Eating Adventures

Basic Kneads pizza proffers hand-crafted pies from a hand-crafted oven

A monthly family pizza night has long been a tradition for brothers Eric, Joel and Reid Bakken. In fact, Eric even took it upon himself to build a pizza oven in his backyard a couple of years ago.

But when Eric saw a mobile pizza oven atop a trailer in Moab earlier this spring, the brothers decided to take their family institution to the street.

Not long after, they started building their own mobile wood-fired oven.

"Our mother built everything--our bedroom furniture, our playset, a lot of things," says Eric. "We grew up with the idea that you don't go out and buy something. You make it."

Joel, a nurse, is also a handy welder. And with Reid's contracting skills, the group was able to pore over plans from other oven companies, and knowledge from oven-makers in Italy and Mexico, to customize their own, approving plans with the state and erecting a unique piece, complete with a soap stone hearth and attached hand sink.

Once the machinery was worked out, the brothers began tinkering with their pies.

"There are probably 200 pounds of flour in my garage in half-used bags," notes Eric with a laugh. "We tested all of them and decided against them."

Eric loves baking, and to perfect the crust, he tested recipes from pizza-makers all over the country. "We didn't like any of them," he says.

Eventually, the brothers settled on a crust made from 50 percent whole wheat flour, aging it for a couple of days based on the wisdom of San Francisco pizza mogul A16. Those two elements give the crust more flavor.

The brothers were also clear that they didn't want to follow the current trend of pizza-making, which meant crafting everything strictly by the Napolitana rules. They're hand-crushing tomato sauce and using a mix of fresh mozzarella and Parmesan for cheese, but they're getting those ingredients as locally as possible.

"It seems silly to have to import Italian flour, Italian mozzarella and Italian tomatoes when we have all of those ingredients here," Eric observes. "We're trying to do things sustainably, and buying all of our ingredients from Italy doesn't make sense."

Plus, the brothers wanted to play around with non-traditional flavor combinations. For example, Eric is excited about the upcoming green chile season. "I want to buy about 100 pounds of green chilies and play around," he says.

That sustainability employed in ingredient sourcing carries over into the rest of the Basic Kneads business. The company gets all of its oven wood from friends' properties who are looking to clear it, supplementing that supply with scraps from a hardwood company; they're also composting food waste and utensils.

"The only thing we haven't figured out is how to hook the trailer onto a bike," says Eric.

Basic Kneads made its debut at the beginning of August, and it has peddled a couple of staples, including The Safety, made with pepperoni and cheese, and The Rocket, a pie topped with prosciutto and arugula.

The vendor has been at Great Divide and other parties, and the brothers plan to be out for Broncos games this fall, but they're still trying to determine what will become of their regular stops.

"We'd especially like to be in business parking lots during lunchtime," says Eric. "We want to provide an alternative to the routine places that people go."

In the meantime, follow them on Facebook and Twitter to find the mobile pizza oven on the streets.

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk