While Boulder is experiencing an explosion of wood-fired pizzerias -- Pizzeria da Lupo and Pizzeria Locale opened within a few weeks of each other, in December and January -- Kelly Whitaker was here first. He's been hawking Napolitano-style pies, with a focus on seasonal toppings, at Pizzeria Basta in the interior courtyard of the Peloton since January of 2010.
But far from feeling the crush of new competition, Whitaker says his numbers are up -- significantly -- since the other two places opened.
"Part of it's that I still don't think a lot of people know about us," says Whitaker, whose restaurant, tucked inside the inner courtyard of an apartment complex, has no street visibility. "So when they eat at Pizzeria Locale or Pizzeria da Lupo, friends will say, 'Well, have you been to Basta yet?' And then they'll seek us out."
He also firmly maintains that the pizzerias are all different, each with their own unique appeal. "I'm not trying to be an authentic Napolitano pizzeria," he attests. "I'm taking the Italian mentality of local ingredients and applying it here."
Pizzeria Basta didn't exactly have trouble pulling in crowds before the onslaught of pie-makers, either. Whitaker's ongoing, obsessive quest for perfection means that he's incrementally improved pizzas that were great to begin with -- for instance, he just switched flours again.
"Our former distributor says he's gotten calls from people who want the Basta flour," Whitaker notes. "That's fine. We already switched to something else."
He wouldn't tell us what he's using now, but his crust is better than ever, each light square inch packed with a rich yeastiness, like fresh baked bread. Which, incidentally, he's making, too, baked to order in the wood-fired oven.
The biggest menu change at Basta, though, has been the addition of entrees, facilitated by his state-approved sous-vide program, which just went through the health department to become official two weeks ago. Last year, Whitaker made it his mission to crack the Colorado sous-vide code, educating himself with Bruno Goussault, the foremost expert on the cooking technique in the states. And now that he's serving utterly perfect melt-in-your-mouth short rib and tender sous-vide kurobata pork shoulder on a baked-to-order bun, he's consulting with several other restaurants, helping them get their sous-vide plans in line, too. Especially because the state will soon drop the pre-approval requirement but continue to check up on plans already in place.
Whitaker's eyes gleam with excitement when he talks about the future of his own sous-vide program: "There's so much more to do with sous-vide. We're testing a lot of things right now with the oven -- stuff that's never been done before."
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What else is next on the food front? "Desserts," replies Whitaker. "We've got our ice creams in a good place, but I want to up the pastry game." He's also feeling good about the locally-focused beverage program, which his partner, Al Henkin runs. The local focus and ongoing relationship with Infinite Monkey Theorem winery -- the wines of which they pour on tap -- prompted the restaurant to sign on for First Fridays, where it'll sling pies on the winery's back patio. And Whitaker continues to work closely with LA-based LaMill Coffee, especially on an educational front.
But that's not all. Now that Whitaker's firmly established, with full reservations on Fridays and Saturdays and more people stopping by all the time, he's looking at expansion possibilities, though he won't say exactly what he plans to do. There's space in the Peloton for another concept, but there's also ample opportunity to open a second outpost of his pizzeria elsewhere. "But I want to make sure things are perfect here," he says.
Despite all the plans and changes, though, Whitaker insists he's still a pizzaiolo: "I just bought white shoes," he says, holding up a clogged foot. "It's really official."