At the beginning of December, pizza fanatic Jason McGovern decided to eat pizza at least once a day for two months straight. The idea, he says, was to "crush" pizza, a fitting tag given that his own restaurant, at 1200 West 38th Avenue, recently changed its name to Crush Pizza & Tap (from Denver Deep Dish). But he didn't just want to eat his own creations; he wanted to explore Denver's pizza scene to learn more about what other restaurants are serving and what Denver diners like.
McGovern's now a little more than halfway through his goal, and he doesn't want to give up. In fact, he has decided to continue the challenge beyond two months — until he happens to go a day without eating the stuff. So how does the pie maker make sure he gets a daily dose of pizza, and what has he learned by sampling Colorado pie joints? We chatted with him on day 39 to find out, as well as get some tips on the best places to grab a slice.
Westword: What is your ultimate goal with this pizza challenge?
Jason McGovern: It's to see how long I can eat pizza. I think I had gone a stretch of eating pizza every day maybe three to four weeks before I decided to do this challenge. I got the idea to do this about six months ago when I thought, if you're a brewery owner, you probably drink beer every day, if I had to guess. So, if I'm a pizza proprietor, I should be eating and thinking about pizza every day. After all, if pizza is your passion, it should be easy to eat it every day.
Plus, the pizza scene in Colorado is growing, and it should be easy to eat in my own restaurant and also get out and try other pizza places in Denver. I am not trying to make it a review-driven thing, but an awareness of the pizza places people should be trying. I'm trying to keep it as fresh and new as possible.
How many places in the area have you tried since starting this quest?
I only try to use my own pizza place as a fallback if I can't get out to other places. I started at Cart-Driver; that was the first night of the challenge on day one. Then I've hit up Giordano's, Atomic Cowboy, Cosmo's, Blue Pan, Hops & Pie, and then I did Squared Pizza & Beer in Boulder before it shut down. I did Echo Brewing, which is up in Frederick. Then Esters, Grammy's Goodies, which is over on Harlan [Street]. [Famous] Original J's I've done, and Parry's Pizzeria down the road. I would probably say I have done a dozen or so new place. Some retreads, too, and of course my place, where I am creating some new pizzas.
Have you really eaten pizza every day since December 1, 2018, even Christmas?
Yes. We were in Chicago for Christmas and arrived on the 23rd, and I had a crummy slice of pizza I didn't even tag. Then I had Gino's East for day 23, 24 and 25, for three straight days. It reminds me of our deep-dish pizza. Then it was back to Crush after the holidays.
What's your personal favorite style of pizza?
Pizza. Okay, well deep dish or pan will always be my first love.
So far, what are your top three in the state, and why?
Cart-Driver, Blue Pan and Cosmo's, which surprisingly has a good New York-style slice, and I want to go back and try a full pie. At Cosmo's the slices were massive, but it's good. I thought it was quality for a slice-driven pizza place. And Blue Pan, they do a good job. It's a quality piece of pizza, and you know it's got a lot of time and effort put into it. There's not much about this pizza you could find fault with.
As for Cart-Driver, I haven't, over the years, enjoyed Neapolitan-style pizza. The way it's made and the way it's cooked, it's delicate and tender and doesn’t have much structure to it, and usually it's too wet or falling apart. It's only the last couple years I find it more appealing, and I think Cart-Driver has done a great job formulating their dough. Apparently they have a really old starter for the dough, so you get a lot of flavor. The quality is in the ingredients, and they do an even better job with the toppings where they don't overload it, and do a great job with the flavors. Cart-Driver did a great job creating a quality product and atmosphere, where we go in there and feel like part of the crew.
Are there any places you are or were really excited to try?
Esters and Cosmo's. I had never tried either of them before. I have had regular guests mention new places to me as well. So that's been fun.
Any good or bad surprises?
Cosmo's, actually. I wasn't expecting a quality product out of a primarily slice-pizza place. The dough and the cheese made the pizza for me. Giordano's wasn't very good quality; it just had a lot of cheese and bland toppings and sauce.
In general, what do you think of the Denver pizza scene?
I think it's getting a lot better. I like to think I have helped in that aspect. But others like Blue Pan, Cart-Driver, and Hops & Pie have helped drive the pizza scene to new levels so far. I am ready to help take the pizza scene to the next level.
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Right now, Denver and Colorado are not synonymous with pizza. When you ask someone what they think of the food scene in Colorado, you don't think about pizza. Instead, you would think Portland or Austin as having a better scene. But people in Fredrick are doing quality pizza, and in Boulder and Denver. You have Neapolitan, hand-tossed, Sicilian, and artisan pizza like Hops & Pie, and there's room for customer awareness around pizza. If your customers know more about pizza, they can enjoy it better.
Do you think all this research will lead to changes at Crush?
Not necessarily. This pizza pilgrimage is for pizza awareness and to show my crush on pizza.
When does the pizza adventure end?
When I don't eat pizza on a day. I am going for two months because I thought that was doable, but if I can maintain this pursuit of pizza, I will go longer.