Great pizza isn't hard to come by in Denver and its close-in suburbs. So why drive thirty minutes to get a slice at Peel Handcrafted Pizza in tiny Frederick? Not only is the town, just north of the metro area, a quaint getaway for a day trip, but Peel holds up against Denver's best — and it's run by several members of a Frederick family.
"It's something we all really enjoy, and it's something we could all get behind," says Angel Hepp, brand and marketing manager for Peel and wife of Patrick Hepp, whose father, John Hepp, launched the pizzeria as a family operation in February 2016. "We talked about it and it was one of those conversations where we said we had all the pieces, so what if we put together a pizza restaurant?"
John Hepp, the patriarch of the operation, has been an entrepreneur in or near the area for more than 25 years. He owns Peel with his two sons, Jason and Patrick; Angel; his nephew Kevin Hepp; and son-in-law Josh Jacobsen, who is also the executive chef. They each have an active role in the business and live in or close to Frederick.
Peel was born out of Kevin's devotion to pizza and the Hepp family's real estate smarts. It also helped that the location for Peel, right on the western edge of town (where most traffic from Denver arrives), fell into their lap in a serendipitous housing trade. They hadn't planned on opening a pizza joint to start with; the idea just evolved as things started falling into place.
"Kevin, my husband’s cousin, is a pizza aficionado, and every time he and his wife travel, they look for the hot pizza spots," says Angel. "He loves wine, too, and wanted to find a way into the wine business, and thought that pizza was a great pairing."
While wine definitely plays a role on the menu, pizza is truly the star, and Peel offers many renditions. The name Peel comes from the long-handled pizza paddle used to fetch a piping hot pie from a wood-burning oven. Those pies include the Pepperoni Rustica, a house favorite that comes with giant rounds of spicy pepperoni (not the tiny, standard disks) tiled onto the pie, plus a coating of fresh basil and tons of salty Parmesan. What makes the Rustica unusual is that it's free of mozzarella — and the way the meat sears to the crust makes it almost like the ultimate sausage cracker, in the best way possible. On the funky side is the Mela, a pizza loaded with green apples, Point Reyes blue cheese, Tender Belly bacon, aged cheddar and parsley cream sauce. It might sound odd, but the flavors meld into an addictive, savory-sweet mess of cheese, apple and bacon.
Of course, you can get a regular wood-fired pizza and choose whatever toppings suit your mood; the crust is the common thread that makes every combo that much better. Perfecting the dough recipe took Jacobsen six months of tweaking, and the gluten-free crust is sourced from Wild Flour Bakery in Boulder.
"Pizza dough can make or break a pizza, so I tried to look at it as bread that was made for pizza," says Jacobsen, who uses fresh yeast and a poolish (a bread starter that's usually one part flour to one part water) to start the dough. "One of our owners, Kevin, says, 'It’s all about the dough, baby,' and for Peel we find this to be true and a point of pride."
"Our housemade sausage is right up there as well," adds the chef, who mixes his owns spices and uses 100 percent Berkshire pork. "In short, it’s phenomenal, with great texture and a flavor that would be hard to replace. In fact, we tried, but then went back to making it [ourselves] again."
Guests can also order a platter of local cheeses and charcuterie, season-driven salads and an array of desserts such as a seasonal creme brûlée or pie in a jar. There's also a full bar complete with local beers, craft cocktails and Kevin's selection of wines.
Peel Handcrafted Pizza is the kind of restaurant that anyone would want to have in their own town. At just over 12,000 residents, Frederick is lucky to have such a pizza-obsessed family in its midst. Head there for a mini summer vacation and enjoy the farmers' market (Thursdays from 4 to 8 p.m.), visit the Miners Memorial Museum, or walk around Milavec Reservoir. Then head to Peel and settle in at the bar, inside at one of the comfy tables or outside on the deck — and fill up on pizza.
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"Peel came together as a culmination of passions, and it was Frederick that provided the great opportunity to bring those passions together in a community that is rooted in strong values," says Jacobsen. "We feel pizza is a common language almost everyone can speak, and it would provide us the opportunity to be a part of downtown Frederick’s revitalization story."
Peel Handcrafted Pizza is located at 214 Fifth Street in Frederick and is open every day but Tuesday for lunch and dinner. Call 303-484-9702 or visit the restaurant's website for complete details and hours.