Italian-style pizza booming in Boulder

Christie Sounart | Boulder Weekly

It’s clear that people in Boulder love pizza. Not just any kind of pizza, but authentic Italian pizza. And the city’s restaurant scene has seen an uptick in places that offer it.

Boulder’s newest restaurant that serves Italian-style pizza is Tossa, which opened its doors on Oct. 26 to many waiting customers. Yet there are many other pizzerias blocks away that also have loyal customers, in part because each restaurant has its own unique style of Italian pizza.

Some pizzerias in Boulder want their pizza to be an exact replica of what a customer is likely to find in Italy. Pizzeria Locale sent its head pizza chef to Naples for four months to work in several pizzerias there, says Cristin Napier of Pizzeria Locale. The restaurant uses a dough-proofing box which is set to the temperature and humidity of Naples, and the dough sits in it for a 24-hour period, says Napier.

“The texture is almost identical to what you’d find in Naples,” she says. “We’re just trying to create the exact experience you’d have in Naples. People are really happy about it.”

Pizzeria Locale doesn’t cut its pizzas, to add to the authentic Italian feel. In addition, the rare artisan oven that cooks the pizzas was made in Naples and allows for extremely high heat, which is an important aspect in its “Napoletana”-style pizzas, Napier says.

Pizzeria da Lupo also models its dough off of Naples. Flour is brought directly over from Naples, where the dough is prepared over three days, says Jim Cohen, chef and owner of the restaurant. While his pizzas have several aspects of Naples, Cohen says that his pizzas are not classic Neapolitans because of the temperature that he cooks the pizzas, and the way he prepares his dough.

“I don’t think you can just say, ‘There’s an Italian pizza,’” he says. “They are all different.”

At Pizzeria da Lupo, the mozzarella is made in the restaurant, says Cohen. He also imports his olive oil directly from Italy. He says it is used as both a starter and a finisher when preparing his pizzas. Both Pizzeria da Lupo and Pizzeria Locale use a very simple sauce made from pureed San Marzano tomatoes, which are grown near Naples.

“I just try to buy great ingredients and keep it simple,” Cohen says. “We’ve had a really positive reaction. People seem to love the pizza.”

At Pizzeria Basta, the Neapolitan pizza approach is a little different. The dough is made from the same flour that Italians use in their pizza — called “00 flour” — but Kelly Whitaker, owner and chef of the restaurant, wants to have his own take on the pizzas.

“Basta is a chef-driven restaurant,” he says. “We make a version of pizza that is ours. It’s Naplesinfluenced, but it’s not Naples pizza.”

An important aspect of Pizzeria Basta’s pizzas is the way they are cooked. The restaurant, like most of the other pizzerias, uses a wood-fired oven. Heat is important because it adds a difference in taste, says Whitaker, and he strives to catch the char flavor that is found in many Italian pizzas.

The Italian style is given an American taste at Tossa, says Tom Ryan, founder of both Tossa and Smashburger. The restaurant offers customers traditional pizzas such as cheese and pepperoni, signature Italian pizzas and a build-your-own pizza option.

“Our approach is to have a very modern, differentiated pizza,” Ryan says. “What we are doing is authentic Italian pizzas done in an American way.”

Tossa offers several unique pizzas that go beyond a traditional Margherita pizza. The restaurant offers salad pizzas, for instance.

“We wanted to skew fresh and lighter in general,” Ryan says.

At Proto’s Pizzeria in North Boulder, the pizza has a balanced ingredient base, so everything can be tasted, says Kim Homer, the restaurant’s general manager. And unlike the other pizzerias, Proto’s uses a brick-fired oven to ensure that their thin-crust Neapolitan pizzas are evenly cooked.

“We use high-quality, fresh ingredients,” she says.

“We want it to be like an Italian experience from start to finish.”

With this kind of variety, Boulder customers are bound to find a pizza that will cater to their exact tastes.

And since these restaurants’ pizzas range from $7 to $18, it’s a whole lot cheaper than a flight to Italy.