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United States of Pizza: Colorado (Denver)
Denver seems to dominate the Centennial State for the best pizza, but great pies can be found all over Colorado. Whether you are looking for vegan pizza, a New York slice or a Colorado mountain pie, you can be sure that there is a spectacular place in the colorful state for you. Special thanks to Michael Giannone, who jumped in with his recommendations since he is currently living in Colorado Springs.
Two-Fisted Mario's offers a very basic pizza menu with standard toppings, served on white or red pies on a hand-tossed New York or "Sicilian" style crust baked in a gas oven with a stone hearth. My sources recommend you brave the subsequent garlic breath and try the Shroom 'n' Spinnn with mushrooms, spinach, extra cheese and "Transylvanian garlic."
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Depending on the time of day you visit Two-Fisted Mario's the clientele is varied. Suits and business people might dominate the lunch crowd, but at night Two-Fisted Mario's turns into a hipster haven where pizza lovers in all states of inebriation can find a slice until 3am or later on most nights. Two-Fisted Mario's is directly next door to Mario's (yeah, the same Mario) Double Daughters Salotto, a darkly dressed, drinking well with cocktails that have names like "The Fall of Man" and "Pirate Socks & Dead Parrots."
This place has become a beloved late-night, hole-in-the-wall type spot for punks, skaters, and indie rockers alike. On nights like these, Two-Fisted Mario's is no stranger to sass or fist fights and it is the last chance to get the phone number of that hottie you have been chasing from bar to bar all night... That is if you can hear it over the blaring Black Metal they blast for the night owls. Come on. We All know a good drunk slice can be the perfect end to a night of painting the town red, and Two-Fisted Mario's is Denver's favorite place to do that. 1626 Market Street, Denver CO 80202; 303-623-3523; twofistedmarios.com
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Marco's Coal Fired Pizza
I know, I know, "Coal Fired" is in the title and yet, here it is listed under "Neapolitan pizza." What a misnomer, as Neapolitan pizza is generally cooked in wood oven. Get this! Marco's has a coal-fired oven and a wood-fired oven. The wood oven is used exclusively for pizza. The coal oven is used for things like wings and sandwiches. Once you settle your brain around that you should know that Marco's also serves up New York style pies according to the Big Apple's five boroughs.
I had to bring in a fellow pizza aficionado on this joint, so I called up Michael Giannone, 24, son of Paulie Gee. The young Giannone has been living in Colorado for six years now and has gotten to know the pizza scene there pretty well. According to Giannone, Marco's Coal Fired Pizza is the best pizza place in Colorado. They serve up beautiful, leopard-spotted Neapolitan pies according to the standards of the l'Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN).
For those of you unfamiliar with the VPN, this organization requires that members adhere to a strict code of conduct when preparing pizza and use only very specific list of products and toppings. This is done to make sure a "Neapolitan pizza" is prepared in the most authentic way possible. A wood-fired oven, San Marzano tomatoes, "00" flour, and fior di latte or buffalo mozzarella are the cornerstones of its specifications. Marco's is the only VPN-certified place in Colorado and one of only 40 VPN-certified places in the U.S.
Daniel Zemans reviewed Marco's for Slice not too long ago and praised their inventive pizza toppings. He cited the Canarsie, a breakfast pizza with smoked salmon, homemade ricotta, eggs, red onions, dill, and capers, among several others. Of course they have more traditional pies as well. 2129 Larimer Street, Denver CO 80205; 303-296-7000; marcoscoalfiredpizza.com
Pizzeria Rutstica is also a favorite of Michael Giannone. They also have a wood-fired igloo oven and are totally on top of the trending locavore menu. While they are not VPN-certified, this award-winning pizzeria is making pies with "00" flour, San Marzano tomatoes, and homemade mozzarella. They're loading pies into a brick oven fired with pecan wood. If you want your pie sliced, be sure to say so because otherwise they'll serve you an uncut pie and a knife and fork. 2527 W. Colorado Avenue, Colorado Springs CO 80944; 719-632-8121; pizzeriarustica.com; @pizzeriarustica; facebook.com/pages/Pizzeria-Rustica
You won't find a typical Chicago style deep-dish pizza at Beau Jo's, instead you will find what is fondly known by locals as a Colorado mountain pie. Beau Jo's now has seven locations in Colorado but they opened their original place in Idaho Springs, CO, 37 years ago. Since then they have been serving pizza... by the pound... while being as eco-friendly as possible. The company uses wind and solar energy to power their restaurants, use bio-degradable take out containers, buy local when possible, recycle, and conserve water.
