The evolution of pizza doesn't happen by chance; the type of pans available, the oven and the ingredients all come together for very specific reasons. Take deep-dish pizza. A large, high-sided pan is used to contain the dough when you can't slide an uncooked pizza directly onto the oven floor (the way Neapolitan pizza is traditionally cooked). The dough is enclosed, so it rises higher, but that also means that overloading it with sauce and toppings will weigh down the pie and make the crust doughy or soggy.
Jason McGovern explains all of this as he presents his new Sicilian pizza at Denver Deep Dish, which opened three and a half years ago at 1200 West 38th Avenue. The dough for this pizza rises in the pan and then is topped with cheese, thin-shaved garlic and whatever else the customer wants — up to three toppings, because any more than that would compromise the quality of the finished product — before being cooked. And rather than slathering sauce on the pizza beforehand (which would also up the sogginess factor), McGovern ladles simmering sauce on the pie once it comes out of the oven.
The result is surprisingly light and airy because the dough is allowed to rise to its full glory. A crisp, brown lace of mozzarella forms around the edge of the square pizza where it comes in contact with the sides of the pan. "You didn't think you'd eat the whole thing — but you did," McGovern says, knowing that the combination of gooey cheese, airy crust and deeply flavored sauce would be too much to resist.
The Sicilian pizza, available in a full or half pan, is one of two new pies on the menu at McGovern's restaurant, which started out as nothing more than a walk-up window at the back of the Bar Car at East Eighth Avenue and Colorado Boulevard before moving to its current location. But it's not the only change; Denver Deep Dish is in the process of changing its name to Crush Pizza & Tap, a move the owner is making to let customers know that there's more to the place than just deep-dish. Along with the new Sicilian, McGovern is also introducing a hand-tossed pie with a distinct dough recipe that he's been working on for the past year or so.
"I want our diners to think of us as a pizza restaurant, not just a deep-dish pizza restaurant," he explains.
Denver Deep Dish has been a Chicago-style specialist since McGovern started selling pizza under the name more than six years ago, but his restaurant has always offered a thin-crust version, too. He admits that Chicago-style pizza is a tough sell in Denver (cue the glib comparisons to casserole), but he's built up a considerable following of folks who understand and appreciate the extra time and skill that goes into building a good Chicago-style crust (which needs to be crisp and flaky around the edges, despite the burden of toppings it carries). The style is still the signature of the new menu, which lists it as "Deep Dish."
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Connoisseurs know that there's a thirty-minute wait for this style, so McGovern's strategy is to give customers options with shorter cooking times. The hand-tossed pizza takes less than ten minutes, while the Sicilian takes about thirteen. He's also a lifelong student of pizza, so adding the hand-tossed option was part of his own personal evolution as a pizzaiolo. "I wanted to up my pizza game, and hand-tossed is the benchmark in America," he points out.
Each dough has its own recipe, with the hand-tossed comprising only flour, water, yeast and salt, and getting a full day's rise before being formed into balls that are tossed into 16-inch rounds before being slid into the oven. The recipe for the Sicilian also includes olive oil and a little more yeast, plus an extra day of fermentation time. McGovern says he has considered calling it "Detroit-style" on the menu, but doesn't want to confuse diners. "If you look through enough dough recipes, you won't find one specifically labeled 'Detroit-style,'" he notes, adding that the difference between Detroit and Sicilian these days is more a matter of current trends. Plus, he's using a high-fat mozzarella instead of Wisconsin brick cheese, the standard in many old-school Detroit pizzerias. His oven has several decks dialed in to different temperatures for cooking each style; the hand-tossed goes directly onto the oven floor while the other two are cooked in pans (round for the deep dish and square for the Sicilian).
The new name refers to McGovern's never-ending love of pizza. "When I consider one of my first crushes when I was a kid, mine was definitely pizza," he recalls. He grew up near a restaurant that delivered pizza and movies, so on Fridays his living room was transformed into a pizza parlor and movie theater — where he "crushed" many a slice. Even today, he explores Denver's pizza scene on his days off.
Visitors to Crush Pizza & Tap won't notice too many other differences other than some minor rebranding and a tighter menu (don't worry, the award-winning smoked wings will still be there). Much of the original crew is still on board, so you'll still see familiar faces. To celebrate the change, Crush is offering a free slice of pizza (in your choice of deep dish, hand-tossed or Sicilian) with drink purchase to the first fifty people in the door on Friday, October 12.