Young and Hungry

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Young and Hungry
Jason (at left) and Joe Denton at the site of their new restaurant, Bar Milano.

Young and Hungry

Twin Falls, Idaho, is no one’s idea of a gourmet mecca, but it’s where Jason and Joe Denton first caught the culinary bug while helping out at their parents’ grocery distribution business. “From childhood, we would ride the truck, delivering to all the stores,” remembers Jason, 38. “It piqued our passion for food.”

Two decades later, that passion shows no sign of fizzling. This spring the brothers will open their third New York restaurant together, an upscale Italian eatery near Gramercy Park called Bar Milano. The goal, says Joe, 32, was to create the sort of place where “you can have a bowl of pasta at the bar or a truffle-tasting menu and a $500 bottle of wine.”

The siblings’ mini empire dates back to the late Nineties, when Jason, on a break from his job as a waiter at Mario Batali’s Po, discovered panini while on a trip to Italy. He and his wife, Jennifer, decided to bring the pressed sandwiches to the States and enlisted Joe, who was then spending most of his time snowboarding in Lake Tahoe, to join their new business. In 1998 the trio opened Ino in a tiny former dog-grooming salon in the West Village, and it was an instant hit, with big-time chefs coming in to snack after their shifts. In 2002 they opened a larger outpost, Inoteca, on the Lower East Side. Along the way, Jason also partnered with Batali on two more downtown Italian favorites, Lupa and Otto, although his projects with his brother remain closest to his heart. Since plans for Bar Milano—the siblings’ most ambitious project to date—were announced last year, it has attracted plenty of blog buzz, with cyberfoodies speculating about how many stars The New York Times would dole out. (For what it’s worth, Joe envisions “a fun three-star place.”)

Does Jason hope to pass along the family business to the next generation of Denton brothers, his sons Jack, six, and Finn, three? “I’m not sure it’s going to work out,” he says with a laugh. “My older son is pretty set on being a zookeeper.”