The first Wednesday of every month the Denver location, welcomes families with autistic members and employees of that location have even received special training to better cope with special needs customers. Beau Jo's hopes to expand this program to all of their locations.
Beau Jo's is also a big supporter of local non-profit fund raising which is just one more thing that make them one of Colorado's most loved pizzerias. Of course the number one reason people love Beau Jo's is their pizza, but what the hell is a Colorado mountain pie anyway?
According to their menu a Colorado mountain pie is a really thick pie topped with mountains of ingredients and a hand rolled edge baked in a gas conveyer oven for ten minutes. There is so much crust, that the leftover crust can (and should) be covered with honey and eaten for dessert. This monster pizza is so loaded with toppings that the pizza is actually sold by the pound. To be honest, I'm not sure if even the most avid Chicago deep dish pizza lover could handle a mountain pie from Beau Jo's, but I'd like to see them try. Their website boasts a 14 pound pizza challenge. Fourteen pounds of pizza. Think about that.
Their verbose menu takes a while to read, but it does cater to very diverse tastes. They have mountain pies (thick crust), prairie pies (thinner crust, but still not really thin), which can be ordered in white or wheat dough. They also have gluten-free pies (crust made without wheat, rye, barley or oat flour). They have over 50 specialty pizzas, 10 different sauces, 10 different cheeses including dairy free cheese, and over 30 different toppings, including tofu, turkey pepperoni, hamburger and andouille sausage. The menu also lists nutrition and food allergy info. Also there is some jam about how the founder was some wacky French dude who wrote the recipe on the shell of a mountain tortoise. Whatever. If wordy, complex menus, deep dish pizza, and food allergies are your thing this is the place for you. 1517 Miner Street, Idaho Springs CO 80452; 303-567-4376; beaujos.com; @beaujos; facebook.com/BeauJos; vegan and gluten-free pies available
Thin Crust & Vegan/Vegetarian Pizza
City O' City
We are two for one on this place, as it turns out the best place to get thin crust pizza is also the best place to get a veggie pie. City O' City has been dishing up vegan and vegetarian pies on a chewy thin crust since 2007. Iyabo Boyd, a Colorado native and friend of mine, recommends this place for all your veggie pizza needs. Owner, Dan Landes, also heads up the Denver veg joint, Watercourse Foods and Watercourse Foods Bakery, which makes all of City O' City's pizza dough. While Landes is not himself a vegan or vegetarian, he is promoting pro-vegetable fare. His restaurants, including City O' City, focus on hearty meals without meat, using fresh, organic and local ingredients whenever possible.
City O' City has an innovative pizza menu featuring creative sauces, home-made, artisan and vegan cheeses, fresh veggies and proteins like seitan sausage and pepperoni, tempeh bacon, tofu, and cage free eggs.
Try La Chagall with apricot sauce, green olives, roasted garlic, fresh tarragon, and brie or the Urban Cowgirl with smoky chipotle marinara, pineapple, green pepper, cilantro, onion rings, and mozzarella. Of course there is a standard Margherita, and you can also build your own. 206 E 13th Avenue, Denver CO 80203; 303-831-6443; cityocitydenver.com; @cityocity
What Are We Missing?
It's nearly impossible for us to gather intel on every good pizza place in Colorado without your help! We know we're Denver-heavy here. So if you have a good rec on the high plains or deep in the Rockies, let us know in the comments here!