Second Helpings

Luciano's Pizza and Wings

Some people (and you know who you are) seem to think that I do not love the food being done at Luciano's Pizza and Wings. Yes, I have compared the pizzas there with the pizzas I remember from "Pizza Thursday" back in high school. Yes, I have stated that the best thing about the wings is the smell of them sizzling inside a to-go container in the passenger seat of my car. Yes, I have said many, many things about Luciano's that might have led someone who didn't grow up in upstate New York to think that I'm not crazy about the place.

But those people are wrong.

Everyone knows that the best pizzas in the world are made in New York City — specifically, in the outer boroughs, at around 11:30 p.m., when the harsh lights of thousands of neighborhood pizza parlors spills out into the street and gives all of Brooklyn and the Bronx that same sense of blighted, sizzling (but delicious) desperation that made The Warriors such a stunning achievement in cinematography. And everyone also knows that the farther west you move from, say, Brighton Beach, the weirder and stranger the pizzas become. It's a direct correlation — perfection declining mile by mile — that means a pizza in Buffalo, while not as good as pizza in Manhattan, is certainly better than pizza in Omaha.

Luciano's lovingly re-creates Buffalo-style pizza: the sauce sweet, the crust slightly thicker than a New York thin and slightly breadier, the toppings all taken from one common menu — a kind of meta La Nova/Bob & John's/Sal's board of fare that's more or less written into the genes of anyone born in Buffalo or anyone who's spent serious time there. Is it the best pizza in the world? Of course not. But it is the best Buffalo pizza you're going to find in Denver. And the reason I love the smell of the wings so much is that the smell of hot chicken-wing grease soaking into cardboard is pretty much the smell of all my time in Buffalo. The wings themselves are good — but if I could, I'd bottle the smell of them and wear it like cologne.

I like Luciano's precisely because it is not a New York-style pizza joint. I like it because it isn't copycatting the best of cuisines, but faithfully reconstituting a one-off that I lived on for years. I like it because it specializes in the tastes (and odors) of my misspent youth. It's doing what all great ethnic restaurants do — offering a changeless and unapologetic version of an elemental cuisine. Even if that cuisine is from Buffalo.

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan