Mention Jonny-G’s to folks who came of age skiing Summit County slopes for the past decade, and most just grin—although a few will blush. The bar was legendary among skiers for live bands, great pizza, DJs, late loud evenings, and lots and lots of beer overseen by owner Jonny Greco, a bundle of gregarious energy.
Frankly, he hadn’t planned on changing directions, but fate intervened in 2014 when Jonny-G’s lost its lease. As Greco prepared to shutter his 12-year-old landmark on Main Street in Frisco, he talked to Bob Cato, the longtime owner of Tuscato Ristorante Italiano just a block away.
“He said he might be ready to sell. One door closed, and another opened,” Greco says. The transition from nightclub owner to restaurateur didn’t take long: just 62 days after turning off the disco ball at Jonny-G’s, he fired up the burners at Greco’s Pastaria.
“Pretty good for a ski bum,” Greco says as he surveys the new dining room. His remodel of Tuscato is as comfortable a fit for couples and sports fans sipping cocktails at the bar (where the high-def TVs that line the walls remain muted except for Broncos games) as it is for young families chowing down on a Big Hoss BBQ chicken pizza.
Greco, 39, is the eatery’s spark plug. Born in New York, he grew up in North Carolina as “a full-blooded Italian-American,” he says. After graduating from the University of North Carolina, he moved to the mountains in 1998.
But the source of his pastaria’s mojo is strictly marinara, which hearkens back to his family’s Sunday dinners. “A big part of me is my mom’s red sauce,” Greco says. So he brought her out to get it right, recounting, “Here’s this little Italian woman cooking, and I’m figuring out how to make her ‘pinch of this’ into a recipe.” His mother approved of the zesty six-hour simmer of good tomatoes, oregano, olive oil, and other ingredients he’d rather not reveal.
That sauce pumps up the pork-beef meatballs and sausage and moistens the eggplant Parmesan. Greco’s uses only fresh pasta, not dried, yielding a nice change of chew in the penne, linguini, and lasagna sheets. The generously portioned baked lasagna includes a layer of fresh tomatoes and spinach under a dome of melted whole milk mozzarella. Chef Gavin Lewis reinterprets mac ’n’ cheese for grown-ups with a rich four-cheese sauce, bacon, and shaved Parmesan, and tweaks classic jerk chicken marsala by rubbing the bird with spices before sautéing with mushrooms and garlic. Upscale menu items like wild-caught salmon piccata defy the red chile and Parmesan pizza-joint shakers that adorn the tables—although the menu’s anchor remains the toothsome, New York style, hand-tossed pizza that migrated from Jonny-G’s in combinations including The Far East pie crowned with shrimp, sriracha, peanuts, red onions, and basil.
And while you’ll find the obligatory PBR tallboys in the bar’s fridge, its 12 draft taps pour craft ales from all over the country, its top shelf is stocked with exceptional Colorado-distilled spirits, and its cellar is stocked with something altogether foreign to Jonny-G’s: fine wine. “We’ve never had a wine program before, so I’m learning a lot,” Greco says. The roster ranges from affordable glasses of red to pricey vintages including Greco’s favorite Oregon pinots.
Yet for all the evolution, what makes an evening at Greco’s unforgettable—as it was at his nightclub—is its namesake owner, who seldom stays sitting for long as he bounces up to say “hi” to one group and check in with departing friends.
“I love Frisco,” Greco says. “You move out as a kid, have fun, and you end up here”—in a restaurant where “there’s a nice little rumble to the room later in the evening,” an echo of the late Jonny-G’s.