Daniel Zemans, our man in Chicago, checks in with another piece of intel from the road, this time in Denver. —The Mgmt.
Buenos Aires Pizzeria
1307 22nd Street, Denver CO 80205 (map); 303-296-6710; bapizza.com
Pizza Style: Argentine
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: One of the few Argentine pizzerias in the United States has some interesting toppings combinations on a thick crust. Pizzas are good, but the empanadas and gelatos are better
Price: 10-inch pies start at $10.25
Once upon a time (late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries) in a land far, far away (Italy), hundreds of thousands of people faced dire poverty exacerbated by political upheaval and multiple natural disasters. Seeing no chance to improve their lot in Italy, those brave souls headed west in hopes of doing well enough to return home with the ability to make something of their lives. As is often the case in international migrations, things do not always go as planned, and massive numbers of Italians planted roots in the Western Hemisphere.
As the predominantly American readers of this blog know, many of those Italians seeking a better life settled in the good old U.S. of A. But as much of an impact as Italians had on the United States, it pales in comparison to their impact on Argentina, a country where around 60 percent of the populace has some Italian blood. And not surprisingly, there is apparently quite a pizza culture in Argentina. Sadly, I have yet to make it to Argentina and have no immediate plans to go. But I was recently in Denver, where I got to check out at least one style of Argentine pie at Buenos Aires Pizzeria.
I've had my eyes on Buenos Aires since my last trip to Denver, when I only had time to check out Beau Jo's. The restaurant, owned by Argentine native Francis Carrera and his family, opened in 2003 just a couple of blocks away from Coors Field in downtown Denver. The Wikipedia entry on Argentine cuisine identifies four different kinds of pizza with minimal descriptions in addition to the focaccia-like fugazza, so I didn't really know what to expect other than the wide array of unique toppings listed on the pizzeria's menu [pdf].
Buenos Aires serves up 20 red pizzas and 16 white pizzas, virtually none of which are regularly offered at any pizzeria I have ever been to. The restaurant freely lets people go half and half and I took full advantage. The first pizza was a red pie that was half onions and mushroom (a build-your-own creation) and half Buenos Aires. The Buenos Aires, which comes with mozzarella, ham, hearts of palm, hard-boiled egg, roasted red pepper and salsa golf, was excellent. Yes, there was a wide variety of flavors on the pie, but they really worked well together. I especially liked the salsa golf, a combination of mayo, ketchup and seasonings, which had a nice tang that connected all of the flavors.
The second pizza was a white pie that was half Borges and half Crudo. The Borges, named after Jose Luis Borges, is one of four white pizzas at Buenos Aires that includes a béchamel sauce (identified only as white sauce on the menu). In addition to the sauce, the Borges came with mozzarella, spinach, and tomatoes. The béchamel really dominated those slices, which for me was unfortunate. With a little less sauce and the addition of a rich meat (perhaps a salami of some sort) and it could have worked for me, but I think I may not be a fan of béchamel on pizza. The second half of that pie, the Crudo, has prosciutto and sun-dried tomatoes, two strong flavors that worked surprisingly well together thanks in part to the thick crust and generous supply of cheese.
The ½ inch thick crust is parbaked and not noticeably different in taste or density from the pieces of Italian bread given out in the breadbasket. And while I know a crust like that horrifies some of you out there who have rigid definitions of what is and what isn't a pizza, the fact is that all three of Buenos Aires's preselected toppings combinations I tried would overwhelm a traditional thin crust. I'm not sure which came first in Argentina, the thick crusts or the emphasis on strong flavors in toppings, but both components need each other to work.
While I did enjoy the pizza, it's not one I would go out of my way to try again. But I will return to Buenos Aires for the empanadas and homemade gelato, both of which were excellent. And when I go, the pizza was good enough that I'd try it again. In the meantime, I am now on a quest to find other examples of Argentine pizza. New Yorkers can check out Nina's if they want to give it a shot, but I'm at a loss as to other locations. Anyone have any first-hand experience?