Chef Alex Figura cuts a pepperoni pizza at Redeemer Pizza’s second pop-up of the winter, which sold out in three minutes, inside Good Bread Denver on Saturday, January 30. (Eli Imadali, Special to the Denver Post)
Editor’s note: We’re just craving pizza all the time lately. There are few foods that are more comforting. So leading up to Super Bowl Sunday, we’re bringing you a three-part series on our favorite pie. Today: A pizza place that is selling out before it even opens. And in case you missed them, check out our Top 10 pizzeria guide, with a twist, and our story on a French restaurant that switched to pizza to survive.
For a rare view into Colorado’s food culture over the coming year or more, just look to chefs Alex Figura and Spencer White and their growing family of Denver restaurants.
Until now, the pair have been known for thoughtful handmade pasta dishes — chicken parm with spicy giardiniera, fettuccine with clam cream and fennel — served from an industrial counter at their 5-year-old Dio Mio in the River North Art District.
Come spring, White and Figura will open a second restaurant, Redeemer, that primarily sells 18-inch New York pies and slices. It’s a concept they’ve been working on for more than two years, but one that fits nicely into a pandemic-time pivot.
“Going into the pandemic, a lot of it was just kind of luck of the draw,” White said of foods that have stayed top of mind for diners over the past 11 months.
Pasta is one, but pizza and sandwiches are certainly others. (The guys are planning a hoagie menu at Redeemer during lunchtime.)
To come up with their next big hit — pizza — they looked to New York but also to their own training in fine-dining kitchens. Prior to opening Dio Mio, Figura and White worked together at the short-lived but beloved Lower 48.
That kitchen briefly convened a star-studded cast of chefs in Denver. For their part, White had worked overseas in Copenhagen after starting his career in the mountains and then cooking locally at Frank Bonanno’s restaurants. Figura spent time training at El Celler de Can Roca in Spain, as well as in Philadelphia at Vetri and with Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York.
After all of these fine-dining experiences, they came to a similar conclusion: “We started talking about … how we want to dine out and move forward in our careers,” Figura said. “(How we want) something approachable, still using high-end ingredients and really good techniques.”
How they wanted to eat started with the no-frills, walk-up pasta counter, plus fun, accessible wines sold by the bottle and glass. Now they’ve matured a little, the two say, toward full-service pizza plus a full bar program. (They laugh about offering diners counter-service pasta and now a sit-down pizza restaurant.)
“We kind of got swept up in the pizza thing,” White said. “Alex and I are both pretty passionate bakers. So we’re using the artisanal French baking principles and applying them to pizza now.”
The secret to their New York 2.0 pie starts with house-milled and organic flours (Redeemer is actually the name of one such wheat) and a 72-hour ferment on naturally leavened sourdough. The process is key, White says; it breaks down gluten, making pizza easier to digest, because “you don’t want to leave feeling terrible,” he says.
Then the combinations seem simple, straightforward — cheese, pepperoni and mushroom were the only three options from the duo’s most recent pop-up event. But these are some serious, New York slices and 18-inch pies with not a centimeter overlooked on them.
The mere “mushroom pizza,” for example, consists of mushroom cream, roasted maitake mushrooms and pickled beech mushrooms layered richly.
Ahead of their spring opening on Larimer Street (they can’t be specific about the location just yet), Figura and White are taking over the bakery at Good Bread on Colfax Avenue over a handful of weekend nights to sling pies for eager customers.
For their second showing on Jan. 31, orders sold out in less than 3 minutes online.
“People are at home and available to click on a link at 10 a.m., because they’re working remotely,” White said by way of explanation, laughing.
But there’s something more to a cult following before you’ve even opened your doors.
White and Figura are the kind of chefs and restaurateurs that diners want to support now. Not only do they create craveable foods, they’ve also taken hospitality and re-channeled it — to themselves and their workers, too.
Figura says they’ve asked, “How are we going to reach more people, as well as enjoy a quality of life outside of work? It’s kind of finding that balance, and also just goes with growing up.”
“One of the beauties of having two chef-owners (is) we don’t work 90-hour weeks,” White added. “Our cooks work four days.”
So with Redeemer, customers will find a “grown-up version” of Dio Mio, White and Figura say, but also of themselves.
“It’s really just going to be a touch more polished,” Figura begins, before White starts to geek out over an electric deck oven with steam injection, and all the bread that will come from it.
“We’re just living out these baker dreams,” he says, sounding like a kid in a pizza shop.
Find the next Redeemer pizza popups on Saturday, Feb. 13, and Saturday, Feb. 27, with three kinds of 18-inch pies for $22 apiece. Online reservations will go fast starting at 10 a.m. the Monday before each event. (redeemerpizza.com/events)