Pizza Republica offers an upper-crust option downtown

Pizza Republica offers an upper-crust option downtown
Danielle Lirette
While the pizzas are good at downtown’s Pizza Republica, the pastuccia is the best dish on the menu.

Pity the poor Italian restaurant. Through a twist of fate stranger than Miley Cyrus vying against the Pope for Time's Person of the Year, independently owned trattorias have found themselves walking in Olive Garden's shadow, as if endless salad bowls and warm breadsticks were the most effective yardstick of a kitchen's mettle. That's a position that George Eder, founder of Pizza Republica, knows all too well. "I'm there to show them there's so much more than the Olive Garden," he says. "There doesn't have to be pasta out of a box, dough from a commissary and cheese out of a catalogue."

See also: A closer look at Pizza Republica

But the shadow feels longer at Republica's second outpost, which opened last spring in a new buildout attached to the Colorado Convention Center and caters as much to meeting-goers exploring life beyond the Big Blue Bear as folks popping in for drinks and a bite before the ballet. Business is more transient here than at the original restaurant in Greenwood Village, creating a vibe that's more "Welcome to town" than "Welcome back." Given the clientele and this location's size — it holds 180 inside and another 100 on the sprawling patio — you begin to understand why visions of Olive Garden dance in guests' heads here in a way that they never would at the smaller Row 14 across the street. So Eder fights to escape the shadow the only way he knows how: with friendly service and a kitchen that strives to "win people one dish at a time."

Location Info


Pizza Republica

890 14th St.
Denver, CO 80202

Category: Restaurant > Pizza

Region: Downtown Denver


Pizza Republica
Burrata $12.95
Pastuccia $8.95
Michaelangelo wedge $8.95
Pear and goat cheese $10.95
Georgio pizza $14.95
Duck and fig pizza $16.95
Pizza margherita $12.95
Nona's stuffed shells $14.95
Butternut squash ravioli $15.95
Braciole and strozzapreti $18.95
Tiramisu $7.95
890 14th Street
11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 3:30-9 p.m. Sunday

He's certainly winning on the first account. A Detroit native of Italian descent, Eder wants to re-create the "genuine hospitality at an old Italian grandmother's house, where you got pinched on the cheek, sat down and were fed." No one's pinching any cheeks at Pizza Republica, thank goodness, but everyone — from manager to hostess to busboy — seems so happy to see you, you feel like you've made their day just by showing up. (If only it were always so easy to make people happy.) While friendly, the service wasn't perfect: Mistakes were made, with servers putting in an order for the wrong dish and twice neglecting to tell us about happy hour and a buy-one-get-one pizza special. But these oversights were handled with grace, not to mention complimentary tiramisu, and that's a better indication of where a restaurant's heart is than perfection.

Which is good, because perfection isn't always coming out of the kitchen, either. A fat ball of burrata, so rich and creamy on the inside it reminded me of a soft-boiled egg, was spoiled by a flood of garlic-studded oil, which was billed as extra-virgin but lacked the telltale fruitiness. Nona's shells, so named because the recipe came from Eder's grandmother, also arrived in their own spill. We did our best to rescue them from the oil-slicked spicy pomodoro, but the effort left the ricotta-, basil- and mascarpone-stuffed pasta a little worse for wear. Butternut ravioli (not made in-house) were tough, with a filling stickier than peanut butter and a sage cream sauce that proved too rich to be eaten bite after bite, and the stuffed steak known as braciole came out overcooked and unadorned, without the crispy parsnips and basil chiffonade that would've made the dry beef more appetizing.

Could this be the same detail-oriented kitchen that, along with the original location, turns out some 250 pounds of fresh mozzarella every day? That slicks pizzas with San Marzanos and cooks them in a 1,000-degree wood-fired oven? That boasts pizzaioli trained under Peppe Miele, president of the organization that safeguards pure Neapolitan pie? Much as Pizza Republica wants to be a full-service restaurant, with 150 bottles of Italian wine and an array of pasta- and protein-centric entrees, it's at its most appealing when the pizza-makers get involved.

