With ancient Italian roots, a flatbread called “Piadina” takes hold in Colorado

Menyus Borocz touts his piadineria, La Piadina, as “the smallest restaurant in Fort Collins.” At 220-square feet, and given that the shop interior seats six, he may be right, but with Covid-19 food service restrictions, Borocz currently runs it as one of the handful of food windows at The Exchange, 234 N. College Avenue in Old Town.

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At 220-square-feet and seating 6 people inside, La Piadina may very likely be the smallest restaurant in Fort Collins. (Photo: Emily Kemme)

Piadina — or piada — is an Italian flatbread dating to the 14th century.  Centric to the Emilia-Romagna region, the first written recipe dates to 1371 when Cardinal Anglic, brother to Pope Urban V, assembled a detailed account of Italian territories. Described as the “bread of the people of Romagna” in the Descriptio Romandiolae, this folded flatbread filled with meats, cheeses, and vegetables likely dates to Roman times. With similarities to both Greek pita and focaccia breads, and Middle Eastern lavash, Borocz said awareness of the style was probably imported by cultural interchanges among countries trading with the Roman Empire.

Born to Hungarian parents, Borocz moved to Italy at age 10, growing up in Arezzo, a city south of Florence. He first tasted this regional sandwich at age 17 in Rimini, a Tuscan seaside town, while vacationing there in the late 90s. And as ancient as the recipe was, the taste was a new one for everyone at the time.

Unlike pizza, native to Naples and an Italian sensation after the country’s independent kingdoms unified as a nation-state in 1871, piadina remains relatively unknown. One of the earliest pizza iterations, Pizza Margherita showcased the colors of the Italian flag — red San Marzano tomatoes, white mozzarella cheese, and fresh green basil — honoring Queen Margherita of Savoy’s 1889 visit to Naples with her husband, King Umberto I. Pizza’s ownership became uniquely American when large numbers of Neapolitans emigrated to the states beginning in the late 1800s. 

“Piadina is part of a small, authentic niche that for centuries stayed in its region,” Borocz said.

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Menyus Borocz serves customers from a food window at his piadineria, a shop dedicated to making the ancient Italian flatbread called, “piadina.” (Photo: Emily Kemme)

His standard presentation, which he calls, “l’Originale,” mirrors the Margherita in that it combines a creamy, delicately flavored cow’s milk cheese — stracchino — with prosciutto and fresh arugula. The result is meaty, chewy bites of salty prosciutto peppered with arugula’s spiciness. Made with milk, organic flour, a little yeast, and baking soda, the simple flatbread is cooked on a flat top over a high fire. La Piadina also offers a vegan version without milk. The shop’s sauces, including marinara, mushroom béchamel, and pesto, along with the stracchino, are all made in house. Other options follow a traditional Italian sandwich shop roster; the exception is one of Borocz’s creations, the New Burger-Dina, cousin to the hamburger, with ground beef, fry sauce, Dijon aioli, and arugula.

Borocz became a Colorado transplant 17 years ago after meeting an art student in Italy. Love in the form of his ex-wife brought him here, he said, where he pursued his passion, studying music at UNC in Greeley, and earning a BA in Contrabass Performance. He later earned a Masters in Business Management at CSU. He performs in FOCO music venues.

But he missed the taste of piadinas and fitted out a red food truck seven years ago, making the rounds of the CSU campus, breweries, food truck rallies, and other events. The idea for a brick and mortar shop was planned for summer 2019, but the pandemic gave it a slow start.

“We opened in November, finally got business in March, only to be shut down until May. It was like starting all over again in November,” said Borocz, who noted the whole of downtown Fort Collins is currently at 50 percent production.

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The Exchange offers a grassed area ringed by shaded tables for visitors to sit, taste, and sip. (Photo: Emily Kemme)

His food window at The Exchange opens onto a large square carpeted all-season astroturf. Essentially street food, the portable piadina is in good company with shops selling other hand held eats like doughnuts, tacos, and ice cream. With the pandemic, the outside food market welcomes all ages to stroll, bask in Colorado’s sunshine, and enjoy alcoholic beverages within its confines.

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Sit, stroll, sit, and taste while enjoying The Exchange in Old Town. Liquor may be purchased from several shops and imbibed within the gated area. (Photo: Emily Kemme)

Timing is everything. Borocz hopes by next year the situation will improve. In the meantime, La Piadina also bakes organic bread, because if you can’t sell sandwiches, you can sell the bread, he said.

It took centuries for piadina to catch on in Italy. Hopefully the art of piadina-making won’t take that long to zoom to popularity in Colorado.

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