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Nikki's and BackRoom take two roads to good pizza

click to enlarge GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell

For its Italian roots, pizza as many of us know it is an American creation and a lasting standard. Neapolitan-style pies, cooked in wood-fired ovens with thin crusts, have risen in popularity over the years — see "700 degrees of separation," our review of Bambino's Urban Pizzeria — but the thicker, crispy-chewy crust of American pizza still gets plenty of love. In fact, two new places are selling slices of such cheesy, carb-laden paradise.

On South Circle, Nikki's New York Style Pizza has replaced the former Mr. Nice Guy Private Cannabis Club. Though the reflective one-way coating on the front windows remains, the entry area and magnetic-lock access door have been removed. That opens up the dining area and allows access to the adjacent Yukon Tavern, for those preferring to dine among celebrity-owned guitars and gold records instead of competing flat-screen TVs. If you just can't miss the results of another Maury Povich paternity test, you're free to bring a beer back into Nikki's while you eat.

Either way, owner/chef Adam Varney employs a recipe he developed to taste just like the pizza he enjoyed as an Army man in New York. Don't bother asking how he accounts for New York's particular water conditions — he coded his sauce and dough recipes so even his wife, co-owner and hostess Dawn, doesn't know. Less of a secret: New York dough needs time to ferment to develop its characteristic flavors, so Varney won't roll his out until it rests for three days.

Try the crust under a garlic chicken specialty pie, which sees chicken, tomatoes, Parmesan and red onions meeting a yogurt-thick Alfredo sauce. Finishing three of the four slices from an $8 personal-sized pizza at lunch will completely fill all but the hungriest stomachs. The dough holds a hint of sweetness under a crisp crust, and authentic or not, it's good.

Though the 15-ingredient house red sauce nicely balances a little sweetness with a little acid, it can't hold its own against the salt, smoke and fat on the meat lover's pizza. (For a true carnivore, that might defeat the purpose, anyway.) Fill in the corners with an order of garlic knots, made with the same killer dough, and finish with some tasty cannoli.

click to enlarge GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell

Up Ute Pass, Cascade-based BackRoom Pizza is less of a concept aspired to, and more of a need filled — more on that in a bit. Attached to what had been the historic Red Cloud Inn (see Side Dish, Oct. 14) and nestled in a pine-root-cracked parking lot free of painted lines, this place feels appropriately informal, with a single plastic table as the only on-site dining option. Still, given the view, stick around for your slice if the weather's nice.

Prices are mostly competitive; a 16-inch plain cheese goes for a little over $12, and specialties run around $18. The GF versions cost the same for only 12 inches, but at least they're delectable. Co-owner Eric Power doesn't care for GF crusts, so he brought in GF friends to help him taste-test for the best he could buy. The scrutiny shows, with the cracker-thin and crispy dough serving any and all needs of thin-crust fans. And it fills a clear need; Ute Pass sports only a handful of gluten-free options, and co-owner Joshua Edgar says the Pikes Peak region at large has few vegan options.

Speaking of, Power and Edgar do offer a vegan option, featuring a garden of veggies under Daiya's vegan cheese, with added pineapple and jalapeño by request at no charge. Again, Power brought in a focus group of vegan friends to help pick, and while the taste lands spot-on, the cheese's texture chews a little squishy.

Non-vegans might look to the house-special Dirty Bird, which waxes Californian with a garlicky white sauce under a blend of Wisconsin cheeses, chicken, bacon, onion and spinach. For dessert, $12 nets you a 12-inch fruit pizza in apple, cherry or something seasonal — in this case pumpkin or, my pick, caramel apple. Though the crust carries only icing and glorified pie filling, the apples keep their texture, and the regular crust that BackRoom buys satisfies urges both for crispiness and chewiness. Call ahead; all pies are baked to order.

  • Nikki's and BackRoom take two roads to good pizza

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