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Want Great Argentinian Pizza, Head to Denver

With the largest per-capita level of beef consumption in the world, Argentina is famous for its steakhouses, but its residents, especially in Buenos Aires, also love pizza. While most Argentinean restaurants in the U.S. focus on grilled meats, there are a handful making Argentinean pizza, mostly in ethnic neighborhoods in New York and Miami. But surprisingly, the most visible purveyor of this specialty, the aptly named Buenos Aires Pizzeria, is in downtown Denver’s LoDo, within easy walking distance of major hotels, the popular 16th Street pedestrian mall and Coors Field, where the Rockies play.

All across the U.S., cities are seeing a trend towards revitalization of formerly office or industrial downtowns, but nowhere has this transformation been as drastic as in Denver. In 1995, fewer than 5,000 people lived in a one-and-half-mile radius in downtown, and now there are 60,000, plus Coors Field and many of the city’s newer brewpubs and eateries. This is where Buenos Aires Pizzeria is located, in a storefront in the middle of a modern mid-city block that could just as easily be a Kinkos. Other than the sign on the front there is nothing to convey its status as one of the most unique pizzerias in America. Inside the setting is a little more colorful, with soccer pennants and Argentinean posters on the walls, an open bar/kitchen area in back, and tables covered in green- and white-checked tablecloths, rather than the standard red and white. But it is the menu more than appearance that sets Buenos Aires Pizzeria apart.

Reason to visit:  Fugazza, fugazetta, empanadas, dessert

The food:  While the majority of pizza in this country is derived from the New York-style, in this column I’ve covered some notable exceptions that are very different and instantly recognizable, including Chicago Deep Dish and St. Louis-style. Argentinean-style is another truly unique example. While it is a Spanish-speaking country, Argentina is a nation of immigrants, with more people from Italy than any other place. Today roughly half of the nation’s nearly 40 million residents are of Italian descent, Italian surnames are common, and Italian food widely available and loved. But while most Argentinean-Italian specialties such as gnocchi are similar to those elsewhere, pizza is not.

Recent years have seen an explosion of gourmet brick-oven pizzerias in Buenos Aires, just like everywhere else, but traditional Argentinean pizza, called fugazza, is much different and bears almost no resemblance to the thin crust, tomato-sauce-laden version. Instead, it features a very thick, bready crust topped with roasted onions – a lot of onions. It is hearty and very simple, basically an inch-and-a-half-thick loaf of focaccia under a mound of well-seasoned sliced onions, often with a sprinkling of grated parmigiana cheese. It is served with an assortment of dried, jarred spices on the side and eaten with a knife and fork. It also comes in a variation called fugazetta, which adds cheese, in the form of a thick layer of oozy mozzarella-like cheese under the onions.

Many older pizzerias in Buenos Aires serve both this traditional version and a thinner style, and all serve a variety of empanadas, the nation’s other national foodstuff. In Denver, Buenos Aires Pizzeria walks sort of a middle ground culturally – the crust on its fugazza and fugazetta is not as thick and bready as the typical Argentinean version, and instead of a second, thinner style, it is also used for more Americanized pizzas – think pepperoni, different cheeses, and combinations like Hawaiian and BBQ Chicken. So while I wouldn’t say the fugazza and fugazetta will completely transport you to South America, they are much closer to the ideal than almost anything else you will find in this country, and their sheer uniqueness makes them well worth trying.

Source: USA Today

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