Papa Bear Pizza focuses on the fundamentals 

click to enlarge Papa Bear’s pies run between $15 and $23, sporting plenty of cheese and toppings. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Papa Bear’s pies run between $15 and $23, sporting plenty of cheese and toppings.
If you want to get to know a pizzaiolo, touch his dough.

Nicholas Blake, co-owner of Monument’s Papa Bear Pizza, pries open the top of a Tupperware container and holds it up for my inspection. I draw it to my face and smell a yeasty beeriness — life. To the touch, the puffy wad feels tacky. “There’s so much gluten in there, there’s a lot of bounce-back,” he says, calling it light and fluffy once it warms to room temp. In handling, he likens it to the feel of silk.

The dough has fermented since the day prior. It starts with Eldorado spring water, salt, extra virgin olive oil, a mix of Italian 00 Caputo flour and Hungarian whole wheat flour (to account for altitude and give structure), and Klondike sourdough starter (dating to the late 1800s Alaska gold rush).

Blake — with 20-plus years in the food-and-bev biz, including corporate consulting and ownership of Denver’s (now-defunct) Rockstar Lounge — is a self-described “pizza fanatic.” Starting with stories of growing up and having his palate set around The Broadmoor’s culinary team (on account of his stepfather’s work), then slinging gourmet pizzas for huge gatherings with his fraternity brothers at Ole Miss, Blake takes me on a national tour of pizza methodology to characterize his dough. He talks about East Coast style, Chicago-esque thickness, and a Californian’s attitude toward non-traditional toppings. His resulting pizza shows a crisp bottom and crunchy crust but soft, airy interior, with strong chewiness. It’s unique in the area.

The toppings have something to do with distinguishing Papa Bear, too. Our favorite of several pies sampled is The Pueblo, which sports nothing typical but foundational mozzarella. From there Neufchatel cheese gifts creamy sweetness to round and balance the earthy fire-invocation of roasted poblanos and corn and smoked gouda. What a cool clash of old- and new-world flavors.
Location Details Papa Bear Pizza
243 Washington St.
Monument, CO
418 2070
4 p.m. to 9 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday
Two more white pies pay homage to other areas. The olive oil and roasted garlic Greek pizza incorporates salty feta chunks with the mozzarella, plus briny artichoke hearts and talkative Kalamata olives, leaving spinach to add roughage and red onions a little bite. That’s his business and relationship partner Charlie Snow’s favorite pie, he says, as well as his mother’s.

The Baby Doe starts with the same oil/garlic base but deviates to pay homage to Italian peasant pies, this time mixing provolone into the mozzarella. Then comes sliced garlic and red and gold potato slivers plus bits of bacon and red onion. For garnish: whole rosemary sprigs, Parmigiano-Reggiano crumbles and a truffle oil drizzle. On account of cheesy starchiness seldom going wrong, plus the herbal accent, allium influence and musky truffle hint, it’s a rewarding bite.

As I take a bite of a fellow diner’s Twin Sisters pizza, a more straightforward pepperoni and soppressata affair, meaty (and non-greasy because the meat’s added only for the last minute of the cook-time), Blake produces a large can of not-cheap San Marzano tomatoes, talking up the nuance of his red sauce, for which he’s as beaming-proud as he is of his dough.

I’m then more than clear on the disclaimer notes I’ve read on his website, about being slow-food (only six pies at a time fit in his Baker’s Pride deck oven), solely pizza-focused, offering limited seating (take-out encouraged) and no table service, and sometimes running out of dough before close. What’s prepped fresh daily is it. That’s the type of pizzaiolo Blake is.


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