In search of the ultimate calzone
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
I thought I’d tasted the ultimate calzone years ago at a seedy joint in Port Chester, New York, called Raimondo’s that I would never have dreamed of visiting after dark for fear of being whacked in the parking lot. It, the calzome, was as big as a football and contained about two pounds of mozzarella cheese and half a pig worth of sausage. Everything about it, from the taste to the size to the ever-present fear of overhearing two mobsters discussing where they dumped the body, was too perfect for words.
With that as my standard, I’ve long been one of those East Coast snobs who swore up and down that you can’t get good Italian food in Colorado. But with Taster’s, a very popular Snowmass pizza joint, opening a branch in Aspen, I thought it might be time to put aside my biases and see what kind of calzones the valley’s pizzerias had to offer.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. When I first came to Colorado years ago for college most places didn’t even know what a calzone was, and I didn’t feel like things had progressed much from those days. I thought there would only be a few places that made calzones to begin with, and I fully expected to be underwhelmed by the taste and size of the calzones I did find.
Boy, was I ever wrong. I ate a bunch – I dare say many thousands of calories’ worth – of good calzones, and all of them were big, even by Raimondo’s lofty standard. Heck, some of them were flat out huge. Far from being a weakness, as I expected, I learned that calzones are a regional strength. And I learned that if you’re going calzone sampling in the Roaring Fork Valley, bring an appetite, and a friend.
I started my quest in Carbondale, which is not only a burgeoning culinary destination but also home to two of the valley’s better-known Italian institutions, Peppino’s and White House Pizza, as well as relative newcomer Uncle Pizza. I expected big things.
at 524 Main Street in the heart of downtown, gave me a taste, so to speak, of what I had in store. Not only do Peppino’s calzones serve two, making them a bargain at $14.34, they also come in two styles. You can either pick your toppings, or, for the same price, have your calzone “Peppino’s Style,” with meatball, sausage, pepperoni, and mushroom. I wasn’t going to argue with that.
When it came, the calzone was much bigger than I expected. Usually when something claims it serves two, I figure it’s about what I’m looking for, but this sucker was large, food enough for two hungry people, even if one of them is me. It was the beginning, I noticed, of a very positive trend.
It was good, too, with the ricotta and mozzarella well blended and seasoned, and plenty of toppings baked into it. The sauce had just a little bit of kick, and the crusts, where the folded dough had been cinched together, made for great dipping. It was an excellent way to start my search, feeding not just me but a couple of my coworkers, and I found myself thinking that if Peppino’s were any indication, a calzone glutton like myself could be in luck.
Just up Main Street from Peppino’s, at 801 Main, is the next stop on my tour. Always busy and consistently good, White House has been a midvalley favorite for years now based on the strength of their pizza and a good bar scene with deck seating in the summer.
The calzones come in four different styles, including one with chicken and pesto, and at $9.79 each are intended as an entree for one person. In that regard they more than fit the bill. Making liberal use of ricotta and toppings, the White House calzone proved to be food enough for even the biggest appetite. The style I chose, the “Classic,” came with pepperoni, sausage, and mushroom and had plenty of all three. Though I finished it, I could barely move afterward.
Carbondale’s third entrant in the calzone countdown is 924 Highway 133, a small operation with a second location at 1832 Grand Ave. in Glenwood Springs. A relative newcomer to the valley’s pizza scene, the Carbondale Uncle Pizza occupies a nondesript space in the Sopris Shopping Plaza, and I, for one, was unaware of its existence until I happened across it while picking up postcards at the printing store next door.
Uncle Pizza’s location might not be the best, but they make a quality calzone. Like the others, it was large – a full meal for anybody and leftovers for most – and the crust was baked to a deep golden brown and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. Best of all, the $9.25 price tag included four toppings, so I went a little crazy with the meat.
Next up was Glenwood Springs, home to the aforementioned Uncle Pizza, plus Mancinelli’s, and two locations of Russo’s Pizza. I had always been a big fan of at its old location and was pleased to find it thriving in its new location on the Esplanade, at 208 7th Street. There is also a location at 851 Railroad Avenue in Rifle.
I’d had pizza, both regular and Sicilian, at Mancinelli’s, and chicken parmesan, and I eagerly anticipated a calzone, but I must say I was a little taken aback by the price. A calzone built for two, with my choice of toppings, was $18.25. At that price I was determined to get my money’s worth, so again I went a little crazy with the meat.
