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What makes authentic NY-style pizza? And what about Virgilio's?

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When I said that Big Bill's New York Pizza served the best authentic New York-style pie west of the Hudson River, I had a feeling I'd be hearing from people.

Pizza joints are like football teams: Once you find your favorite (whether through proximity or childhood memories), you're inextricably attached to it and support it through thick and thin.

In Denver, there's no more rabid group of supporters than the fans of Virgilio's Pizzeria Napoletana, 7986 West Alameda Avenue, a Lakewood spot owned by Virgilio Urbano, who came to Denver from Naples via another pizza hot spot: New Haven, Connecticut.

One of Virgilio's strongest supporters is Joey Latkany, who noted that his pizza cred comes from growing up in New York and asked of Big Bill's: "Before I go to this place (which I am already doubtful of), have you eaten at Virgilios?"

That question interested me, because it highlights an ongoing debate: Just what is authentic New York-style pizza?

A lot of the restaurants called out as the "best" pizzerias in New York are Napolitana in style, baking their thin-crust pizzas in brick or wood-fired ovens. Those places usually hand-stretch their mozzarella and make the tomato sauce from San Marzano tomatoes. And several commenters on the Big Bill's review clearly subscribe to the idea that those places make authentic New York pizza, decrying my assessment because Big Bill's doesn't use a stone hearth.

Virgilio's is a Napolitana pizzeria of the East Coast mold, and it's a good one. Incidentally, it's also the place I'd send commenter RL, who asked, "What Denver area wood baked (think John's on Bleeker) pizza do you recommend?"

Virgilio's is not as good as John's, but like John's, it employs a brick oven. It'll scratch the itch for you.

There's a school, though, that would laugh in your face if you suggested that the Napolitana pizzerias serve authentic New York pizza. To those diners, New York-style pizza is thin- crust, with just a little tomato sauce and shredded cheese, foldable and dripping with grease -- and most often served on paper plates. It might come out of a brick oven, but it also might come straight off of a conveyer belt.

That's Big Bill's.

Authenticity is a funny thing to debate with any food, and at the end of the day, I'm inclined to say, "If you think it tastes good, then who cares?"

Still, if you're seeking the New York Napolitana-style pizza, Virgilio's is a good bet. If you're after the type of slice you consumed in a grubby parlor in the Big Apple, possibly when loaded up on too many beers, there's no better bet than Big Bill's.

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