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Not every country under the sun deserves its own pizza, but don't tell that to John Pool. In his mind, there's no land too far-flung, no cuisine too unusual, no food tradition that can't be boiled down to three or four or five key ingredients, blanketed with melted cheese and slapped on a crust.
At Pizzeria Mundo, Pool has 21 specialty international pizzas covering the map from Coney Island to Kathmandu. He's got monthly pizza specials and make-your-own pizzas and mini-pizza rolls (strombolini) served deep-fried with sausage and pepperoni, with olive paste and habanero chile, with hot dogs and mozzarella. He's got calzones, which are more or less pizzas folded in half and baked -- though since they're stuffed with insane dessert combinations like sweet potato, brown sugar and pecans or melted chocolate and marshmallow fluff, I'd say they're somewhat less like pizza. Actually, I'd say they're nothing like pizza at all, but Pool also has a crust smeared with housemade pear butter, blue cheese and walnuts that he calls a pizza. He's got a peach melba pizza and a bananas Foster pizza with sweetened cream cheese and sugar-glazed bananas topped with caramel sauce -- and if he's going to call those things pizzas, then he can call a s'more baked inside a pizza crust a calzone. It's his place, so I guess he can call pretty much anything pretty much anything he wants.
To sit down for a meal at Pizzeria Mundo is to abandon all common rules of geography and taxonomy. Turn a slice of sweet potato pie into a calzone? Of course. Dump an order of Chinese takeout on a crust, bake it and serve it as a pizza? Absolutely. Eating here just requires a certain suspension of disbelief, an acceptance that things can be different. As on the rides at Disney World, you simply have to ignore the painted-on smiles and the sparks shooting out of the neck of the animatronic penguin and just accept that it truly is a small world after all.
1312 17th St.
Denver, CO 80202
Region: Downtown Denver
Personal 8” pizza: $7.99
16” pizza: $18.99
Dessert pizza/calzone: $6
So small, in fact, that it can fit on a pizza crust. So small that John Pool can show it to you on a sixteen-inch round for $18.99 a pop, no passport required.
And that's not bad for a guy who's really a software developer, not a pizza man. Pool owns Maverick Systems here in Denver, a computer company that does work for the government. When he opened Pizzeria Mundo at the edge of LoDo at the end of October (in the former home of Uptown Pizza, which he bought and operated briefly before turning it into Mundo), there was a part of him that thought it was going to be a kind of hobby. He wanted to do something that didn't involve sitting in front of a monitor all day, that would give him a creative outlet and allow him to work with his brother Patrick, who really isa pizza guy (ex of Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, where the Pools' sister, Susan, is engaged to owner Chris Bianco). Problem was, he wanted something that wouldn't compete with Pizzeria Bianco -- but at the same time, he wanted something that Patrick could help him with. The idea for the international menu, the pizza-with-anything concept, the world-traveler theme, seemed a way to reconcile these issues. Pizzeria Bianco is a very authentic, very successful Italian pizza joint. So Pool decided he'd do an incredibly inauthentic, incredibly bizarre international pizza joint and, in the process, lose money every single day.
Okay, he didn't set out to lose money; that's just the way things turned out. But he also didn't set out to become a full-time restaurateur. Apparently no one told him there's no such thing as a part-time restaurant owner: There are just committed, full-time, obsessive, workaholic restaurant owners, and then people who used to own restaurants and are now selling used cars between AA meetings. This is not an industry for dabblers. Pool learned that lesson very quickly.
If he hadn't learned it, Pizzeria Mundo wouldn't still be here. Pool's concept is a tough sell to an audience born and raised on standard Italian pies with cheese and pepperoni and the occasional Chicago deep-dish or freaky Colorado diversion. And though Pizzeria Mundo is still losing money, it's losing less money every day. It's slowly building a base of lunchtime customers, corporate delivery business and late-night fans (it's open until 3 a.m. on weekends). People are getting used to seeing Pool's delivery drivers on their custom scooters zipping around downtown, bringing marshmallow calzones and Jamaican pizzas with jerk sauce, sweet potato and roasted chicken to the faithful. The dinner trade is still awful, and sales are much lower than Pool would like them to be, but they're improving. The wine-and-beer license coming next month will probably help. The brunch menu that will soon feature sake cocktails and a Bellini bar alongside Mundo's breakfast and lunch fare will definitely help.
"This restaurant has consumed me for a year," Pool says when I get him on the phone after I've already visited his place a few times. "I'm here more than I probably should be."