The calzone was excellent, as good as any I’d had so far, with lots of everything, a wonderful blend of cheeses, and a robust sauce, and it did feed me and a coworker, but at that price I had my doubts that I’d be eating too many of them. Pity.
at 1605 Grand Ave. with another location at the corner of Market Street and Wulfsohn Road in Glenwood Meadows, is a big favorite amongst the kids from Glenwood Springs High School, which is right next door. Russo’s also came in a little on the expensive side with their calzone: $9.95 got me only one topping, with additional toppings a dollar each.
Of all the calzones I tasted, though, Russo’s came the closest to matching the calzones I had when I was a kid. It wasn’t the biggest – a whole one was easy to polish off by myself – but everything about it felt authentic. It was light on the crust, heavy on the ricotta and seasonings, and it more than justified the price tag. A very good calzone.
Downvalley having been attended to, I set my sights on my hometown, Basalt, and the two local pizza places, Redstone Pizza and Timbo’s Pizza. is another place with a bit of an obscure location – below Stubbie’s at 123 Emma Road – that is absolutely worth seeking out.
Redstone offered up by far the cheapest calzone, starting at $6.50 and 45 cents for toppings. The “Meat Head,” with pepperoni, sausage, and meatballs, was just $7.50, so naturally I ordered it. It was not without some reservations, though. I figured anything that cheap couldn’t be good.
Wrong. It was one of the smaller calzones, to be sure, but still a good-sized lunch, and it was flat-out delicious. Great sauce, great cheese, great toppings, a very tasty sauce, and just the right amount of crust. I highly recommend this calzone.
23258 Two Rivers Road, next to 7-11, takes the idea of the multi-person calzone to new heights, offering a two-person version for $16 and a four-person version for $23 (tax included on both), which come with pepperoni, meatballs, sausage, and mushrooms as standard fillings.
Anxious to see what a four-person calzone looked like, I eagerly shelled out my 23 bucks, half-expecting to need a hand truck to get the thing home. It turns out the calzone isn’t quite that big, but it’s still basically enormous, coming in at almost two feet long, with plenty of ricotta and toppings, and closely resembling a big sandwich that you might find feeding a dozen guests at a party. I suppose it could have fed four people, but I think three is probably the right number.
Now it was time to see what Aspen had to offer a calzone enthusiast like myself. For years Aspen had only New York Pizza to feed the hungry masses, but in recent years competition has cropped up in the form of Brunelleschi’s Dome Pizza and, of course, Taster’s, which moved into the spot vacated by the Grill Next Door toward the end of ski season.
321 East Hopkins Ave., offers up signature calzones in two different styles: veggie, with roasted eggplant, mushrooms, spinach, roasted red peppers, and goat cheese, and meat, with pepperoni, sausage, ham, and, unique to Brunelleschi’s, chorizo. The edition of chorizo gave the calzone a very different, very tasty flavor, and it came sliced into strips with a robust sauce on the side, which made eating it a whole lot less sloppy. In all, it was an excellent calzone. The only downside was the price: At $15, Brunelleschi’s was the most expensive single-serving calzone in the valley.
Next was 455 Rio Grande Place, a relative upstart in Aspen pizza circles, but a veritable institution in Snowmass, where it has been a locals’ favorite for years.
Taster’s offers their calzone for $8.99 plus $1.15 per topping, making it among the most expensive single-serving ones in the valley. I found the calzone to be very similar to the one I tried at Uncle Pizza, with a golden brown crust artfully ventilated in three spots, a pleasingly chewy blend of cheeses, and a rich, zesty sauce. It was huge, too, perhaps the largest of all the one-person calzones I tried. I finished it, but it definitely took some effort.
Last, but certainly not least, was my old stand-by, Over the years I’ve had so many slices of pizza from NY Pie that I probably should weigh well over 300 pounds by now. But I’ve only sampled their calzone on a couple of occassions. Why? Well, one look at a New York Pizza calzone explains that: Unless you order one with a gaggle of friends or your extended family, expect to be eating it for weeks.
By far the biggest calzone in Aspen, New York Pizza’s is an exceptional value at a mere $13. It also has the added benefit of being nominally healthy for you, with a heaping helping of spinach stuffed inside with the cheeses and toppings. Normally, the calzone comes brushed with a garlic-pesto spread for enhanced flavor, but on the day I was there they were out of it. No worries. The man behind the counter simply sprinkled it with basil, olive oil, and parmesan cheese at no extra cost.
Friendly service, an unbeatable price, and my veggies for the week, to boot. Plus, half of the calzone is still in my refrigerator waiting to be eaten. What’s not to like?
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