According to the Interwebs, it's National Pizza Week (who knew?), which seems like as good a time as any to update our 2011 list of Denver's six best pizzas. Herewith, a citywide guide to the top ten palaces to achieve pizza utopia.
10. Stingray (NOW CLOSED)
Stringray, which opened in Mach of last year in the former Gelman's space, is definitely a contender in Denver's pizza turf wars. The thin crust, spanked with an herb-laden sauce, strewn with just the right amount of cheese that guarantees dribbles of grease down your chin, and topped with high-quality ingredients, including local sausage from Polidori's, is fitting for piehole purists -- and anyone else who's hankering for an understated slice of heaven.
Mark Dym's lovely pizzas, snatched from the smoke-filled, wood-burning ovens inside the open kitchens of his downtown and Vallagio at Inverness pizza emporiums, are gorgeous, restrained and endeavored to match a bedrock Neapolitan experience. The pizzas have ardent admirers -- and militant naysayers -- but we're fans of the soft, spongy crusts that are scorched in all the right places. We love the deep-fried pizza, too, and can't wait to see what else Dym does with his fryer.
From the day it opened, Ernie's Bar & Pizza commanded maddening crowds. The fervor is still doing strong, as is our lust for the pizzas -- well-balanced, New York-style cheese bombs that keep getting better and better as Ernie's continues to ease into the fabric of the Sunnyside neighborhood. The crusts are skinny and chewy with a crisp bottom, the toppings remarkably fresh, the sauce simultaneously sweet and tart. We're particularly enamored with the prosciutto, oven-roasted tomato and arugula pizza, as well as the pie topped with shrimp and capers.
Sicilian-style pizza has steadily fallen by the wayside, shunned by aficionados of its nemesis, the thin-crusted Neapolitan pizza that seems to generate all the accolades. For those of you who sidestep Sicilian pizza because of its heft or breadiness, meet Dolce Sicilia, an Italian bakery in Wheat Ridge that turns out pan pizza, lovely slabs of dough that are neither too thick nor too thin, but the perfect balance of springy puffiness and crisp-edged chew. The slices are served at room temperature, and always include a sheet dotted with artichokes, feta, tomatoes and kalamata olives.
The straight-up, New York-style pizzas at Virgilio's, slippery with a judiciously herby and sweet tomato sauce and topped with housemade mozzarella, are simple pleasures that don't rely on flashy gimmicks or clever Californication approaches to hold your attention. You won't stumble upon chicory or pork belly, fingerling potatoes or porcini dust on the list of pizza toppings. Instead, you'll find classic ingredients that pizza purists hold sacred. We gravitate toward the margherita, a pure expression of cheese, garlic, fresh basil leaves and tomatoes.
5. Brava! Pizza
Pie peddler David Bravdica's wood-fired pizza wagon is a 850-degree powerhouse of smoldering Missouri oak wood that produces thin-crusted, blistered, misshapen pies stained with unadulterated San Marzano fruit and dabbed with orbs of creamy mozzarella. Our favorite is the Marky, a more than satisfactory pie that's crowned with pepperoni from Il Mondo Vecchio, which emerges crisp and curled when it's yanked from the oven.
Jordan Wallace, Pizzeria Locale's high priest of dough, spent nearly four months in Naples honing his craft, and his pizzas, ultra-thin, light platforms of bliss, are mounted with the best ingredients lire (and dollars) can buy. We've chewed our way through most of Wallace's creations, and the mais, smeared with creme fraiche, dotted with fresh corn the color of the golden sun, blotted with lightly applied mozzarella di bufala and sheeted with translucent slices of prosciutto crudo, is our heart's obsession.
The unmistakable scent of char drifts through the window of this mobile kitchen on wheels, which turns out uniformly irregular-shaped pies from a custom-built, infernal, wood-fired oven. What emerges are bubbling, blistered, beautiful pizzas strutting thin, chewy crusts made with Colorado-milled organic flour. From the simple margherita smeared with tomato sauce, draped with a light sprinkling of cheese and fragrant with basil to the Thai chicken pizza, glazed with chile sauce and festooned with cilantro, these pies rise high above the fray.
Osteria Marco is not a pizzeria. It's a shrine to hand-crafted cheeses and salumi, to suckling pig on Sunday nights and panini paved with prosciutto. It also happens to be a restaurant whose repertoire includes some of the most superb pizzas to ever cross our lips. A few bites in, and you're transfixed by the salty, airy chew of the crust and the inspired combinations of toppings: pancetta, Pecorino and a yolk-flowing egg that seeps across the center; goat cheese, Fontina, fig puree and crisp nubbins of prosciutto that shatter like glass; and our favorite, a pizza with housemade sausage, caramelized onions, Fontina and thin rings of racy red Fresno chiles.
Pizza prince Kelly Whitaker makes his dough using a fifty-year-old starter kit from Naples; he sources as many ingredients as he can from local suppliers, farmers and vendors; he pickles his own vegetables, crafts his own mozzarella and ricotta, cures his own pancetta and makes his own sausage, all of which are noble endeavors. But Whitaker really displays his skills when he puts everything together: The slightly misshapen crusts, properly salted and scorched in all the right spots, are surfaced with a remarkably fresh tomato sauce and mouthfuls of inspired meats and vegetables, all of which led to Pizzeria Basta garnering our top pizza pick in Best of Denver 2011.
We know you have more favorites. Tell us what they are in the comments section.
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