Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What's Good: Marco's Coal Fired Pizzeria

There are pizza joints, and there are pizza joints. Marco's Coal Fired Pizzeria is the latter, and there are a variety of reasons that make it the best pizza joint in Denver.

Pizza is a pretty simple food, really. Some baked bread with a variety of veggies, meats and cheeses. Marco's serves two styles: New York Pies and Neopolitan - in fact, they're one of only 40 restaurants in the U.S. certified as an authentic Neapolitan restaurant by the Verace Pizza Napoletana. That's a lot of big words, but basically it means their pizzas are pretty basic (mostly tomato and mozzarella-based), fresh and generally amazing. They're cooked in a traditional coal-fired oven at a crazy high temperature – which translates to getting your food quicker and having a good mix of soft and crunchy crust (drool). I’m no foodie, so I won’t try to describe the ins and outs of Marco’s ingredients or cooking methods, but try the Sicilla if you’re into meat, or the Abruzzo if you’re a veg (or even if you’re not…the Abruzzo is on the top of my list regardless).

If you can, try not to fill up completely on pizza and sample some of the other greatness on the menu like the limoncello chicken wings or even the house salad (spring mix, mozzarella, grape tomatoes & balsamic). And do not, I repeat, do not leave without ordering a Nutella pizza for desert…I just started sweating while thinking about it. There’s a reason Marco’s was the top reader’s choice for pizza in this year’s 5280 Top of the Town.

Some other randomness that makes Marco’s great:

  • The ballpark neighborhood location. It’s a great mix of LoDo, pawn shops, funky people, tattoos, local businesses and Rockies games. ‘Nuff said.
  • Shiner Bock on tap. The pride and joy of Shiner, TX. These guys deserve their own post.
  • The back patio. Which will remove you from the pawn shop clientele via 7-foot brick walls and patio lights for some ambiance. They even have heaters available for those chilly spring/fall Denver nights. Sit back with a Shiner and enjoy a Downtown Denver evening.
  • The wine list. It’s not the top list in Denver, but its good wine to go with good food. Who can argue with that combo? Go with the Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.
  • The lunch special. A personal margherita pizza, house salad and a fountain drink for 9 bucks. Boom goes the dynamite.
  • The wait staff. Friendly, helpful people who remember your name if you stop in a couple of times. Specifically, say hi to Marcel Alaniz (Sol) behind the bar and make friends with him…now. Find out why he was a 5280’s Reader’s Choice for Best Bartender in Denver.

I think I’ve painted the picture here, and I didn’t even mention the antipasto plate with reduced balsamic, Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma; or the gluten-free options. Good God…who wants pizza tonight?

Friday, July 22, 2011

1000 Words: Union Station, St. Louis

I wish train travel in the U.S. was as elegant as the Grand Hall in St. Louis' Union Station. Happy Weekend, and safe travels, wherever everyone is headed for some weekend fun.

St. Louis Union Station, Grand Hall

Monday, July 18, 2011

1000 Words: The Beauty That's Around You

I was thinking about "the point" of my blog this morning and it occurred to me that most of what I publish here has to do with enjoying what you already have, or what currently exists around you. Its okay to want more and strive to be more successful, but don't forget to appreciate the beauty that already exists around you. Its most likely free, and they are probably the things you'll remember most when you're gone.

"Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it."
- Dalai Lama XIV

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Do Something: Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey Tour

It was about two years ago that I discovered Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey. I wasn't a very big whiskey fan before taking my first sip of George's namesake, but my liquor cart never goes without it these days. I'm not saying that Stranahan's is the best whiskey out there (my vote actually goes to Templeton Rye), but its the distillery tour, combined with its smokey flavor that won me over.

I've toured a number of breweries, from our neighbors in Golden to the scrappy startups in Ft. Collins, and I'll always be a fan of brew tours, but the good folks at Stranahan's do a great job of combining a solid story with an interesting 'still process and a whole lot of pride in their product. You'll get to hear about how the process starts from the bi-product of a local brewery, how the 'stills actually work, what types of barrels are used and how long each batch has to sit before its ready to be sipped. Oh, and then you get to sample some of the deliciousness to finish the tour before you exit into the Rackhouse Pub for some lobster mac 'n cheese, or something similarly fantastic off their menu.

The whole experience is part educational, part supporting a local business, part "I wish I worked here," a touch of "Oh, so that's what Uncle Jesse was always up to out in the Back 40," and it finishes with a sample of some of the best whiskey out there. And if you time it right, you might have the chance to buy a bottle from one of their quarterly Snowflake batches *drool*. Its clear they put a lot of effort into their craft - hand labeled bottles, extra steps in the distilling process...they've become so popular that the labels are actually put on by volunteer enthusiasts - it makes even the non-whiskey drinker appreciate how its created.

I don't know much about making booze, but if you are looking for a fairly quick, interesting and fun activity on a weekend afternoon with a group of friends, make a stop at Stranahan's (book your tour ahead of time...they tend to fill up early and often) and then grab a bite at the Rackhouse as you figure out which one of your friends has enough room for a 'sill in his basement.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Endorsement: Ft. Collins, CO

It's a fact, there's a lot to do in Colorado. Camping, hiking, fishing, skiing, biking, eating, drinking,'s one of the only places I know of that has prairie, mountains, urban areas and desert all in one place. The problem is there are so many things to do, so many places to see that I tend to forget about a few tried and true areas that never disappoint - like Ft. Collins.

Sixty-six miles north of Denver and tucked between I-25 and the Roosevelt National Forrest, Ft. Collins is a highly underrated city for a number of reasons - but let's talk about what makes it great.

Its a college town. And with that comes young people, smart people, active people, entrepreneurial-minded people, attractive people and people who want to be with those aforementioned people. It creates lively sections of town - like Old Town and University Park - and it gives people something to universally root for (Colorado State) and something to universally root against (The Buffs).

People bicycle everywhere. And its not just bikes, people are generally active in Ft. Collins, but they literally bike EVERYWHERE. There are a lot of places in Colorado known for their active lifestyle and environmentally-minded nature...Ft. Collins is both and doesn't brag about it. Towns in Italy are really the only thing I can draw a comparison to (from my somewhat limited experience) when it comes to the number of people using pedals to get from point A to point B. Very cool.

Beer. Denver has a lot of microbrews, true. But Ft. Collins has a lot of really, really good and fun-to-tour breweries. Odell, Ft. Collins Brewing Company, Funkwerks, CooperSmith's and, of course, New Belgium Brewing. The great part is that you can tour all of these via a cruiser bike in one afternoon. Be prepared to meet some genuinely nice, somewhat hipster-ish (in a good way) and definitely knowledgeable taproom workers whose job is most likely cooler than yours. Grab a taste test or two, a growler and some won't be disappointed.

Cache la Poudre Valley (and Mishawaka). Denver has I-70 and the gateway to Summit County, Vail, Frisco, etc. But if you want a really true, non-resort mountain experience, head west from Ft. Collins on Highway 14 and follow the Cache la Poudre River. The scenery is amazing, you can find a drive-in camp site fairly easily, there's very little traffic and the river is great for fishing, paddling or just falling asleep to the sound of in a tent. If you're into big resorts, spas, furry boots and hot tubs, it probably won't be for you. And that's a good thing. Oh, and I really need to give Mishawaka its own post because there's just so much good about it...but I'll just say that its a bar/amphitheater a few miles from Ft. Collins, on the river, that is a one-of-a-kind experience. Plan a trip around a concert...its the type of place that makes you appreciate life.

I could go on, but let me just offer up my perfect 48 hours in the Ft. Collins area:

Friday night - Drive to campsite along the Cache la Poudre River, set up camp, grill your dinner, start a fire and open a few beers/wine/Strannahan's with friends, fall asleep to the sound of the river flowing outside of your tent.

Saturday - Eggs, bacon and coffee over the camp stove; wake up a little by grabbing a quick hike or just read a little; venture into Ft. Collins with your bikes; tour 2-5 breweries; make some friends; grab a bite to eat in Old Towne Ft. Collins. Make your way back up Highway 14 to Mishawaka, tailgate a little before the concert, enjoy some live music in the mountains and along the river. Drive back to campsite, start a fire, discuss who brews the best beer in Ft. Collins with friends. Fall asleep to the sound of a river flowing by.

Sunday - Eggs, chorizo, peppers and onion scramble over the camp stove, with coffee; relive Mishawaka concert memories with friends; fish or hike for a few hours; pack up camp and head home.