by Larry Olmsted
The scene: In recent weeks, natural disasters have devastated parts of Colorado, and in addition to the loss of life and property, there has been a severe drop in much-needed tourism. But many parts of the state remain unscathed, and Colorado is renowned for its natural and historic wonders. One of the best spots is the Southwestern corner, home to Mesa Verde National Park, the famed Durango-Silverton railway, and Telluride, one of the world’s great ski towns, but also a great year-round destination, with endless summer festivals, top-notch hiking and mountain biking, great fall foliage, and surprisingly, amazing pizza.
So whether you find yourself in Telluride in the next few weeks, or more likely the next few months as snow blankets the trails, do not miss Brown Dog Pizza. Marked by a sign featuring a brown Labrador retriever, it looks like any other generic ski town bar, with a glass front and carved wooden door on a vaguely Victorian building in the middle of a block in downtown Telluride. Inside are two dining levels with a loft-style construction, so the upstairs is a balcony overlooking the bar. Other than the huge ski resort trail map in the hall, it is essentially a sports bar, with five big flat screen TVs on brick walls, almost touching each other. Almost all the other wall space is occupied by framed banners, sports jerseys and other memorabilia, like Red Wings and Wolverines items, mostly with a Michigan connection. That’s a hint.
Reason to visit: Detroit-style pizza
The food: Brown Dog has been at its current locating for nine years, but the Detroit-style pizza is a more recent addition from co-owner Jeff “Smoke” Smokevitch. He also played on the 1997 University of Michigan national championship football team with Tom Brady, which explains a lot of the decor – and the pizza. If you sit here long enough and eavesdrop on your fellow diners, as I did, you will hear lots of “This crust is so good” and “You can’t beat this crust.” The crust is so important to the Brown Dog experience that the concierge at my hotel suggested ordering only small pizzas, no matter how many people were in the party, because they are rectangular and then you get more corners, coveted because they have twice the crust (small is four slices, all corners, large is eight).
There are several notable regional pizza styles, from Chicago deep-dish to New York to the now- ubiquitous Neapolitan, but Detroit is one of the most niche, even in Detroit. I’ve only seen it once before outside the Motor City, at the superlative Tony’s in San Francisco, written up in this column. At Brown Dog, the dough is put into an oiled blue-steel rectangular pan where it rises, gets par baked, then topped, then baked again. Because the pans can’t be washed during this process, they run out of Detroit pizza on busy nights – go early as it gets really crowded (or order it delivered to your hotel). After cooking, the pizza is transferred to a round metal pan with bumps on the bottom to keep airflow so the crust doesn’t get soggy.
The result is sort of a cross between New York Sicilian style pizza, but not as bready, and Greek-style, which has a notably buttery crust. Brown Dog’s version is awesome, thick yet light, rich, delicious and unlike pretty much any other pizza crust out there. The 313 (Detroit’s area code) won second place in the 2011 American Pizza Championships and comes topped with ricotta, garlic, genoa salami, red Calabrian chili peppers, sweet piquante peppers, fresh basil, and arugula. This is a stunning pizza, incredible. The most popular model is the Mountaintop, with double pepperoni (regular and natural casing) and white button mushrooms, which took second place in the (different) World Pizza Games. Altogether there are ten house varieties, each unique, with everything from artichoke hearts to BBQ chicken, plus you can make your own.
They also have the oddly named “round pizza,” available with choice of thin or medium crust, but it was just okay, not surprising since every single local I talked to empathically pushed the Detroit. It is so good, and so one of a kind, I’m not sure why you would pass it up. Though in all fairness I have to say that late night they do large NY-style slices, which looked really good and different from the round I had, but they are not available between 5 and 9 p.m. There’s also a full menu of burgers, sandwiches, salads and so on, but I think I’d have to eat at Brown Dog a couple of dozen times before I could move beyond the Detroit pizza – it’s that good. They also make a tasty and really cute dessert pizza, a warm (round) crust spread with nutella and sprinkles that kids are sure to enjoy.
What regulars say: “I just had it for the first time and it’s so delicious I just keep going back,” said Christy, chef at the Lumiere Hotel, who is from Michigan.
Pilgrimage-worthy?: Yes – especially if you are a homesick Detroit native, but any pizza fan near Telluride should try it.
Rating: OMG! (Scale: Blah, OK, Mmmm, Yum!, OMG!)
Price: $$ ($ cheap, $$ moderate, $$$ expensive)
Details: 110 East Colorado Ave, Telluride; 970-728-8046; browndogpizza.com
Larry Olmsted has been writing about food and travel for more than 15 years. An avid eater and cook, he has attended cooking classes in Italy, judged a BBQ contest and once dined with Julia Child. Follow him on Twitter, @TravelFoodGuy, and if there’s a unique American eatery you think he should visit, send him an e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Some of the venues reviewed by this column provided complimentary services.