As a native of the Chicago area, I have always been an indigenous and unrepentant snob about two things: Michael Jordan and deep dish pizza.
Let’s first dispense with the former. Anyone trying to argue that any basketball player has ever eclipsed MJ’s singular greatness will find themselves talking to my hand. In fact, I can win any such debate with a simple compound factoid: Six NBA Finals appearances, 6-0 record, six Finals’ MVP awards, case closed. If (and only if) someone ever approximates that, we can talk.
On the latter subject, I’m slightly more flexible. I realize deep dish pizza isn’t for everyone, and authentic Chicago-style pizza—a buttery, pastry-crisp crust laden with toppings and enough cheese to make your aortic valve rethink its career choice—can be too much for even the heartiest of palates.
None of this changes the fact that if I’m ever on death row, my last meal will feature a stuffed, pepperoni-and-green-pepper delight from Giordano’s. (My fellow Grabowskis might point to Lou Malnati’s or Gino’s East, but meh.)
Just as New Yorkers find it nearly impossible to get their treasured hometown thin crust pizza (or bagels) when they’re away from the East Coast, we Chicagoans are in a similar pickle with our own favorites. But now that I’ve discovered Paxti’s, I might just be able to commit that capital crime right here in Denver.
The regional chain—Paxti’s has 14 locations in Colorado, California, and Seattle—has been around a while, so I’m somewhat shamefully late to the party. Chalk it up to bigotry born of experience; I’ve sampled enough purportedly “Chicago-style” disappointments over the years that it took almost a decade in Denver before I bothered to try this version. Until now, the closest I’ve tasted to the real thing was at an independent pizzeria in Oakland, California. But now I know Paxti’s is definitely better, and easily the closest thing I’ve had to my own particular taste of home.
I’m not ready to say Paxti’s has surpassed my beloved Giordano’s, which performs some otherworldly alchemy that gives its pizza crusts an indescribably satisfying flakiness. And Paxti’s use of fennel in its Italian sausage, while striking and delicious, is still a mite unsettling to my entrenched tastes. (I can’t eat it without thinking of my people back home saying, Why did dey put likkerish in da pizza?)
Still, it’s always a delight to find something you treasured in your youth in the place you live as an adult. As Denver cements itself as my long-term home, Paxti’s has helped me relive some of the happier flavors of my Chicagoland childhood, whether or not my aorta’s onboard.
Follow 5280 editor-at-large Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.