Boulder, Colorado: Proto's Pizzeria Napoletana

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[Photographs: David Kover]

Proto's Pizzeria Napoletana

Multiple locations
Location reviewed: 4670 N Broadway, Boulder, CO 80304 (map); 720-565-1050; ProtosPizza.com
Pizza style: They term it Neapolitan-style
Oven type: Gas
Price: Proto, large $16

Greetings from the Department of Snap Judgments, where I pass through a town in which I'm totally unfamiliar with the pizza landscape and form opinions after only one pie.

Here's the thing: I found my way to Proto's Pizzeria Napoletana on a recent trip through Colorado based on a few friendly recommendations, but when I entered the restaurant and got a look at the pizzas on other customers' tables, I wasn't inspired to order more than a single pie. I figured I could always get more if the pizza tasted better than it looked and, well, one pie proved to be enough. It wasn't bad, but rather vehemently pedestrian.

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Proto's has been around since 1999, and people seem to like it. It earned some love from Bon Appetit back in 2002, and has grown into a mini-chain of six restaurants, including the location I visited in Boulder, CO. There, I watched the fellow behind the counter use a large silver rolling pin to press out ultra-thin pizza skins from balls of dough that had been flecked with dried oregano.

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By looks, I feared these thin-crusted pies would arrive as sauce and cheese on a cracker. But, actually, other than some crisped bits around the edges, the undercarriage of our pie had plenty of give. In fact, I found that the crust lacked some gumption—it needed more char, more chew, more flavor, more something.

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Given that we only committed to one pie, it seemed fitting to go with the namesake Proto Pie: mozzarella, tomato sauce, basil, and Italian sausage. Though you'd think the meat would steal the show, I got stuck on the sauce. Our waiter told us that the DiNapoli tomatoes had been mixed with "a little" garlic salt, but it tasted like a lot, and the effect was to turn the sweet sauce somewhat cloying.

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Could any of the other toppings save the day? Well, I didn't much notice the cheese. The sausage did offer plenty of fennel-y flavor, but the little coins of meat—even when they'd started to curl up into pepperoni-like cups—had a soft, not-quite-mushy texture.

Proto's offers plenty of other topping combinations, and it may be that some of these do a bit better. They'll do a classic Margherita, with a different red sauce made of San Marzano tomatoes. Another pie, called The AP, proudly features anchovies, which Proto's t-shirts call "The Other Sushi." Or, you can branch out into more interesting territory, with something like the Low Rider: honey tomato chipotle sauce, mozzarella, bacon, pineapple, and cilantro.

I didn't try any of those other pizzas, and so maybe I just got the wrong thing. Plenty of patrons seemed happy with their meals—one little boy had eaten so enthusiastically that I watched him exit the restaurant wearing a full-on Joker mask of sauce.

Was I too rash? Did I catch Proto's on a bad day? Set me straight, or at least tell me where I should go to rectify the situation next time I find myself in the Rocky Mountain State.

About the author: David Kover is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and food enthusiast. He occasionally gets his tweet on at @pizzakover.

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