"We're the slowest movers ever," quips Bobby Stuckey. "We waited six years to do a remodel of Frasca and more than nine years to do something away from our little corner in Boulder." Stuckey, along with Chris Donato, Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson and Jordan "Bruiser" Wallace, are the dream team behind Frasca Food and Wine, which opened almost a decade ago in Boulder. It's unsurpassed success was then followed by Pizzeria Locale, a Neapolitan-style pizzeria, which sits directly next door to the Friulan wonderland of foodstuffs, and, finally, after years of lusting on the part of Denverites, the foursome will open a second Pizzeria Locale in the Golden Triangle in Denver next Wednesday.
But don't expect a full-service, sit-down restaurant like Pizzeria Locale in Boulder -- and don't expect the same kind of vaulted wine roster either. And because of those marked differences between the two restaurants, there are some cranky opponents who claimed early on that the Denver outpost would be a "dumbed-down" version of the Boulder original, but according to the crew, that's not the case.
"In Boulder, the food costs work; we can share a wine cellar, cutlery, glassware, the dish station, even managers, because Frasca is right next to us, but we don't have that luxury here," says Stuckey. "So we had a come-to-Jesus moment a while back and asked ourselves how do we do a great restaurant with great ingredients and the same Neapolitan-style pizzas -- but not be a white tablecloth pizzeria? We asked ourselves what we'd have to give up."
If frivolities like a host stand, three POS machines, the absence of servers and starched white tablecloths are what encourage you to go to dinner, than, yes, you'll be cranky, because those don't exist here, but the unassailable product quality remains the same: "We're absolutely not cheapening our products, and the pizzas here capture the same sentiment as the pizzas at Locale in Boulder, insists Stuckey.
And, echoes MacKinnon-Patterson, exec chef of Frasca, in some ways, the pizzas, which are categorized into "Italian Classics," "American Classics" and "Create Your own," could be even better, thanks to a one-of-a-kind, gas-fired oven coupled with a seventy-degree, temperature- and humidity-controlled dough-proofing room commanded by Wallace, the chief pizzaiolo at Locale in Boulder, who will spend a significant amount of time in Denver.
"The dough-proofing room is like a perfect spring day in Naples -- and it's something that we don't have at the Boulder location and wish we did," says MacKinnon-Patterson. And here's why: At the Boulder store, each ingredient that goes into making the dough -- the "00" flour, salt, water and yeast -- is stored in different areas of the restaurant, which leads to temperature inconsistencies when all of the ingredients are mixed together.
In Boulder, explains MacKinnon-Patterson, "The doughs are proofed for twelve hours, which means that things change much quicker because the changes happen so fast, but in Denver, because of the proofing room, where we can keep all of the dough ingredients in one place, we can proof the doughs for 24 hours, which results in fewer noticeable percentage changes." Because of the relegated humidity and temperature, he points out, "We don't ever have to retard the dough, and that results in optimum consistency in the entire dough-making and cooking process."
And then there's that oven: a black-and-white-tiled beast that was built by engineers, much smarter, admits MacKinnon-Patterson, than him. "The wood-fired oven in Boulder is brilliant, but we knew that in Denver, we'd be serving more people because we have a larger space, and knowing that we would be doing more covers in a day -- well, we spent weeks in Boulder trying to figure out how to do more pizzas at the same time, and we finally just realized that there was no fucking way -- that Jordan would burn the hell out of himself."
Instead, the crew -- and the engineers -- came up with what MacKinnon-Patterson calls the "perfect spot," a place just inside the door of the oven that produces optimum bottom and top heat and flame circulation. "The idea," he adds, was to "build an oven that had multiple perfect locations on a rotating hearth with that optimal spot" -- an oven that would still cook, char and blister pizzas in ninety seconds.
"We worked on this oven for eighteen months, and the greatest thing about it is that it looks like a Neapolitan oven and cooks like a Neapolitan oven, but it doesn't think like one -- it relies on the person making the pizzas to use their brain, rather than their physical abilities to move pizzas around every damn second," notes MacKinnon-Patterson. And the result, which I learned yesterday, when I saw -- and ate -- the pizzas being snatched from the oven on peels, mimics, effortlessly, the real deal.
"It doesn't even have a name -- it's the first oven of its kind and it's fucking-crazy shit, but it's beautifully efficient and produces consistently perfect pizzas every time," says MacKinnon-Patterson.
But not everything emerges from that enviable oven: The board also features three salads, all of which are composed with arugula, as well as desserts, including the diabolically good butterscotch pudding.
And the space, despite its more casual appearance, resembles, in many ways, its Boulder counterpart: the walls are subway-tiled in white; a custom-made, candy-apple red slicer, made in Italy, stands on stage near the counter; the ceilings skyrocket to sloped, wooden slats; gritty photos depicting the Italian streetscape hang from the walls; and, most important, the pizzas maintain the same integrity as in Boulder.
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True, there's no voluminous wine list -- just one house red and one house white poured from kegs -- but how many wine choices do you really need with pizza? And the prices here are far lower than in Boulder: All of the pizzas are $10 or less, and the ingredients are as perfect as any you'll find anywhere else.
"This is super-exciting for us, and if we do a good job with this, then we might consider expanding," says MacKinnon-Patterson. But if that were to happen, there's an absolute, he warns: "We'll never franchise this -- it's not part of our DNA."
Given its success in Boulder, however, it's a good bet that it'll experience the same fever in Denver -- and wherever else they decide to open.
The space is still undergoing construction, but Wallace and his cohorts were pumping out plenty of pizzas yesterday from their showstopping kitchen, the photos of which are on the following pages.