Despite the lack of a liquor license and the name reminding me of a children's fairy tale, Papa Bear Pizza in Monument should appeal to palates of all ages.
Although it has booths for dining in, the bulk of the business is carry-out. This makes sense, as the unimpressive ambiance of this order-at-the-counter pizzeria belies the quality of the food that comes out of the kitchen.
Be forewarned. When Papa Bear runs out of dough, the kitchen closes until the next day. An employee comes in to start the dough at 2 a.m. every Wednesday through Sunday. It's not only started from scratch each day, but also is made with Caputo flour from Naples, Italy - "the gold standard of flours," according to the Caputo website.
Using imported Italian, non-GMO and locally sourced ingredients results in chewy, tasty pies. Although the flour has Neapolitan roots, the pizzas don't reflect that region. The crust is not crispy-thin, and the toppings at Papa Bear have a distinct Colorado influence, as evidenced by the names of the 'zas: Baby Doe, Pueblo, La Junta, 5-Points and Mt. Massive, among others with obscure Centennial State references such as Rankin Kelly and Clyde & Chauncey.
We needed explanations for the latter. Chauncey and Clyde Spaldone were 1920s bootleggers in Denver. Rankin Kelly was the first El Paso County sheriff in 1861. It's never a bad thing to get a bit of history, especially in unexpected places.
While that lesson was interesting, what sold us was the combination of house-made meatballs, sausage, fresh ricotta, garlic and spinach ($20). The sausage featured a pleasing amount of fennel. We missed the meatballs, which were nowhere in sight, but enjoyed the combination of other toppings on the marinara sauce. Canned, whole San Marzano plum tomatoes are used for the non-acidic sauce. The only other ingredients are elephant garlic and basil, so the focus is on the tomato flavor.
Statewide efforts promoting Pueblo chili have not gone unnoticed by Papa Bear's owners. This seasonal pizza ($17) with the Steel City namesake is made with a base layer of creamy Neufchatel cheese, topped with diced, fire-roasted poblano peppers, then covered in smoked gouda, mozzarella and roasted corn. The distinct smoky gouda, which I'd never had on a pizza, along with the cut-from-the-cob corn make this exceptional. The poblano heat element is subtle, and the corn adds texture and caramelized sweetness. This was the pie of our dreams.
Potatoes, rosemary and truffle oil are not items I associate with pizza. Yet the Baby Doe ($17) features thinly sliced Yukon gold and red potatoes drizzled with the decadent oil, roasted red onion and the fresh roasted herb on a garlic- and olive-oil crust. That should have been a much better combination than it was. The menu indicated thick-cut Applewood bacon, but it was barely detectable. More abundant bacon could have kept us from relegating this pie to our least favorite of the three.
Charlie, who took our order, said the offerings frequently change based on what's fresh. No mention was made that any ingredients would be missing from our orders, though.
Papa Bear does not have a liquor license, which might be another reason for the number of carry-out orders. The staff is exceptionally friendly and, justifiably, proud of their products. We took our pies to go, as there was little to entice us to dine in.