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The Oven Pizza E Vino

A visit to the upper crust.

With a pizza from the Oven, certain bites will linger in the memory as among the best bites ever. Not every pizza, and not every bite. But once in a while, when the stars are aligned and the food gods are smiling, you take a bite from one of the rustic, handmade, thin-crust wood-oven pizzas done by Mark Tarbel's crew and know what it is to reach pizza nirvana. That ultimate bite requires luck as well as skilled pie-makers, some mystical weights-and-measures equation of sauce to cheese to crust to toppings.

But every day, the Oven shows off its skills -- with constancy, reliability and even a little flourish -- for the clamoring crowds of neighbors and shoppers who fill this small Belmar storefront. I've never had a bad meal here, which is something I can say about embarrassingly few Denver-area restaurants. No matter how busy they are, no matter the day or hour, the guys working in front of the big pizza ovens perform close to flawlessly. Special order? No problem. Complicated, multi-item ticket for a table of ten? Bring it on. They understand that their primary responsibility is the assembly of good ingredients (mostly local, mostly organic, all homemade) along the parameters laid down the day the kitchen was established -- just that and nothing more, a couple hundred times a day.

The menu hasn't changed since 2004, when the Oven first opened. Fresh mozzarella and a bowl of olives, maybe some baked bread (same dough as the pizza crust) with tapenade or pesto -- that's for starters. Then pizzas, nine- or twelve-inch only, made with smoky ricotta and chopped fresh rosemary, with homemade marinara and mozzarella, with slivered garlic, oregano, green olives and goat cheese or charred scallions and barbecued chicken. That's it, but really, other than a bar (which the place has, run by a surprisingly knowledgeable staff), what more could you need? The Oven was among the best when I first checked it out two years ago, and I'm pleased to say that, like robots, like total professionals, no one has slacked off a step since. It's not better today than it was then, it's exactly the same: as good as it ever was.

 
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