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MOUTHING OFF

A pizza the action: Of all the calls I get asking for restaurant recommendations, the majority involve pizza. People want to know where to get thin crust, thick crust, New York sloppy, Chicago deep-dish, Spago gourmet. Unfortunately, Denver is not the greatest place for pizza--I've tried every place I've heard about, and only a handful have the right stuff. (The most common problem is a reliance on cheap ingredients, especially cheese.)

What constitutes the right stuff, of course, varies according to style. And if the Naples Pizza Association has its way, anything called pizza will adhere to strict requirements and look like the pies made in Naples, Italy, which is where the group claims the dish originated. Among the criteria: The dough must be kneaded by hand; the pie must be baked in a brick oven, wood-fired to a temperature of 750 to 800 degrees; the resulting pie cannot be larger than twelve inches in diameter and shouldn't be "crusty," but "well-done and fragrant with the border high and soft." It goes without saying that the association eschews pineapple and clams as toppings. In fact, the NPA claims there are only four acceptable ingredient combinations, all revolving around tomatoes, mozzarella, parmesan, olive oil, lard, garlic, basil and salt.

Give me a break.
If these people were saying that anything called Neapolitan pizza has to follow their rules, that would be one thing--but these pizza police are adamant that anything called pizza must look like theirs. In the process, they're forgetting one thing: They didn't invent pizza. Sure, they gave it a name and they put together some great packages, but flat bread with toppings has been around since ancient Egypt, and I don't hear anyone from that era complaining that the folks in Naples don't put fried cat on their 'za and cook it in a dirt tomb.

I have yet to find a true Neapolitan pizza in Denver, primarily because the crusts here are so thick. I am happy to report, though, that at least Chicago-style has finally arrived, in the form of Uno's Chicago Bar & Grill, at 7400 East Hampden, owned by the people who brought us Pizzeria Uno in the Windy City. I'd heard the usual rumors that Uno's "just isn't the same," but I think they came from people who've never been east of Kansas. And they're wrong. I tried the primo pepperoni ($11.65), a ten-inch pie of pure bliss, with a thick, puffy crust holding in three inches of deep-dish heaven--spicy pepperoni, mozzarella and a chunky tomato sauce bursting with flavor.

If you're not a deep-dish fan, the thin pizzas at Papa's Pizza, at 540 East Alameda, will make you feel like a kid again; there's so much cheese melted on top that the huge handles of dough around the edges of the pie barely hold it in. Great funky gourmet pizza can be had at the Denver ChopHouse & Brewery, 1735 19th Street, where the crust is Italian and the toppings would send the Naples Pizza Association into cardiac arrest (try the bourbon and beef or the Thai with peanut sauce). For the best roster of ingredients, though, check out the Bourbon Street Original Pizza Bar, 5139 South Yosemite, for Cajun sausage, refried beans and whole cloves of garlic (not on the same pizza, please). And finally, all-around great pizza can be found at Pasquini's Pizzeria, 1310 South Broadway.

Just don't tell the Neapolitan pizza police I sent you.

 
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