Ten Pizza Styles and Where to Get Them in Denver (or a Little Beyond)

From the recent proliferation of wood ovens turning out pitch-perfect renditions of the street pizzas of Naples, Italy, to odd interlopers from Wisconsin, Georgia and Washington, Colorado's pizza options have exploded in recent years. Purists and transplants may still wave off Denver as a second-rate pizza town, but there's no denying the variety. Neapolitan is the current rising star, but if you look beyond the basic configuration of sauce, cheese and crust, you'll find a wide variety of shapes, textures and flavors compliments of the many newcomers who have put down roots in this once pizza-poor town.

Keep reading for ten pizza styles and where to find good examples of them around the metro area -- and in two mountain locations.

See also: Denver's Ten Best New Bars of 2014

10) Neapolitan

Naples, Italy is arguably the birthplace of the modern pizza. The thin, hand-tossed pie with a light and simple sauce and a modest amount of mozzarella cheese has evolved over the decades, but the hallmarks -- a crust with a good chew from high-protein flour, a blistered edge from a white-hot oven (preferably wood-fired), and a light hand on the toppings to keep the crust from getting soggy -- should all be there. Marco's Coal-Fired Pizza, certified by the Vera Pizza Napolitana, is the closest you'll find without getting on a plane, but newcomer Cart-Driver and DTC favorite Pizza Republica also turn out tasty and traditional wood-fired versions. For those in the eastern suburbs, A-Town Pizza in Aurora fires a mean pizza, with the requisite 00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes and fresh mozzarella.

9) New York Style

It's tough to please former denizens of the city that made pizza what it is in the U.S. Turning out big, floppy slices heavier on the cheese and sauce than the Neapolitan forebear, New York pizzerias have their faithful proponents who won't abide by anything but their favorite. In the heart of Denver, Slice Works and Fat Sully's should satisfy a New Yorker's longings; out in the suburbs, try Virgilio's Pizzeria & Wine Bar or Big Bill's New York Pizza.

8) New Haven Style

New Haven pizza is not very well known outside of Connecticut, but think of it as a crispier, less saucy version of New York style. White sauce is common and clams are a sought-after topping. Black Sky Brewery on Santa Fe Drive is one of the few places in town where you can get the Connecticut specialty; the Clams Casino pie comes topped with nothing but olive oil, garlic, clams and bacon.

Keep reading for more pizza styles and where to get them.

7) Chicago Style

There aren't too many foods that cause more arguments than the Windy City's tomato-smothered, deep-dish pies. Chicago natives swear by their favorite neighborhood joints while many pizza lovers outside of Illinois have been put off by national chains serving mediocre versions of the style. At its best, a Chicago pie sports a thick and buttery -- but never doughy -- crust under a layer of tangy crushed tomatoes with plenty of mozzarella and some good quality sausage. Denver Deep Dish dishes a hearty example of Chicago-style pizza along with a good range of Midwestern and Denver craft beers.

6) Sicilian

Sicilian pizza may be the forgotten style, having risen to the height of its popularity in the 1970s and '80s. But there are still a few places left making the thick, rectangular, bready pies. It makes sense that an Italian bakery with great ciabatta would also make a great slice of deep-dish pizza; Dolce Sicilia captures the best of the style with a fluffy crust with crunchy edges and plenty of toppings.

5) St. Louis Style

If you have a craving for cracker-thin crust and Provel cheese (a white, processed-cheese hybrid), you're out of luck. Arch Pizza, Denver's primary purveyor of the Midwestern specialty, closed all three of its metro-area locations last fall. But hope is not lost: City Pizza & Pasta in Arvada bakes up its own version of the spirit of St. Louis, but purists be warned: the kitchen uses whole-milk mozzarella (gasp!), but you can opt for the oddly plastic-y Provel and you can even choose square-cut slices, just like they do in the Gateway City.

4) Old Forge Style

Never heard of Old Forge pizza? Neither had we, until the Old Forge Pizza Company opened locations in Edwards and Vail. Sure, those are a couple of hours from Denver, but at least you don't have to travel all the way to northeastern Pennsylvania -- where the pizza evolved to feed hungry coal miners -- to experience one of the country's most obscure styles. Baked in rectangular pans, the company describes its crust as "light and crispy... neither thick nor thin." Old Forge pizza also features a cheese blend rather than straight-up mozzarella.

Keep reading for three more pizza styles and where to get them in Denver.

3) Montanara

A montanara pizza -- or pizza fritta -- starts out life as a Neapolitan pizza, only the stretched round of dough gets a bath in a deep fryer before the sauce and toppings are added and the pie is finished in a wood-burning oven. The result is light, puffy and just a little chewy. And the only place you can get it in Denver is the Inverness location of Marco's Coal-Fired Pizza in Englewood.

2) Detroit Style

Denver was set to get its own Detroit-style pizza joint in 2013 when a few Old South Gaylord neighbors put up a fuss, resulting in the Denver Liquor Board rejecting Brown Dog Pizza's application. The location has since become Homegrown Tap & Dough, which doesn't serve the thick, rectangular pie topped with sauce that's the signature pizza of the Motor City. For now, Jet's Pizza -- a chain out of Sterling Heights, Michigan -- in Littleton is the closest bet, since Brown Dog's only location is in Telluride.

1) No Style

Pizza purists and transplants from the country's top pie-making cities get infuriated when a pizza doesn't conform to either their notions of what's right or to any specific regional style. Whether because the crust is just the wrong thickness or consistency, because the toppings fall outside the accepted norm or because Denver cooks seem a little too unfettered in their creativity, style adherents just can't seem to give credit to quality slices that don't conform. Hops & Pie is one such iconoclast. The dough is formulated with India Pale Ale and the crust falls somewhere in between New York and Neapolitan in thickness and chew. Standard toppings are available, but monthly specials fall well outside of tradition; January's "Artisan Pie of the Month" mounds braised pork shoulder, bourbon cranberries, spinach, parsnip puree and brie onto the beer bar's signature crust. Weird? Sure -- but owners Leah Watson and her husband Drew, who heads the kitchen, have earned our trust with odd but delicious combinations since opening on Tennyson Street in 2010.

If you're simply drawn to the bizarre, Ian's Pizza in the Ballpark neighborhood probably has what you're looking for. Specialty pizzas include mac n' cheese, quesadilla, and "Papa the Bandit," a pie topped with BBQ potatoes, bacon, ranch dressing and cheddar cheese.

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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation