By R. L. Steen
If there’s one thing that plagues the restaurant industry more than any other, it’s lack of creative efficiency. Oh, sure, you can grace your ceilings with sparkling chandeliers and fill your dining rooms with microfiber-lined lounge chairs, but when it comes to the food, process and vision are key.
Julia Child once said, “I never go to restaurants in America. It takes an hour or more to get the food and then, it’s not what I expected at all.” Sad to say, America’s Culinary Dame got it right: restaurants just don’t know how to deliver.
25Except for one I stumbled across purely by accident a few weeks ago. Nestled in the Highlands (aren’t all new restaurants in the Highlands?), it was neither pretentious nor keenly aware of its own chic. Rather, it was tucked in an alley next to CorePower Yoga. And the name? Nothing to gush about, but to the point and concise: Pizza Prime.
I don’t need to tell you that there are dozens of pizza stops in and around Denver. We all have our favorites, and those we jump to on drunken nights when lifting a hand to cook is not only undesirable, it’s dangerous. But this one is unique. The interior is designed like an abandoned subway station, if you can believe it — a refreshing and casual take on New York-style pizzerias. Most of the furniture was gathered from garage sales, while bits of paper and and knobby chewing gum made the scene all the more authentic. It was the Big Apple summed up in a dilapidated dining room, and though the chaos of decoration and debris might give one a start, it grows on you quickly.
But enough about the ambience — on to the food. Pizza Prime is one pie mecca that does the classic New York style right, all while honing in on a brilliantly efficient system. The owner, Bradley Warner, is a transplant from Connecticut and wanted to invest in his own restaurant after an unsuccessful career in real estate.
“One of my favorite things as a kid was making the trek down to New York in the summers, and sitting with the family in a back alley pizza joint for a slice or two of day-old pie.”
That kind of experience is hard to duplicate, but Warner has succeeded. His secret? Well, there’s not much room for a proper kitchen at Pizza Prime, so Warner built relationships with existing pizza places in and around the city where he sources leftover slices of pizza. Twice a day, he makes the rounds in his 10-year-old Chevy and hauls all the leftover pizza he can back to the restaurant. There, he slides the half-eaten pies out onto a cutting board and fires the top with a crème brûlée torch until they’re crispy and bubbly — resurrections of their former selves.
You might find this hard to believe, but the pizza here is amazing: glistening, cheesy tops mixed together with wilted greens and curly pepperoni. And the crust—the show-stopping feature on any pie? Crisp on the outside, chewy on inside. Perfecto.
Fortunately for Warner and unfortunately for us, the demand for Pizza Prime has grown so rapidly that he hasn’t been able to find enough leftover pizza to meet demand. So, he’s recently entered into a casual partnership with the breakfast stop next door to use their ovens for boxes of DiGiornio’s — just in case the day-old slices stop coming.
In a city mired with mediocre, thoughtless pizza, Pizza Prime is a refreshing take on a New York classic — foldable, malleable slices, ooey-gooey with cheese and dripping with toppings.
Recently, a customer asked Warner when he was going to be getting gluten-free pizza. Warner shrugged with a sly grin. “Show me a place that’s making it, and I’ll add it to my rounds,” he said.
I’d say that kind of commitment deserves our appetites.
R.L. Steen is Out Front’s most prolific food fiction writer, producing a new food column nearly every two weeks. Pizza Prime is not a real place.