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“That’s what I call a purposeful environment.”
You can hear these words when Top Gun plays on an endless loop on a television above one of the tables in Danger Zone Calzones, which opened as the first new restaurant of 2021 when it opened on 32 Broadway on Monday, January 4th opened.
The goal? Tender, cheesy calzones from husband-and-wife team Benjamin Todd and Hillary Schefter, who originally launched Danger Zone as a food truck in August 2018. Like the food truck, the new restaurant is dedicated to an aircraft carrier theme inspired by the iconic 1986 film with Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis.
Todd and Schefter are used to multitasking; They got engaged the same month they opened their food truck and planned their wedding while hurling hungry bar patrons in downtown Calzones. Two and a half years later, they had to grapple with upgrading their restaurant as they navigated the pandemic and relocated their food truck business to the Denver neighborhoods instead of the downtown streets. Delays in the first handover of the space that was previously half of a liquor store (the other half will become a tea shop) proved a blessing as the couple took their time and were able to open now instead of six months ago when the deal had been far more difficult would.
They largely took care of the interior and designed the danger zone to look like the deck of an aircraft carrier. Todd notes that his grandfather was a fighter jet instructor, so he has many memories of Air Force stories, and the walls and shelves contain childhood memorabilia. His grandfather’s stories led to his love for Top Gun, which in turn influenced the decor and menu. Todd even built a flight deck simulator that allows customers to become air bosses and push buttons for a jet fighter launch sequence with the roar of the engines. But the owners are the real aerial bosses; There’s a kill counter behind the counter in case customers get a little too eager with the buttons.
The Calzones Danger Zone is now open on Broadway.
The menu includes the Wingman (meatballs, pesto and mozzarella), the Maverick (breaded chicken, Frank’s buffalo sauce and cheese) and the Fool (peppers, onion, mushrooms, pesto and mozz) and even a dessert version called That Lovin ‘ Feeling, with Nutella and strawberry sauce. Dip sauces (garlic butter, marinara, ranch, buffalo, and pesto) and side dishes (sidewinder meatballs and fast mover grissini) are also available.
Todd and Schefter went very different ways to become restaurant owners. “I went to Purdue and helped run a calzone shop there,” explains Todd. “And I remembered the recipe.” Long after this calzone store shut down, Todd became restless in his career in IT and decided to take advantage of the recipe by opening his own store. It was then that he met Schefter, a classically trained professional harpist who has held many different jobs over the years, including in a plastic surgery clinic.
That lovin ‘feeling is filled with strawberry sauce and Nutella.
“It’s all about the dough,” explains Todd, noting that in pizzerias where pizza dough is used for both, calzone is often just an afterthought, resulting in chewy, chewy, or crumbly calzones. Danger Zone’s recipe has roots in the East Coast and is specially designed for calzone so it can be rolled thinly without losing its integrity. The preparation and cooking of the calzones only takes a few minutes and is therefore perfect for the restaurant’s counter-service model. The couple’s experience of serving bar crowds from the food truck led them to put a heated display case at the front of the store so they could pre-bake calzones in batches and quickly serve long lines of customers.
You don’t expect these crowds anytime soon as most of the bars on Broadway are either closed right now or have limited capacity – and the last call is currently at 10pm. But the little shop has few tables inside, and the calzone is designed for carrying and eating (Todd says he’ll mock you if he sees you eat one with a fork). So the business is designed for pandemic-based restrictions as well as a time when those restrictions are being relaxed.
The Calzones danger zone is now open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Later hours are added when the amount of bars slowly returns. Call or send an SMS to 720-900-5282 or order online.
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Mark Antonation is the Westword Food & Drink Editor. He began eating and writing about every restaurant on Federal Boulevard and continues to cover the diverse international food scene on Metro Denver and the city’s rapidly changing dining landscape. Mark was recognized as an Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association in 2018.