Bite Me

I've never understood the draw of gummy Chicago deep-dish, and I loathe those smart-ass nouveau California cracker-crust abominations. I'll choke down a cornmeal-dusted New York thinny if no other options are available, though, and have been known to flirt coquettishly with an occasional buttery New England pan pie the same way I occasionally tiptoe around my schizoid Catholic-Protestant-Lutheran upbringing.

But my loyalty to the New York thin-crust pizza -- that perfect wedding of crust and sauce and cheese and grease as very nearly achieved at Famous Pizza (see review) -- is unwavering. Most folks have strong opinions about their pies. People who couldn't care less about French versus Israeli foie gras or the proper orientation of a perfect hand roll will go to the wall to defend their pizza preferences.

Choosing your preferred pie is a lot like picking a religious affiliation. Sometimes you're born into it and never question the faith of your forebears; other times it takes research and a lot of soul-searching before you hit on that perfect combination of elements to satisfy all your mortal cravings. And, as with religion, once you do find that little slice of heaven that suits you just so, that's it. The search is over, the decision binding. Once you've picked your team, it's not just that people on other teams have different opinions; it's that they're stupid, possibly brain-damaged, certainly misguided, and are likely to have made other lifestyle choices that are highly suspect. A Catholic will look at a Protestant (or a Baptist, or a Buddhist, or, really, anyone who's not consulting directly with the Pope on everything from abortion to which salad dressing to buy) and wonder how this poor soul before him became so mixed up in his faith. Conversely, a Protestant will look at a Catholic and think about blowing up his car.

When someone who professes a deep and abiding love for Chicago-style pies prattles on for an hour about the perceived merits of his choice, I'll just stand there staring at him like his hair is on fire. "Okay," I'll say, when he's finally done proselytizing. "That's all well and good. But you do understand that New York style is better, right?"

In the course of human history, wars have been started for many reasons less vital than the thick-versus-thin-crust debate. The political maneuvering of the Plantagenet family in the Wars of the Roses, Napoleon's wanting to prove that a midget could rule the world. Hell, the Franco-Prussian war, which resulted in the loss of 20,000 lives, was started over a bathtub tiff between Otto von Bismarck and a French ambassador when some shady character with the highly unlikely name of Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen refused to sit in the proper chair (that chair being the throne of Spain, but still...) -- and that, to me, anyway, is far less important than what kind of pizza I'm ordering.

But last week, it was without any thoughts of sectarian violence that I visited another Colorado pizza chain which, like Famous, has been doing its thing for over thirty years. Beau Jo's has been slinging Mile High mountain pies since 1973, when owner Chip Bair opened his eighteen-seat storefront in Idaho Springs and worked like a one-man army, flipping, rolling, topping and baking nearly every 'za that Beau Jo's put out.

Of course, that was then. Today Beau Jo's boasts six Front Range addresses and 300-some employees. The Idaho Springs restaurant now occupies a sprawling complex on Miner Street with seating for 700 -- which, for the record, is approximately a third of the population of Idaho Springs in total.

Beau Jo's pizzas are about as far from the New York thin of my dreams as you can get while still technically remaining in the same culinary genus. Where my ideal crust is thin, mild and stiff -- single-ply cardboard or thinner, but thicker than a sheet of construction paper -- Beau Jo's is fat, honey-sweetened and puffy. While I prefer the single-finger bone -- no wider than an inch, and barely risen at all -- Beau Jo's goes for the rip-curl, rolled crust, developed (according to the history of the place) as an "engineered pizza containment system" in order to fence in sauce that's generously ladled in and toppings added with a heavy hand.

Finally, there's the pie's taste. The pride of Idaho Springs goes for the sledgehammer effect, using as its standard sauce a spicy red that's a standard of Southwest pie joints trying to work with natives weaned on chiles, Tabasco and crushed red-pepper flakes. Top this with mounds of meat, veggies and cheese, and what you have is something that I -- with all my bias and prejudice -- can barely even recognize as a pizza. Just one piece is a meal, a bread-bottomed casserole or some kind of thick, savory tart. In the truest of definitions, Beau Jo's pizza is a pie, no doubt about that. And looking at it that way, as a derivative of the form for which the New York slice is the ultimate avatar, I can enjoy this particular pizza guilt-free, without feeling like I'm betraying my faith.

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan

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