There Must Be Something in the Water
There must be something in the water at Rosenberg’s Bagels and Delicatessen, because all the bubbies (aka Jewish grandmas) in town absolutely rave about its authentic New York-style bagels, house-smoked fish and OG pizza. All prepared fresh, daily, in Denver. But they say the food doesn’t taste like it’s from Denver. Imported? Impossible! New York is like 1,600 miles away. To quote my favorite Saturday Night Live skit, “I was a little verklempt.”
And then it all became crystal clear once I met owner Josh Pollack.
Born in New York and raised in New Jersey, he spent the first 18 years of his life filling his belly with authentic New York deli. His mom loved to cook and ignited his passion for food. When he came here for college, he lamented the fact he couldn’t find anything even remotely close to the foods he grew up with. He eventually fell in love, got a finance degree, settled here, opened a couple of successful businesses, but there was just something about those NY bagels that kept calling his name. And the pies stole a ‘pizza’ his heart. He was definitely in a pickle.
“I was unhappy. Food was my heritage. I asked myself, ‘What would Mom want?’ And then I enrolled in culinary school,” said Pollack.
But how to duplicate NYC dough in Denver? It all boiled down to chemistry!
“I literally flew out water from New York to CSU and had it tested. There were vast differences in the calcium and magnesium levels and the water’s mineral content affects the dough and flavor. I found a guy who figured out how to replicate NY’s water and the rest is history,” added Pollack.
Speaking of history, his story gets even more amazing. In less than 10 years, the now 38-year-old developed four brands: Rosenberg’s Bagels and Delicatessen (named after his mom), Lou’s Italian specialties, Famous Original J’s Pizza and Sherry’s Soda Shop (also named after his mom), all under his Bridge and Tunnel Restaurant Group. I visited the Rosenberg’s in Stanley Marketplace for a slice and a bagel.
“We are sticklers when it comes to preserving the integrity of the food, the tradition and the culture. From the proofing to the boiling and baking, expect a bagel that’s mildly crisp on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. And for our pizzas, expect a thinner, crispier crust for New York-style, and our Grandma’s pizza is a Brooklyn-style square pizza with a thicker, almost focaccia-style crust. Both are available by the slice or a whole pie,” added Pollack.
There are vegan and gluten-free items on the After Dark menu at Stanley Marketplace, and the Rosenberg’s on South Monaco Street sells strictly kosher on Fridays and Sundays. But the fact everything is made in-house and from scratch, they do their own curing, they import only the finest meats and fish, they sell eight different kinds of lox alone, they support local (their flour comes from Ardent Mills in Denver) and oh yeah, did I mention they make their own New York water? Small wonder when you ask the bubbies which Denver deli is most authentic, they’ll tell you Rosenberg’s in a New York minute.
When asked what your mom would say if she could see you now, Pollack said, “I think she’d be really proud.”
Rosenberg’s After Dark
2501 Dallas St.
Aurora, CO 80010
Is My Pizza Ready, Yeti?
If you’re a regular visitor to our Front Porch Facebook page, you might have seen Trent Brotherton, the managing partner of Walter’s303, slinging pizza on the patio in a Yeti costume one Halloween. Then again, if you’re on the hunt for great pizza, it’s kind of fitting. And you should probably expect the unexpected.
Like, where in the world is Walter, I asked? Like the Yeti, he doesn’t exist. According to Brotherton, Walter’s was founded in 2010 and got its name after a simple misunderstanding. Forever it seems, founder Mike Kienast’s now-wife Jen kept suggesting he name his first restaurant Walter’s. Over and over, like a broken record. Finally one day Mike asked, why that name? She thought his middle name was Walter. It was Wayne. How do you top that? You don’t.
And that, says Brotherton, is how Walter’s303 Pizzeria and Publik House got its name. Evidently, Kienast purchased the original pizza recipes from the very people who employed him as a teen. He enhanced their recipes for hand-tossed and deep-dish pizzas (more on that in a moment), expanded to a total of four locations, and brought back the original owners as partners in his Colorado Springs location. He also made Brotherton, his best bud from way back when, a partner in the Lowry location. Full circles are, evidently, how Kienast rolls.
Which brings us ‘round to his pizza.
“Our crust is thinner, more garlicky, almost pastry-esque. Always fresh, always funky, it’s even better the next day. Cold. Still chewy, still delicious,” describes Brotherton.
