Bento-ria has moved to 1310 College Ave. Open since 2001, Cosmo’s Pizza closes Oct. 10. Bova’s Market and Grill will be moving to 1100 28th St., the former location of Bumbling Bee Vegan. The other remaining eateries will follow soon. 

The buildings are not especially historic, but several generations of CU students, staff and neighbors have personal memories attached to the parade of eateries and businesses that have inhabited the corner. I did my laundry at Doozy Duds, shopped at Bova’s and ate at Mother’s Cafe when I first moved to Boulder decades ago. There should be a going away party. … Boulder’s McDevitt Taco Supply has launched an online petition to become the food and beverage provider at the re-opening of Casa Bonita, promising to upgrade the enchiladas and taco salad while keeping the sopapillas exactly the same.  

WORDS TO CHEW ON

“Pizza makes me think that anything is possible.” —Henry Rollins

John Lehndorff is the food editor of Boulder Weekly. Comments:
Nibbles@BoulderWeekly.com.

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