Marco's Coal-Fired Pizzeria
2129 Larimer Street, Denver CO 80205 (map); 303-296-7000; marcoscoalfiredpizza.com
Pizza Style: Neapolitan
Oven Type: Wood
The Skinny: Colorado's only VPN-certified pizzeria with an oddly deceiving name puts out some very good pies with a variety of unique toppings
Price:Pies average around $14
I have two thoughts after eating at Marco's Coal-Fired Pizzeria. First, the place serves some excellent Neapolitan pizzas with some unique topping combinations that many traditionalists would run away from. Second, because their pizzas are actually cooked in a wood-burning oven, it might have the most misleading name of any pizzeria in the country. There is a coal-burning oven in the restaurant, but it's used for dishes like the delicious-sounding limoncello chicken wings. And even though the owner told me he prefers coal-oven pizzas, the pizzas are cooked exclusively in the wood-burning oven, a necessity for the pizzeria that proudly identifies as the only VPN-certified pizzeria in Colorado.
Mark Dym, the man behind Marco's, moved from Fort Lauderdale to Denver in 2007 with almost no restaurant experience (in one interview, he says he had dabbled 30 years before). But like Mike Randolph at The Good Pie in St. Louis (reviewed here), Dym hired Roberto Caporuscio, president of the American branch of the Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani (APN) and owner of Kesté, for some intensive training in the art of making Neapolitan Pizza. Once Dym's training was over, Marco's applied for and received certification from the Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN) association.
I got over my initial ambivalence about Marco's (I'd had more than a couple Neapolitan pizzas in the weeks leading up to my trip), as soon as I learned that Marco's had recently added brunch pizzas to the menu. I'm always eager to try new types of pizza and some of Marco's options certainly qualified. The first pizza to arrive at the table was the Caserta, which comes with prosciutto cotto, buffalo mozzarella, Parmagiano-Reggiano, gran cru, caciocavallo, scrambled eggs, basil, and olive oil. Even leaving aside the basil and olive oil, this pie had the longest list of toppings of any Neapolitan pie I've ever had. Unfortunately, the eggs thoroughly dominated this pizza, something that might have been avoided had all four promised cheeses been noticeably present (if they were there at all).
The crust was cooked perfectly and had a nice blend of crisp and chew. It was more than up to the task of handling what I thought was too much egg. My other concern with the pizza was the prosciutto cotto, a meat I had not previously tried. When Americans mention prosciutto, we do so almost exclusively thinking of the cured meat Italians call prosciutto di parma. Prosciutto cotto, on the other hand, is cooked not cured, and is not particularly different from ham and did not have sufficient flavor to stand up to the eggs. Had there been more cheese, this pie would have certainly benefited, though it still would not be one I would eat again. Fortunately, the rest of my pizza-eating experience at Marco's was better.
The second breakfast pizza, the Canarsie, comes with smoked salmon, housemade ricotta cheese blend, eggs, red onions, capers and dill. This pie, which would star in meeting designed to bring Italians and Jews closer together if such an occasion were needed, was excellent. The smoked salmon was of decent quality and the ricotta cheese blend worked well enough that it makes me think there may be better alternatives than cream cheese to accompany lox on a bagel. The eggs added a nice background flavor and contributed to the lightness of the pizza, while the red onions and capers gave the pie a soft boost of flavor. I had only had one smoked salmon pizza before Marco's and it was so disconnected that I might have never tried the concept again. Fortunately for me, a pork averse dining companion selected this pizza at Marco's and I've learned the concept can work.
The third and final pie of the day was one of Marco's more traditional specialty pizzas, the Toscana. That pie includes the requisite fresh mozzarella and San Marzano sauce along with arugula, grape tomatoes, prosciutto di parma, gran cru and olive oil. This was an outstanding pizza that was so good it almost made me regret even bothering to try the two brunch pizzas.
Each ingredient shined through individually and blended together seamlessly into an incredibly flavorful and well-balanced pizza. The stars of the pizza were the very generous portions of prosciutto and gran cru, a rich, nutty cheese I'd never had before, but every single component was great. As happy as I am to try out different toppings on pizzas, the Toscana reminded me that there's something to be said for a pie featuring nothing but classic Italian ingredients.