If Walter’s303’s best-selling The B.O.M. is the bomb (marinara, fresh basil, carmelized onions, sliced meatballs and mozzarella) no doubt Keep Tahoe Blue is an equally exquisite explosion (oozing marinara, pepperoni, bacon, jalapenos, bleu cheese crumbles and mozzarella.) Other offerings include elevated versions of meat-lovers, veggie, Hawaiian, Greek and white pizzas. All are available in hand-tossed, deep dish and gluten-free varieties. But their so called crack is simply wack.
What Brotherton describes as crack bread or cheesy breadsticks, they should be illegal. How in the heck they could spin something so simple yet so complex is beyond me. If it was my last meal on death row, what a way to go.
Apparently, I’m not alone. When the restaurant scene started spiraling out of control during the pandemic, Lowry neighbors rallied around Walter’s303, throwing weekly pizza block parties to keep them in business. And, in turn, Walter’s303 made sure the local first responders were constantly well-fed. How lucky for Lowry to have such a family-friendly, neighborhood pizza place.
Which begs the question, will Yeti make another neighborhood appearance one day? Maybe. Maybe not. But one thing is for certain, Walter’s303 will rise to every occasion, no doubt about it.
200 Quebec St. #109
Denver, CO 80230
I Brake For Pizza!
These days, a lot of people are braking for pizza at Benzina on Colfax, which seems apropos since it’s a former Phillips 66 gas station, turned Meineke Muffler shop, turned Neapolitan neighborhood pizza joint! And the name certainly fits—Benzina is Italian for gasoline. And with long-time restaurateur Brad Anderson in the driver’s seat, we were expecting superior service, with a smile.
Here’s what we weren’t expecting…the Neapolitan Carbonara pizza. Similar to the famous pasta dish in Italy, it has house-made pancetta, a crème fraîche base with a citrus bite, white braised onions, Cabot cheddar cheese and the icing on the pie is a miso-cured egg yolk that is micro-shaved over the top. “It’s delicious,” said Anderson.
No, Mr. Anderson, it’s otherworldly.
Already a successful Colorado-based hospitality developer, with a portfolio of award-winning restaurants under his belt—think Rocky Mountain Diner, Rick’s Cafe and Chopper’s Grill —Benzina owner Brad Anderson’s life took a turn when his wife relocated to New York City for a job. He stayed, they commuted, and both cherished their spare time in the Big Apple sampling some of the finest slices the city had to offer. One day they tried authentic Neapolitan pizza, which, unlike traditional New York-style pizza, is cooked in a wood-burning oven versus coal at a much lower temperature. Needless to say, they fell in love with it, and the wheels in his brain started spinning.
“After my wife moved back, we lived in Park Hill and I would pass the old Meineke Muffler shop every day. We really like 1960 mid-century modern furniture and this building really spoke to me. I didn’t want the place to be torn down and turned into an apartment building. I wanted to preserve a little history in a historic district,” said Anderson.
That was 2018. In the middle of construction, the pandemic hit. And his dream of opening the neighborhood Neapolitan pizza joint stalled. During the downtime, he started looking for a chef. And then his life took, yet, another drastic turn.
“A friend recommended I call Chef Brian Lockwood. I looked at his resume and thought there’s no way a three-star Michelin chef, who trained under Chef Thomas Keller, a James Beard award winner from the Napa Valley region, would want to open a simple pizza place,” said Anderson.
Lockwood didn’t. But he agreed to consult if Anderson agreed to elevate the menu. Elevate? More like they made a mountain out of a molehill! The neighborhood pizza joint evolved into a superb seasonal menu under executive chef Daniele Bolognini, featuring five-star fare, like smoked trout Caesar salad, squid ink chitarri, even the cauliflower is roasted, marinated, char-finished and nestled on pine-nut puree, surrounded by bacon jam.
But the point is pizza, right? Not only are Anderson’s pizzas full of pizazz, he’s got the pedigree to prove it. He trained in Italy under members of the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN). VPN is an international organization that seeks to cultivate the culinary art of making Neapolitan pizzas.
He’s got the chops, but does he have the props to pull it off? All Benzina entrees are prepared in a Mibrasa charcoal oven, quite popular in Spain, or in a wood-fired oven. Like a true Neapolitan pizza should be. The cost of these two baking bad boys? $52,000.
Obviously, Anderson’s firing on all cylinders. And that’s why in his crust, you should trust.
4839 E. Colfax Ave.
Denver, CO 80220
Front Porch photos by Christie Gosch