Any way you slice it, there’s pizza
December 18, 2006
Aspen, CO Colorado
It’s an assignment I accept without thinking: Do I want to do a pizza roundup throughout the valley? I mean, locate every pizza ” be it thin-crust, New York-style, deep-dish, gourmet, take-and-bake ” from Aspen to Glenwood Springs, and then render my judgment on my findings? Isn’t that what I do anyway?
Then I get to the reality: Mama mia, there’s a lot of pizza! Never mind that virtually every strip mall has a pizzeria, and there’s a proliferation of Italian restaurants offering gourmet-style pies. I can catch some ‘za at the gas station quickie marts (not recommended), at the bowling alley (Strike’s Pizza, in El Jebowl, where the pies are hand-tossed and surprisingly appetizing), and at the health-food store (at Mountain Naturals, in the Airport Business Center, they use spelt flour, organic veggies and hormone-free cheese). And somehow, sadly, amidst this bounty, three Domino’s outlets manage to survive.
I’d best get eating. (But not at Domino’s.)
My research begins at the new bambino on the block, Crust, at the base of Aspen Highlands, where the ovens started cooking last summer. My pizza escapade coincided with a kids’ birthday party at Crust, and the pies were coming out hot and heavy. Despite the shop’s youth, the thin-crust fare had the balance ” oily on top, crispy on bottom ” that reflects experience.
Sure enough, owner Marty Schwartz is a Brooklyn native who spent his early years at Sbarro’s in New York, and some time serving pizza in a Chicago restaurant. The chef also comes with credentials: Matt Zubrod was chef at Willow Creek, in the Ritz-Carlton, Aspen, and has moved on to Dish. Apart from the thin crust, there is deep-dish (made with a cornmeal base) and a wheat-free version.
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On a downvalley trip, I stopped in at Basalt’s Redstone Pizza, off the roundabout. Everything about the place is modest, from the size to the decor, from the price of the lunch special ($6.50) to the green salad that comes with the lunch special (which also includes a slice with one topping, and bottomless soda). But modest in this case meant perfectly acceptable. The only place Redstone Pizza puffs out its chest is with its salad dressing, which it sells by the bottle.
Lunch at Brunelleschi’s, in downtown Aspen, created a pit in my stomach ” though not because of the food, which was top-notch (and served by an alleged Mensa member), but because after feasting on the lunch deal ” a generous-sized, thin-crust, personal pizza with two toppings, salad and beverage, for $10 ” I feared that Bruno’s might one day go the route of Merlin’s, the not-so-magical pizzeria that occupied the space previously. Don’t let Brunelleschi’s disappear.
My deadline was approaching and, as there were still about a million slabs to be sampled, I took extreme measures: an all-day pizza tour.
Slice one was from Peppino’s, on Main Street in Carbondale. A plain slice was perhaps a little too plain, and I made a mental note to try the special pie that changes from day to day.
I nearly passed on Uncle Pizza, in Carbondale’s Sopris Plaza. For one thing, I had never noticed it before, and all my Carbondale connections said they had never tried it. But my curiosity in discovering a new place was rewarded, when the burly pie-thrower ” a guy who looked as if he was born to feed people ” handed over a hefty, two-topping slice.
Carbondale’s Whitehouse Pizza, where I’d had some fine food some years ago, was on my radar, until I learned that they only do lunch Friday through Sunday. But word on the street is their pizzas are fresh and delicious, with a wide variety of pies from which to choose.
A necessary stop on the tour was Mancinelli’s, the longstanding pizza place in Glenwood Springs. I nearly choked when I saw that the familiar pink-and-green building in West Glenwood had been replaced ” by an eatery of some sort called Chomp’s. I was redirected to downtown Glenwood, where Mancinelli’s moved last year. A slice with fresh garlic, plus an extra dose of mozzarella, went down well.
Stuffed with pizza, the only place that I had room left for was El Jebel’s Atlas Pizza, where I still recall a slice from years ago that stood out from the pack. Alas, they only serve dinner. (Itinerary for next slice tour: Timbo’s in Basalt, Strike’s in El Jebowl, and time it to arrive at Atlas at 4 p.m., when they open the doors.)
Pizza was far from my mind the next day, but I had to confirm my original suspicion ” that my pizza shop of choice, Aspen’s New York Pizza, was a cut above. Even with the memory of a day full of ‘za, the slices whet my appetite. I got a veggie slice, bit in, and thanked the heavens that all those lunch hours over the past 14 years had, indeed, been spent in the right place.
I can go to sleep tonight with my mind at ease: When they tell me it’s time for my last slice, I’m heading up the stairs to N.Y. Pie.