As at any Neapolitan pizzeria, the surest barometer of quality is the margherita, and Pizza Republica puts out a pie worthy of the name. Dotted with slices of lightly salted fresh mozzarella, with plenty of saucy red spots in between, the pizza achieved the proper balance of charred crust, tomato, basil and cheese. I'd prefer for the bottom to be slightly wetter, with less crackle and more doughy flavor, but that's not how customers have historically liked it, so pizza-makers here leave pizzas in the oven for about two minutes, up from the traditional ninety seconds. Despite that crisper crust, other pizzas were just as tasty — especially the Georgio, a white pizza with sausage, fried garlic slivers and caramelized onions. And in spite of too much truffle oil, the duck-fig was good, too, with chewy sections of figs in place of overly sweet fig jam, which a chain like Olive Garden would no doubt use. If Olive Garden made Neapolitan pie, that is.

Good as the pizzas are, though, they're not the best dish on the menu. That honor goes to pastuccia, a reinterpretation of a baked polenta pie that features creamy, Parmesan-spiked polenta nestled between slices of fennel sausage and raisin relish. The relish tastes infinitely better than it sounds, with pancetta and golden raisins plumped in chicken stock and sherry vinegar. It's a mystery why servers recommend the burrata over this knockout dish, which speaks of winter comfort food and serves as a far better anchor for a satisfying meal than that oil-drowned cheese. Provided you know what to follow it with: a pizza, of course, a glass of wine and a salad — perhaps the retro wedge with Gorgonzola, or the arugula with sliced pears, goat cheese and a whisper of three-citrus vinaigrette.

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Sterling Meeks
Sterling Meeks

Ah, the resorting to ad hominem when one is clearly unable to defend one's own position. By the way, these "all sorts of diseases" you speak of are not fully applicable to advances in pasteurization of milk or the use of preservatives in the meat supply. Instead, it's the "raw milk" fad that is actually leading to increased incidence of food poisoning, and ultimately, it is the overall sedentary lifestyle of modern America that is the cause for obesity, high cholesterol, and a plethora of other ailments that tin-foil hat wearing imbeciles like yourself falsely attribute to some "exotic" chemical preservative or other "unnatural" ingredient. Simply put: modern society is fucking LAZIER and eating MORE than previous generations, hence the higher proportion of LARD ASSES. Now, you can take issue with certain factory farming practices or the explosion of fast food joints or the "food deserts" across the country all you like, but at the end of the day, individuals must be held accountable for their choices/behaviors at least to SOME extent. You truly believe that a vegan diet is the "cure all?" Think again. What that really does is severely limit the type and amount of food choices to consume and, most importantly, it cuts out a lot of necessary dietary nutrients that can only be obtained via other animal sources -- via their own meat and/or their byproducts -- as these species lower down the food chain are able to digest and break down vital proteins enzymes that cannot be done directly by homo sapiens. In other words, humans are DESIGNED by nature to eat meat. One can make the conscious decision to forgo consuming of any animal products but one cannot deny hard, valid scientific fact. Stupid Ignorant Cunt.

Ellen Kessler
Ellen Kessler

If that were true, they wouldn't offer meat (full of antibiotics and growth hormones), eggs (cholesterol promoter), or dairy (all sorts of diseases are linked to dairy). How was McDonald's today, Sterling?

Sterling Meeks
Sterling Meeks

Maybe it's because restaurants would prefer to keep their customers healthy and returning to their establishments rather than succumbing to malnutrition.

Ellen Kessler
Ellen Kessler

Pffffft to you. YOU order the salad Mary. And when did Westword make you the new Calhoun?

Ellen Kessler
Ellen Kessler

thank you, Ray. We've been talking about this café on the Colorado Vegans page. Lots of new restaurants ordering numerous choices popping up in 2013!

Mary Maybee
Mary Maybee

Order a salad! Pizza Republica is great! Westword-getting tired of your negative commentary!

Ellen Kessler
Ellen Kessler

You would think that new restaurants would offer vegan options. Yes, even at Italian restaurants. Doesn't look like this one does.

TheFabulousMarkT topcommenter

"It's a mystery why servers recommend the burrata over this knockout dish" [referring to the pastuccia].

(raises hand) Ooh, Ms. Kurtz, Ms. Kurtz, I know why! :D

Based on the presentation of the dish in that photo, I'm sorry to say it really doesn't look terribly appetizing to me.

I of course am always more than happy to visit, taste it and be proven wrong. :) But that's my theory about the question you pose.