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The Pinery at the Hill opens and Woody P's new pizzeria 

Side Dish

Pinery's premiere

After a $14 million infusion and much careful discussion and negotiation with concerned neighbors, The Pinery at the Hill (775 W. Bijou St., thepinery.com) is finally poised to hold its first private event Sept. 28, in the former Fish Market space.

Eric Allen, the COO, vice president and managing partner of the Pinery Enterprises Hospitality Group, which includes The Pinery at Black Forest, says "you won't believe" the 22,000-square-foot facility, done up in Tuscan-style architecture, when you see it.

And he's hoping you'll be able to see it without, say, a wedding invite, which is why he's currently working with the city's Planning Commission (and said neighbors) to get daily lunch hours approved from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., as early as mid-November. Allen says the spot has been zoned since 1982 as restaurant space, and though it wasn't in the Pinery's initial model, he wants to make the scenic venue open for the community to enjoy when it's not booked for events.

"It just makes business sense," he says, adding that as for parking impact, the venue will not hold both lunch hours and an event at the same time.

Allen and Co. are also awaiting some permits to finish building out the former Saigon Stars at 410 S. 26th St., which will be the new location for an expanded Garden of the Gods' Gourmet Market & Café (currently at 2528 W. Cucharras St.) by Jan. 1, 2014, tentatively. The price tag on that project is $1.5 million, he says, citing a new breakfast focus plus coffee, beer and wine components — "really edgy gourmet, like Napa Valley meets New York ... Whole Foods meets a restaurant."

Woodland pie

In the former Jo-Mamas Pizza at 751 Gold Hill Place, Woodland Park, AJ's American Pizzeria (enjoyajspizza.com) opened recently. Owner Aron Melvick says he recently left the banking industry, where he saved up the seed money for this venture, but that he's also spent 15 years in the pizza industry, having worked for most of the big-name chains.

"Everybody loves the pizza guy," he says. "... It's what I really enjoy doing."

Melvick's perfecting his own dough recipe, arduously reworked to match Woodland Park's altitude, and he makes virtually everything in house, as much to-order as possible. Part of his extensive remodeling of the space included refurbishing an old Bakers Pride stone oven from the '70s that hits his desired 600 to 800 degrees to make "nice, crispy crust with al dente toppings."

Regarding ingredients, "if it's the best, we use it," he says, citing items like Wisconsin-based Grande Mozzarella for his staple cheese. To find a suitable gluten-free option, he sampled more than 30 brands before "finding one that tastes like pizza crust."

AJ's menu also includes salads, subs on house-baked breads, baked pastas and a variety of starters, from wings to popular cinnamon knots.

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