Down and Out in Denver

Pizza, Pizza, Pizza

Posted in denver, food, travel by Blake on February 1, 2010

Spinach Slice at Gioia in Berkeley

So while I’m back from my trip to the Bay Area to hang out with my Gentleman Friend, Alastair remains AWOL in NYC, expected back who knows when…  In the meantime I give you this meditation on my culinary experiences on the West Coat.

Food is one of the things that I will not disparage about Denver.  I am not a foodie but Alastair and I like to eat out and we do so with some frequency, as the pages of DOD demonstrate.  It is often great eats here in D-Town (for more on this, see also our sister bloggers over at The Denver Omelette).  That said, I am not without my complaints and probably number one on my list is pizza.  I have not been able to find a good pizza in Denver.  I don’t like the chain options, never have, even though the Gentleman Friend swears by Papa John’s.  If I had to go with chain, I would favor Colorado’s own Black Jack.   Chain pizza just tends to be smaller, have a puffier crust than I like, a sweeter sauce, and while I like my toppings (meat, particularly) as much as the next person, chain pizza tends to overload it so much that it’s difficult to find the cheese, and what is pizza if not a vehicle for melted cheese?

So, Denver options: Abo’s and Pasquini’s are OK but I haven’t been thrilled with either.  Pasquini’s seems overpriced and as puffy-crusted as the chain options.  I was going with Abo’s until I stumbled upon Benny Blanco’s and that’s now what I order when I have a yen for pizza.  I don’t think it’s perfect – it’s too thin for me, almost cracker-like at times – but this means it’s definitely not too bready, and that’s a good thing.  Toppings are good and the sauce is tasty, though they could be more generous with cheese (I dated a guy once who ordered BB’s but with extra cheese and always asked to have the extra cheese sprinkled over the toppings; oh the compromises we make…).

But, as I said, I don’t love any of them.  I am generally of the opinion that the best pizza (at least in this country) is in New York: thin but not too thin; sauce not too sweet; generous with cheese to the point of being slightly greasy; tasty toppings; big slices.  But this past weekend I was in the Bay Area and spent the afternoon with a friend of mine from school, Jason, a full-fledged heterosexualist who knows his food.  He likes pizza as much as I do and as he lives in the ‘hood we decided to check out a couple places for lunch, both in the East Bay.  We began with Rotten City Pizza in Emeryville (named for future chief justice Earl Warren’s 1927 declaration that Emeryville was the “rottenest city on the Pacific Coast”).  We both had a slice with some sort of sausage with olives.  Verdict: good but not great.   Definitely thin but not very substantial.  Maybe it was just small?  Unclear.  We were underwhelmed.

Then we went to Gioia in Berkeley.  I’ve been here with Jason before and was impressed the first time.  Nothing has changed.  This is seriously good pizza.  I had a slice of pepperoni and one of their special that day: Calabrian sausage, greens, capers, and some kind of hot pepper.  The second one was strange and sort of unexpected but quite tasty.  And the pepperoni slice was pretty much as good as it gets: a little greasy (meaning plenty cheesy), and thickly sliced pepperoni so you really taste it.  Thin crust but not cracker-like; it sags a little when you pick it up the first time.  Jason also had the pepperoni and then waited about five minutes for a piping hot spinach pizza to emerge from the oven.  Well worth the wait; I tried that, too.  Same great cheese and sauce with baby spinach and hints of garlic.  This is the one pictured above (with Jason’s first bite removed; he was eager).   The owner is friendly and it is clear that this place has fans.  There are only a few stools inside so people are taking the slices (or whole pies) to go and eating as they walk.  After finishing our first slice standing Jason and I snagged the sole bench out front to enjoy our second slice (third of the day).

Gioia claims to be the “Best Pizza West of the Jersey Turnpike” and I might just have to agree. This is pizza that magically manages to be a little bit fancy without compromising all that makes pizza as wonderful as it is.  If Denverites out there would like to recommend something that needs to be tried, however, I am all ears.   I would much rather eat good pizza than sit in judgment.


12 Responses

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  1. pepperlowell2442 said, on February 2, 2010 at 8:22 am

    try fat sully’s pizza-it’s located in the atomic cowboy! it’s a favorite of the omelette!

    • Blake said, on February 2, 2010 at 9:06 am

      Thanks for the suggestion! I will it the very next time I’m in a pizza mood…

  2. squadratomagico said, on February 2, 2010 at 8:32 am

    That is, indeed, a very nice looking slice of pizza.

  3. megan said, on February 2, 2010 at 10:14 am

    hi blake,

    i don’t know you, but you and alastair were so kind to post my blog link. thank you. the 3 of us must hit up protos on platte. SO GOOD (all thin crust) my favorite is the pontiff: thin crust italian style with sundried tomatoes and feta. mmmm.


    • Blake said, on February 2, 2010 at 10:23 am

      So true, Megan. I have no idea who you are, which is strange considering we must have been at Design After Dark together. Alastair and I would love to try this thin crust pizza of which you speak!


  4. Alastair said, on February 2, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    I’ve actually tried Proto’s and must admit… it’s a Denver gem:

  5. Mama Monroe said, on February 3, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    Hey guys – just a quick note – The DO has had a change of plans and we are sadly unavailable this Friday!

    Please don’t be mad at us. We promise to reschedule soon! We can’t wait to meet up and whack the donkey with painted ladies… or something 😉

    • Blake said, on February 3, 2010 at 2:52 pm

      Oh, Mama, but you do disappoint.

      Let us know when you figure out another time that will work for you….

  6. […] Posted in bars, food, movies by Blake on March 1, 2010 Readers of DOD may remember my post of a number of weeks ago in which I lamented my inability to find good pizza here in the Mile High City.  Some of you wrote […]

  7. […] GF and I went to Marzano on College Street in Oakland with my friends Jason and Erin. Readers may recall that it was Jason who introduced me to the delights of Gioia, “the best pizza west of the […]

  8. […] best virtual gal pals, Mama Monroe (over at the Denver Omelette) responded some time ago to my woes about not being able to find decent pizza here in D-Town.  One of her recommendations was Fat […]

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