A pizza the action: Good pizza is hard to come by, and consistently good pizza is even less common, which is why Parisi (see review above) is such a find. But several other, lesser-known places in town serve up a decent slice, including Abo's Pizza at 305 South Downing Street. Although this location, owned by Pete DeRobertis, opened last year, Abo's itself was started more than twenty years ago in Boulder by Steve Abo. DeRobertis, a Jersey native and former CU-Boulder student, worked at an Abo's in college. Today the Colorado chain extends to eight shops, including five in Boulder, one in Niwot, one in Louisville, and DeRobertis's in Denver.
In order to keep things consistent, Abo still makes all of the dough and sauce (he got the recipe for his sauce from Rocky Grazziano's in Manhattan, where he once worked) at his commissary behind the original Boulder location at 1301 Broadway; the owners of the other stores pick up their supplies there daily. But then they still have to cook their New York-style pies, and that's where I found the system breaking down. At the Denver Abo's, twice I found the pie perfect: a sixteen-inch ($10.45) with the ideal amount of cheese, a thin, crispy crust with enough dough in the middle to make a meal, and a thin sauce that dripped a little when I folded a slice in half.
But on three other occasions--Abo's is near Washington Park, so it's a handy place to carbo-load after a heavy-duty run--the pizza was so overcooked that the bottom had turned into shoe leather. And on two of those pies, the underside was coated with a thick cake of flour, some of which had crept around the sides, so you needed a lot of liquid to counteract the dryness if you wanted to eat the crust. No moisture was missing from the homemade cannoli ($2.95), though, which was filled with runny ricotta.
There's no place to sit at this Abo's, so it's takeout or delivery only. Fortunately, their pick-up times were right on--I never had to stand around and wait more than a minute or two.
It's takeout-only at another Wash Park pizzeria: Basil Doc's, at 2107 East Virginia Avenue, which is owned by Hillary Allen. She makes a crust like no other--thin, crackly, chewy--and tops it with artistry. As at Parisi, the sauce here is mainly melted-down tomatoes, and sometimes it's spread so thin that the pie can be dry. That's how it was with a recent eighteen-inch with ham and pineapple ($14.50), which was otherwise delish. But the two pies I tried before that, an eighteen-inch plain cheese ($11) and a twelve-inch Tuscan with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese, were just fine. Because of the tiny size of the place, Basil Doc's can also get behind, and the pizzas are often not ready on time. But they're worth the wait.
At Mama Louise, 9555 East Arapahoe Road in Greenwood Village, a note on the menu warns that the pizzas are slow-baked in stone-bottom ovens, which "takes longer to prepare but is definitely worth the wait!" Still, it didn't seem to take any longer than usual to get our sixteen-inch with cheese ($10.50)--and even so, the poor thing had been overcooked so that the cheese was a series of those sad bubbles, all hard and crunchy and melded into the tomato sauce, with little melted goo left to enjoy. The thick, marinara-like sauce was good, though, and on a return trip for dinner--the place is one of those overly red-white-and-green spots that was nonetheless bright and welcoming--we dug into a well-made version of the same thing and thought it was fine. My only complaint was that the cheese they're using is on the salty side, and it permeated the whole pie.
A few other pizza favorites: Anthony's Pizza & Pasta has three metro locations, but watch out for the college crush Friday nights at the 1628 East Evans Avenue site, because the kitchen tends to rush it; New York Pizzeria (4990 Leetsdale Drive) does a great drippy slice; Attivo Pizza & Deli (1824 South Sheridan Boulevard) makes thick and thin equally well; Bourbon Street Pizzabar and Grill (5117 South Yosemite in Greenwood Village) is known for its funky toppings; Enzo's End (3424 East Colfax Avenue) has one of the best sauces going; Gino's Pizzeria (85 South Union Boulevard in Lakewood) is for when you just can't get enough garlic; Pantaleone's New York Pizza (2120 South Holly Street) tests how wide your mouth can go to get a bite of their incredible Sicilian-style; Pasquini's (1310 South Broadway and 1336 East 17th Avenue) is for all-around consistently good pies; and Wazee Supper Club (1600 15th Street) boasts a unique crust and the most generous toppings going.
Our daily bread: Owner/chef Simone Parisi wouldn't share his pizza-crust recipe--hey, I don't blame him--but he did pass along one of his personal favorites for pappa al pomodoro, or Tuscan breaded tomato soup. (Plant your tomatoes and basil now, so you can make it with backyard-fresh ingredients later this summer.) For this recipe, Parisi uses my personal favorite, the boule from the Denver Bread Company (3200 Irving Street), because of its dense texture and earthy flavor. (I also think the boule is the only choice for bread salad, for the same reason.) If you can't make it to the DBC, use something very hearty and tear it up the day before you make the soup. Regular Italian bread will turn into wallpaper paste.
Simone's Pappa al Pomodoro
8 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for garnish
1 leek, white part only, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
crushed red pepper flakes to taste
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, preferably romas, peeled and chopped
1 1/2 cups fresh basil, chopped
8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
salt and pepper to taste
1 loaf dried country-style bread, torn into pieces
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Put 8 tablespoons of olive oil in a stockpot over low heat. Add leek, garlic and red pepper flakes to taste, and cook, stirring, for a few minutes. Add tomatoes and basil. Raise heat to medium and cook for 5-6 minutes. Add broth, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Add bread and cook for 10 minutes. Take pot off stove for 1 hour. Before serving, reheat and stir well. Drizzle with olive oil. Serves 4-6.
Open-and-shut cases: Say goodbye to Sabor Latino Express, at 2337 East Evans Avenue; a sign promises that the next place to occupy the space will be Ethiopian. All is well at Sabor Latino's flagship site at 4340 West 35th Avenue, though. Elsewhere in that neighborhood, Today's Gourmet/Highland's Garden Cafe, at 3927 West 32nd Avenue, will continue serving dinners only through the summer. They're doing some construction on the house next door, and the noise would make for a chaotic lunch. So if you want to experience Pat Perry's exquisite fare, plan to do so from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
There's only one way you can eat dinner at Mel's Bar and Grill, 235 Fillmore Street, on June 13. That's the night Mel's will close to regular dining in order to host a benefit for Columbine High School. Nine of the city's best chefs will donate their time; Mel's is donating the food and the wine, so that all proceeds from the $100-per-person dinner will go toward the school. Call 303-285-1800 for reservations.