Sunday, August 25, 2013

Stuffing All of Our Faces at Marco's Coal Fired Pizza

Before having babies, my wife and I used to do a lot of nice things. One of those things was going to eat pizza from Marco's Coal Fired Pizzeria. Since having babies, however, we have been shy to return, because while my wife and I might appreciate the subtleties of a well prepared pizza, my twin toddlers have been seen eating fruit that has fallen into the sandbox out of another kid's mouth. Suffice to say, they are not exactly impressed that Marco's is the only pizza joint in town certified by L'Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, and so if they are happy eating 99-cent tacos off of the street, who am I to drag them into a fancy pizzeria? And most of my readers probably already know how good Marco's is, so from a blogging perspective, with all those top of the town and best-of accolades, who cares what I think?

Now usually I pose that as a rhetorical question, because with my mother and wife becoming more and more underwhelmed with my repeated rants and raves about food, the real answer becomes increasingly depressing. On this occasion, however, there was an answer: The Marco's Coal Fired PR team cares what I think. They contacted me not too long ago to say how they actually liked how much I talked about my two kids on my blog. What's more, after such undue praise, they said they wanted me to come down and try Marco's new dessert "s'mores" pizza. They thought my kids would like it.

When I asked my wife if she would want to go to the pizza place of our past lives, her first question was: do we have to bring the kids? I'm not sure if we had to, but as I've reviewed before, leaving them in the car, even with the windows cracked and a can of mace to ward off the creepy people is generally frowned upon.

Once at Marco's we got right to business by ordering a couple of pizzas. The first was the simple Campania. The crust on our Campania-- and on all Marco's pizzas-- is about as close to perfect as it gets in this town, with beautiful blackened edges and burnt bubbles of crust. The rest of the pie was lovely as well, with big sprigs of fresh basil and just the right amount of bufala mozarella. To understand how much we liked this pizza as a family, here is a picture of a two-year-old boy who has stuffed a half slice of pizza in his mouth. (Stuffing too much food in one's mouth is of course, a dominant inheritable trait, and like the burp, is a compliment to any chef)

Our second pizza had prosciutto, arugula, shaved Parmesan and cherry tomatoes--all laid on top of the pizza after being taken out of the oven like they should be. The crust was equally perfect - airy, light, crispy, soft and with just the right amount of black. Classic flavors done well. Can't really ask for more. 

Then it was time for the dessert pizza. Dessert pizza inevitably sounds a little gimmicky, and what came out actually looked more like an interesting combination of pâté and mushrooms than a Nutella ganache topped with shards of graham cracker dusted in powdered sugar. But the taste? It had all the flavors of a s'more plus more of that really great crust, so what wasn't to like? The 1000-plus degree heat of the Marco's pizza oven put a lovely campfire-like char on the marshmallows (which are hard to see in the photo below) and showed a creative use of the super-hot oven. It wasn't nearly as sweet as I thought it would be which I immediately appreciated, but at the same time a little more gooey marshmallow, or even some chunks of un-melted chocolate, would not have disappointed anyone at our table.

Marco's Coal Fired Pizza makes great pizza, but probably you already knew that. My kids loved Marco's too, and even though they eat frozen waffles and raisins they find under the couch, with the amount they ate, and the ferocious speed with which they ate it, I think they too appreciated the fact that they were eating some special pizza. It might be a little more expensive than your everyday pizzeria, and I've never tried their wings, salads, sandwiches, or even their non-Napoletana pies, but for a truly well-made pizza, you can't go wrong at Marco's.

Marco's Coal Fired Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Eating Crazy Shrimp at El Camaron Loco

Remember that Mexican beach vacation you went on where you stumbled upon a seaside restaurant and ordered a shrimp cocktail and a cool, refreshing michelada? The one with the obnoxious murals and bright tropical colors, where, in spite of the gaggle of tourists all of who were squawking way too loudly, you had the best food.  Maybe it was the booze, or watching the sun set over the sea (hopefully you have inserted your Pacific-side Mexican beach vacation here), but that simple meal was transcendental. And even if you've never been to Mexico, you have hopefully experienced a great meal on a beach somewhere. If not, and it is within your powers to do so, you might want to stop reading and figure out a way to make that happen

If it isn't going to happen for you anytime soon, or if you are just experiencing some nostalgia for your last beach vacation, there is a place in Denver that has tried very hard to at least bring the gaudy-murals-and-seafood parts of the typical Mexican beachside dive to you-- in fact there are four of El Camarón Locos located all the way from South Federal to Brighton. 

I recently ventured into the Aurora location located on Havana near 6th. I can't think of a place farther from the beauty of a beach than this stretch of Havana, with its empty lots, vacant warehouses, congested strip malls and auto dealers (but then again, I have never been to Brighton). 

With its bright blue roof and striped walls, El Camarón Loco is hard to miss. And the assault of color only gets better (or worse depending on your taste) once inside, where you have a faux-swordfish leaping over one mural, and in another a pack of sharks in floral-print shirts are sharing a round of cold ones. Pirates with eye patches, crabs with forks in their claws, frogs with sunglasses-- any beachside cliche you can think of is very likely on the walls of this small dining room. But don't get too distracted, as you still need to order. 

I would have liked to have had a menu in hand, or even--I never say this-- table service. It was difficult to decide what to order reading from the gigantic wall menu while a toddler pulled my arm (it was mine, I checked) and the line literally snaked out the door. Unable to read through all 80-some menu items, I ordered the first 3 things that caught my eye -- and, you guessed it, they all had shrimp.

We started, or at least intended to start (the food all came at the same time), with a shrimp cocktail. This coctel de camaron was bright and refreshing as it should be, and memories of beach vacations past danced in my head with every bite. As far as landlocked cities not it Mexico go, it really doesn't get much better than this faithful version-- not too acidic, not to sweet and topped with three generous slices of avocado. 

Camarones empanizados, or breaded and fried shrimp, were what we ordered with our toddlers in mind. These butterflied, tail-on shrimp were just what you would expect, and rolled up in a corn tortilla with the very good tomatillo salsa that accompanied them, they made a great taco.

Lastly was a sizzling plate of alambre de camaron. Alambres almost always come with other diced meat, and as the Mexican taqueria and torta custom, when you throw multiple meats together, one of them is inevitably a hot dog. So when I saw the pink fleshy cubes on my skillet along with my shrimp, I assumed it was exactly that, but upon tasting them I looked closer to see layers or marbled fat and I am pretty sure it was a least salt pork-- and while I love hot dogs as much as the next man, salt pork is a big step up from a hot dog in an alambre. 

Instead instead of the roar of the waves we had the sound of six lanes of Friday evening traffic. We saw the sun start to set--not over the breaking surf--but behind a self-storage warehouse. We ate a lot of shrimp on the small but pleasant El Camarón Loco patio, which would be appropriate I suppose, given that the name of this restaurant translates to The Crazy Shrimp. Everything we had was very good, but there were many other plates that I want to try on the huge menu. And based on this experience, I will be back.

El Camaron Loco 2 on Urbanspoon


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