Food Matters: Pizza Quest
When Pondering Pizza in Aspen, it’s easy to narrow focus. Stretched in the style of Big Apple slices, New York Pizza is undisputed king since 1993. A chain called Domino’s still exists, but the only other independently owned pizzeria that delivers outside of the downtown core has evaporated from the scene since Rio Grande Place construction began. (“Thank you for calling Taster’s Pizza in Aspen. We are now closed,” an ominous voice recording informs callers.)
Pizza is a main menu item at a few long-standing Italian establishments with wood-burning ovens, such as Brunelleschi’s, Mezzaluna and Acquolina, but thin-crust, circular flatbreads make up a very specific subcategory that some might argue doesn’t fulfill a classic craving.
Outside of Aspen, however, options abound. Born in 1983, Peppino’s in Carbondale is a classic pizza joint slingin’ slices and subs, and the de facto after-school hangout on Main Street. While a second outpost of New York Pizza is tucked into the El Jebel City Market shopping plaza, Peppino’s ran another location in the Van Rand shopping center on Grand Avenue in Glenwood Springs (by Taipei Tokyo) until it was purchased by now-26-year-old Timbo’s in Basalt, which renamed it ZA Pizza.
Perennial “best restaurant” winner White House Pizza in Carbondale has a newly renovated wraparound porch, “beer-geek” draft list and 20 hearty specialty pies plus a full menu of sharable apps, sandwiches, salads, soups and pasta. No surprise, then, that it’s a family magnet and favorite for catered events.
In Glenwood, honors goes to Rocky Mountain Pizza Company, established in November 2015. A homespun hippie vibe (no televisions!) pairs perfectly with perhaps the most savory, crispy-chewy crust anywhere in the valley. The shop strives to use non-GMO ingredients, sourcing Wheat Montana flour and herbs from Osage Gardens. (“The Goddess” topped with ample veggies and greenery, two cheeses, sundried tomatoes, basil and a reduced-balsamic drizzle is my go-to slice — a $9 lunch deal with a generous side salad and soda.)
What’s in the water around here? Is high altitude a factor? Three more pizza destinations farther afield might confirm answers to these questions, and they’re well worth a jaunt outside of the Aspen bubble.
Opened just about three months ago by the guys behind Slow Groovin’ BBQ in Marble, Propaganda Pie in Redstone has already earned rave reviews for its Detroit-style deep-dish. So named because the heavy duty, blue-steel pans were originally used by Motor City factory workers, Detroit-style pizza recalls the fluffy, focaccia-like Sicilian style. The key difference: an insanely crispy crust thanks to an exterior layer of garlic butter and cheese that caramelizes in the pan.
The square pies — personal size with four substantial slices, or large with eight portions — hold toppings that balance airy dough: pepperoni and ricotta with a shower of arugula and Parmesan shavings; chicken, peppers, cheddar, and chipotle pesto; or smoked brisket burnt ends from Slow Groovin’ just 12 miles up the road. While the brother barbecue joint in Marble shuts down for winter after its annual Halloween bash, Propaganda Pie with vintage war posters, arcade games, and ample seating (in the hamlet’s former Crystal Club Café, a hub for more than two decades) resists hibernation.
Open daily 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., 467 Redstone Blvd., Redstone, 970-963-9515, facebook.com/propagandapie
HIGH MOUNTAIN PIES
At 16 years old, High Mountain Pies on Fourth Street in Leadville has the savory distinction of being the longest-standing pizzeria at Colorado’s highest elevation (10,151 feet above sea level). One bite of bubbly, crispy, tender crust with creative toppings makes it obvious why they’re the only player in town. Choose from at least 30 veggie options including adventurous offerings such as roasted grapes or nut-free basil-pepita pesto, plus proteins from standard pepperoni to homemade sausage or roasted chicken — even smoked trout.
Local favorites like the “Crocodile” (barbecue-sauce base, bacon, jalapeños, cream cheese, shrimp) and the “San Luis” (braised pork, ranchero sauce, green chile, manchego, avocado, cilantro) hark to in-house pitmaster leanings: High Mountain Pies also serves a full- or half-rack St. Louis-style pork ribs with cornbread and salad.
While an outdoor patio in summer boasts more than a half-dozen picnic tables, Leadville is already in winter mode. Hope to score one of 10 seats among three tables or four counter spots inside the cozy, wood-ceilinged space.
Open daily 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., 115 West Fourth St., Leadville, 719-486-5555, highmountainpies.com
What kind of establishment opens on Christmas Eve? A place like Hogback Pizza in New Castle, which has marched to the beat of its own drummer since 1998. A stone’s throw from the main drag, the town’s longest-running restaurant serves two styles of pizza, but signature deep-dish is a main draw. Served on a wooden pizza peel with a triangular offset spatula, Hogback’s deep-dish monster looks like an actual pie. Toppings (choose from more than 20) are buried beneath layers of rich red sauce and molten cheese, then sizzled in the kitchen’s stone ovens until bubbling. Wash it down with one of many Colorado craft beers on tap, then gather napkins: there’s pinball to play.
Open Mon-Sat 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; 457 W. Main St., New Castle, 970-984-3435, facebook.com/hogbackpizza
Amanda Rae dreams of pizza. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org