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Thursday, October 13,2011

Pizza in the backcountry

By Clay Fong

Spun off from its namesake Nederland predecessor, Boulder’s recently opened Backcountry Pizza and Taphouse ably occupies the gap between chain restaurants and artisan pizzerias. It retains much of the unpretentious charm of its mountain parent, which is an endearingly comfortable spot to visit after hitting the slopes at Eldora. To its credit, Backcountry also exudes enough culinary variety to pique the interest of the foodie set — and offering a selection of more than 50 beers probably doesn’t hurt either.

Housed in the old Dolan’s site, it retains much of the sophisticated-yet-casual feel of the former tenant, although Backcountry seems to attract a younger clientele. After all, this pizzeria does have a decent game room, which includes Gorgar, my alltime favorite, demonically inspired pinball machine. The lively energy here was complemented by gracious server Ingrid, who helped out pal Amy and I during a rainy evening dinner.

Unsurprisingly, the menu spotlights build-your-own and specialty pizzas ranging from the all-encompassing Meat Grinder to the Vegan Love. There’s also a gluten-free crust option, and lunch specials that feature a slice or two. The starters menu epitomizes bar food central, with housemade potato chips, fried calamari and chicken wings. Sandwiches range from burgers to eggplant parms, and there are full-tilt entrees, including meatloaf, fish and chips, and veggie pasta.

Amy and I started with two starters from the soup and salad section. Since the evening was chilly, a $3 cup of Arrogant Bastard ale, cheddar and onion soup sounded appealing. I’ve had some bad luck with cheese soup in the past (note to travelers, avoid the one at the Fargo airport), but this one had a lighter texture and flavor than I expected. Which was all to the good, because the flavors of beer, cheese and onion were all able to subtly shine through, making for a more nuanced starter that was still quite hearty.

Next up was the $8 grilled Caesar salad, which provided more than enough for us to share. This differed from traditional presentations through the addition of tomato and olives, as well as grilled romaine. Frankly, the cooking transformed this classic for the better, as it resulted in the lettuce having a deeply satisfying flavor profile, with an appealing whiff of smoke.

For entrees, each of us opted for pizza.

Amy’s pie was a base $9 version augmented with toppings of $2 fried eggplant and $1 banana peppers. Mine was a $15, 12-inch specialty pizza, The Works, loaded with mushrooms, sausage, ground beef, banana peppers, black olives and feta. Amy said, “I’ll tell you one thing, they’re not stingy with the toppings. It’s not soggy, either.” Her voice raised two octaves as she proceeded to tell me another thing about the edge of the crust: “I’m in love with the braided end.”

We were particularly enthused about the fried eggplant’s crunch, although the sauce engendered less excitement. Compared to the quality of the other toppings, it seemed a little generic, although still superior to chain offerings.

This was more of a minor quibble than a complaint, especially given the well-thought out toppings combination on the Works pizza.

Given the quality of the meal, I’ll happily return to the Backcountry, especially if I was looking for an unfussy experience reminiscent of traditional pizza joints.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

Backcountry Pizza and Tap House 2319 Arapahoe Ave. Boulder 303-449-4285
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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