On Saturday morning I awoke with a deep sense of satisfaction and appreciation. "The Big Reveal" had gone about as perfectly as possible, albeit with a few mini-dramas such as "Will the dough show up in time?" or "Will I be arrested for taking my glass of Birra Basta outside the Beer Garden and onto the sidewalk?" Of course, as I mentioned in my previous posting, everything just fell into place due to the diligent oversight provided by our producer, Brad English, and our terrific film crew, led by David Wilson, our Director of Photography and, of course, the folks at The Bruery and at Pizzeria Basta. As much beer as I'd consumed the night before, it really wasn't all that much, spread out over five hours; no hangovers, or "The Hangover" moments, to worry about (how did I get that tattoo or that signed photo of Mike Tyson--none of that). The pizza, from dough to topping, had been pitch perfect. It was a night to savor. So, what to do for an encore on Saturday?
My hosts, long time friends from my days in San Francisco, Fr. David and Elaine Lowell, who now pastor an Eastern Orthodox church in Denver, suggested we take a drive down to Colorado Springs, and so we did, to walk through The Garden of the Gods, a majestic park full of hiking trails, vertical rock climbs, and spectacular red sandstone boulders, including one of the most famous rocks in the country: "The Balanced Rock," which, true to its name, balances magically on a small base made of what looks like mud. Hey, I just realized that Colorado actually means "red," so I guess it all makes sense now.
The park, which did literally take my breath away (how much of that was the altitude and how much the beauty is hard to say), has an interesting history. Here's something I got off the www.destination360.com website about it:
…Many people automatically assume that the Native Americans named the Garden of the Gods. However, in this case, they are mistaken. In August of 1859, two surveyors started out from Denver City to begin a town site, which would soon be called Colorado City. As they explored the nearby locations, they came upon an intriguing area of sandstone formations. One of the men suggested that it would be a "capital place for a beer garden" when the country grew up. His companion exclaimed, "Beer Garden! Why it is a fit place for the Gods to assemble. We will call it the Garden of the Gods". The rest, as they say, is history…
Aha--a beer garden! So it all comes full circle. But, really, the second surveyor got it right, it is a place fit for the Gods, and a place where, in my opinion, one can really sense the divine expressing Itself through nature. Beer garden indeed, though the irony was not considering all the adventures of the previous day! Check out the incredibleness by going to Google images and typing in Garden of the God (yes, I neglected to bring my camera- mea culpa!).
So, after a meditative walk, watching some pretty skilled technical climbers hanging on and in the crevices of the tall formations at various heights and angles, we decided to drive into town, Old Colorado Springs, for lunch at one of my favorite places, Pizzeria Rustica, where David Brackett has created a homage to his favorite Italian flavors discovered during his years as an Air Force fighter pilot. As with many of the artisan pizzerias we've covered here on Pizza Quest, Dave's dough formula is a proprietary blend of both soft Italian flour and North American high protein flour. He explained to us, as we enjoyed our salsicca and salumi pizzas (both made with carefully sourced meats), that he believes the altitude in his area necessitates the use of stronger protein flour to achieve the puff he desires. I can't say I totally understand the science behind that, as we did have some nicely puffed pizzas made with 100% Caputo Double Zero flour the day before at Marco's, but, really, for me that's not the point. What is the point, and I've experienced this at all the great places we've visited, so that it has almost become the defining quality of artisan pizzerias, is the joy the owners and pizzaiolos (and 'ola's) take in the choices they make. The sourcing is, for folks like Dave who don't actually make the pizzas (or Nancy Silverton and Craig Stoll, for example, who we've featured here before), where so much of the passion and artistry resides. Yes, it all gets completed by the pizzaiolo, but it all begins well before that dough with toppings ever hits the heat. When I first met Dave four years ago, shortly after he opened Pizzeria Rustica, he had that same glint in his eye when he talked about the selection process, the producers he is relationship with, the reason why this olive or that cured ham is better than another brand -- it's the same fire in the belly we've been tracking all across the country. Well, don't get me started on all this but I will say that, before we left town, Dave walked us over to his latest restaurant, half a block away, called Tapateria, a Spanish tapas cafe filled to the brim with amazing meats, cheeses, olives, and seafood, all beautifully presented in small plate delights. Tapas restaurants are no longer the new trend, we see them popping up everywhere but, like pizza, there is tapas and there is tapas. As long as that gleeful light keeps glinting in Dave's eyes when he describes his choice of ingredients to those who come by, I'll be confident that his tapas, like his pizza, will be worth the trip. (Check them both out at www.pizzeria rustica.com and www.tapateria.com )
Let me wrap up this week's Blog entry, as well as my trip to Denver, with a final adventure I had on Saturday night with our friend (and Friday dough driver and savior), Joseph Pergolizzi. First, there were some desperate push-ups and sit-ups to try to work off the massive lunch we had Rustica, and some evening vespers prayers at Fr. David's parish, where I prayed for enough energy to get me through one more meal before I had to hop on an early plane the following morning. We met at 8:30, way beyond my usual dinner hour but I was buying time to empty out a bit, at the Vine St. Pub, in an area of Denver called Uptown (very different from Downtown, I would say). This brew pub is owned and operated by the Mountain Sun Brewery, also known as The Southern Sun Brewery -- I haven't figured it all out yet but after a few flights of their unique and creative beers, such as the Belgian Dip Chocolate Stout and their Quinn's Golden Ale and their Raspberry Wheat, I didn't really care what they called themselves as long as they kept doing what they're doing. Joseph and I split a big order of their famous spicy chicken wings and huge nachos plate loaded with chicken and cheese, and we talked for hours about a lot of things, including the growth of his mobile oven business, The Fire Within, and some of his new designs for other types of mobile food businesses. We talked about creating a line of Pizza Quest food products, new book ideas, the unlimited number of ways to use beer malt to create an infinite number of different kinds of pizza doughs, and about how to find balance in ones life between doing good things for the world and staying healthy -- not always an easy tightrope to walk. In other words, as we downed our Mountain Sun Brewery Illusion Dweller IPA, to wash down the last burning vestiges of those wonderful crispy wings, we did beer talk and dreamed big dreams. How much we'll actually do, how much we'll actually remember, who knows. But as one of the Vine St. Pub managers gave us a tour of the new brewery they are almost finished building behind the pub, having outgrown their Boulder location, we saw big dreams manifesting in front of us and were very impressed, and it made us less afraid to dream our own dreams. There is nothing more intoxicating than being in the presence of a big dream about to enter the world of manifestation. (Check them out at www.mountainsunpub.com)
The next day, Sunday, as I flew home, I thought about those dreams and realized how Pizza Quest, and the people we meet because of Pizza Quest like David Brackett and Joseph Pergolizzi, the folks at The Bruery and Mountain Sun Brewery, Kelly and Al at Pizzeria Basta, and even our own production team -- we're all dreaming dreams, big and small, and they're all gradually coming into focus, into manifestation. It was, for me, a new understanding of what a Rocky Mountain high really is.