Michigan natives and friends Jeff Smokevitch and Giles Flanagin have fired up the ovens and are just a couple of weeks away from opening Blue Pan Pizza on West 32nd Avenue in the Highland neighborhood. The new eatery, which will specialize in Detroit-style pizza but also offer several other styles, has been several years in the making, but when it opens the week of June 15 (Smokevitch and Flanagin haven't set the exact date yet), Blue Pan will carry on what Smokevitch started in Telluride with Brown Dog Pizza a decade ago.
For those unfamiliar with Detroit-style pizza, it's a deep-dish style cooked in a rectangular pan with toppings that go right to the edge so that the cheese, generally a blend that features Wisconsin brick cheese, forms a caramelized crust. While it's a thick slice of pizza, the crust is airy and crisp, so it's not as heavy as Sicilian deep-dish pies. Other hallmarks of the style include sauce drizzled on top in stripes (to resemble tire tracks - the pizza originated in the Motor City, after all) and specific pepperoni and sausage types.
Smokevitch (whose friends call him "Smoke") uses whole-milk mozzarella and aged white cheddar in addition to brick cheese (which Blue Pan has shipped in from Wisconsin) and other high-quality ingredients to top his pies. If round pizzas are more your thing, Blue Pan will also offer a classic Italian style, a Chicago cracker-thin pizza and a gluten-free pizza with dough that's made in-house.
Each pizza style has its own flour and dough-making process as well as cooking temperatures; Blue Pan has two separate deck ovens to accommodate the different styles. Smokevitch uses a three-day rising process to build flavor and texture in his dough, even for the gluten-free version. This attention to detail helped him win several awards at the World Pizza Championship in Parma, Italy, in May, including a Triathlon award (which combines scores for three different styles), honors as the top American competitor and a special award for creative use of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
The three pizzas that propelled him to success at the event were a Detroit-style "PLT" (pancetta, lettuce and tomato); a classic Italian finocchio (Italian for fennel) pizza topped with fennel sausage, slivered fennel and fennel pollen; and a gluten-free pizza with prosciutto, Parmigiano-Reggiano, burrata and squash blossoms.
"We want to give people more than one reason to come to us," explains Flanagin, although he adds that "we're a pizzeria in the truest sense." Blue Pan will also offer salads, two sandwiches, four appetizers and two desserts on the opening menu. A full liquor license means Flanagin will also have beverage pairings to accompany the pizzas, including beer on tap from Atwater Brewery in Detroit to go with the Detroit-style pizzas. Smokevitch recommends Campari and soda as an aperitif beforehand and Italian sparkling lambrusco to accompany the Italian-style offerings.
The partners say they've gotten an excellent reception from the West Highland neighborhood, including from the neighborhood association, which offers specific guidelines for businesses that serve alcoholic beverages. "They were great to work with," Flanagin explains. "And the rules that they laid out were already baked into our business plan." Blue Pan will eventually be open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, but will launch in mid-June with dinner hours only, starting at 5 p.m. With fewer than twenty seats, Blue Pan will also offer delivery and takeout.
In addition to working with the West Highland Neighborhood Association, Blue Pan also plans to have a booth at the Highlands Street Fair on June 20; it will offer pizza lessons for kids and also raise money for pediatric brain cancer through #ChadTough, which was started to support the grandson of University of Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr, who was Smokevitch's coach when he played football there in the 1990s.
While there's no shortage of pizza in West Highland, Blue Pan fills a niche between the Neapolitan style of Pizzeria Locale and the Sicilian-style deep dish at Pizza Alley. And who could argue with having more pizza options?
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.