By Mark Antonation
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Buenos Aires," says Francis Carrera, owner of Buenos Aires Pizzeria (see review), rolling the name of his native city off his tongue like he's savoring it, as if every letter were spun out of sugar. "It's all about women and the food, you know? It's a dangerous place."
Though he left his home in Argentina nearly twenty years ago, Carrera still gets back whenever he can. Once a year, twice -- he stays connected, and through his restaurant, Buenos Aires remains a part of him. "I love it there," he says, laughing. "But if you go, don't bring your wife."
I chuckle, thinking that if I were ever to hop a flight for points south without Mrs. Critic beside me, I'd better be prepared to stay. Like, forever. And to change my name and erase my fingerprints as well, because otherwise, she'd find me. And it wouldn't be pleasant.
1319 22nd St.
Denver, CO 80205
Region: Downtown Denver
"Were you here last night?" Carrera asks, bringing the conversation back to Denver's own Buenos Aires. "For the gnocchi?"
On the 29th of every month, Buenos Aires offers gnocchi in Bolognese sauce. It's some kind of Argentine tradition: You come, you eat, you leave a dollar under your plate for good luck, like an offering to the gods of good service. The Irish do something similar around the holidays, wrapping a coin in waxed paper and burying it at the bottom of a bowl of champ (mashed potatoes with butter and spring onions), like an oblation to the gods of dentistry. Arguably, it's the lucky kid who gets the coin -- although to me, the silver dollar has never seemed worth the trouble of the cracked tooth that traditionally came with it.
Sadly, I'd had a conflict the night of Buenos Aires's November gnocchi feast. "Oh, well," Carrera says. "There's always next month, right?"
In the meantime, the homemade gelato -- all two dozen homemade flavors offered every day -- is going well, and tastes just the way it does back home, according to Carrera. I've tried the strawberry, the lemon, one of the dulce de leches, and they've all been fantastic. But Carrera doesn't want to stop there: He'd also like to open an Argentine barbecue restaurant. "A nice one," he says. "Fancy. Next time you come in, I'll tell you all about it, okay? Argentine barbecue is something special."
So is his pizza.
Buenos Aires isn't the only downtown joint that's taken pies global. But Pizzeria Mundo, which opened six weeks ago at 1312 17th Street, has a different notion of internationally influenced pizzas: It simply names them after cities (or areas) around the world, then covers them with the ostensibly appropriate toppings. This all sounded fairly ridiculous until I got a look at some of the combinations that owner John Pool has come up with. (A restaurant rookie, Pool's in business with his brother Patrick, a veteran of Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, which has a reputation as possibly the best pizzeria in the country.) The New York, for example, is a fairly straightforward version of the classic Bronx 'za, with cheese, pepperoni, sausage and -- strangely -- a spicy red sauce, one thing New York pies actually made in New York never have. But then a quick ride on the virtual D-train will take you to Coney Island (home of The Warriors, the Wonder Wheel and the Coney Island hot dog) for a crust covered in chili, chopped onions, sliced all-beef hotdogs, cheddar and mozzarella. Then there's the Buffalo, with carrots, celery, blue cheese and chicken set on a slather of wing sauce, and, heading north, the Kennebunkport, done like a lobster bake, with white corn, roasted potatoes, sausage, bechamel and chunks of lobster.
Pool also does a Kansas City barbecue pizza, a cheese-centric Wisconsin with tomato pesto, and a Death Valley version featuring habanero pepper sauce, rabbit and rattlesnake sausage and nopalito. He crosses borders for the sweet-potato-smeared Jamaican jerk pie and the Kathmandu, with tikka masala sauce, tandoori chicken, roasted onions, green peppers (I'm not sure where they came from) and cheese. The house makes its own mozzarella, turns its own crusts, makes its own sauces -- the whole nine. And that care, coupled with the absolute and overwhelming freakish weirdness of Sherpa pizzas and Chinese pizzas sharing space alongside the Buffalo, New York and four-cheese Wisconsin, is admirable.
Some guy tells me he's going to add a French or Belgian or Russian-inspired pie to his otherwise standard list of double-cheese-and-pepperonis, I'll tell him he's nuts. But some guy tells me he's throwing out the pieman's handbook entirely in favor of making pizzas with hummus, hoisin and paprikash sauce? I say go, man, go. That's just the kind of paradoxical, obsessive, erratic, bone-dumb genius that I love seeing.
Pool even has a Colorado-style pie on his board. It's smoked pork loin, green chile, scrambled eggs, red bells, cheddar and mozz. But I have to wonder: Where are the bull testicles, the Coors Light and the pieces of old John Denverrecords?
Big man, big plans: Speaking of testicles, money-man and nouveau restaurateur Jim Sullivanmust have quite a pair, since he's now looking at not one, not two, not three, not four, but five new operations.