DINING REVIEW: The Duke
Duca's aristocratic, if not yet a king
Restaurant character: Pressed and polished, Duca's Neapolitan Pizza is a minor but ambitious pizza noble hoping to ascend into pizza monarchy.
Rating total: 3.75 out of 5 forks
Food: 3.5 out of 5 forks
Ambiance: 3.5 out of 5 forks
Service: 4.5 out of 5 forks
Address: 12229 Voyager Parkway, Suite 170
Contact: 487-3200, ducaspizza.com/
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
Alcohol: Wine and beer
Credit cards: Yes
Vegetarian options: All three pizza classics -- the Margherita, Marinara and Bianca -- are vegetarian, and custom pizzas can be constructed with nine vegetable topping options.
What's online as of Oct. 15, 2012:
22 check-ins by 20 people on Four Square
4.5 out of 5 stars based on four reviews on Trip Advisor
94 percent of 53 voters "liked it" on Urban Spoon
4 out of 5 stars based on five reviews on Yelp
Many photos on Facebook; search Duca's Neapolitan
After minor notes about temperature control, no follow-up was required after a September, 2012 inspection by the El Paso County Health Department
Most kings are born rather than made, polished and practiced from birth to ascend the throne of their ancestors. So, too, do dukes, barons and lords create more dukes, barons and lords as the title passes down.
At Duca's (which is duke in Italian) Neapolitan Pizza in North Colorado Springs, more than their noble name illustrates their respect for such legacy. For one, Duca's is a family-owned and -operated business. What's more, when selecting the linchpin of their pizzeria -- the oven -- they chose a Stefano Ferrara Forni, a Neapolitan pizza oven design perfected by Stefano Ferrara in Naples, Italy, in 1920 and since passed down to his son Natale and then grandson Stefano.
With materials and on-site guidance straight from Naples, brick was laid upon brick to build the 485-degree, domed fire-beast, which was tiled in bright orange with the lettering "The Duke." Training and time-tested recipes, like a legacy in a box, passed the best of the old on to the new.
A lot about Duca's exudes that shiny, fresh quality. Their graphic orange sign hangs from a corner of a stone-and-stucco strip mall in a neighborhood unaccustomed to locally owned eateries. Lunch stuffs the bright, somewhat sterile dining room with workers with their dangling ID badges, and dinner with hungry families thrilled to find homemade pizza in that neck of the woods.
The best of Duca's, though, is that element of the old and the inherited. The dough creates a crust that's light but toothsome -- a highlight rather than only a vehicle for toppings. The tomato sauce is fresh (neither salty nor over sweet) and entirely ripe in flavor.
So, on one hand, there's the new: An open-line ordering system, in which the pizza is assembled in full view with a bar of fresh ingredients. Then there's the old: proven quality ingredients both cooked with and displayed around the store, such as Bacio mozzarella, Alta Cucina tomatoes and imported olive oil.
When on point, the results are delicious. The Pizza Bianca ($6.75) is a generous personal pizza of about 11 inches and was served in crisp, pre-cut triangles of ideally melded flavors of crust, garlic, mozzarella, provolone and ricotta. Authentic Italian in character, the last two cheeses respectively added a smooth melt and a creaminess that many American-style pizzerias can't match.
Fold that inherited dough recipe into a flatbread for a Piadine sandwich of Rosemary Ham ($8), where the juices of sauteed mushrooms mix with fresh greens and a sweet balsamic vinaigrette. The rosemary must have been lightly infused into the ham (pre-sandwich), as there was no herbage present, and the cheese was unmelted despite the browned bread. All in all, it's an enviable lunch that kicks the pants of quickie sub shops. And don't expect boring in Duke's house salad ($4.25/$7.50) with its tart and spicy arugula and gorgonzola, topped with pine nuts and vinaigrette.
Where new and old worlds collide, though, there is bound to be friction, and it's this tension that trips up Duca's. Practice cannot be inherited, no matter the amount of passion present, and this new pizzeria often falls short in matters of balance and artistry.
A once-crisp crust was made limp in the hand due to too much sauce on the pizzeria's namesake, The Duke pizza ($8.75). Its salami, mushrooms and garlic were too heavy, too moist. They slid off the pie with each bite, and in general, were not more than the sum of their individual parts. Quality ingredients, yes, but complexity and blending of flavors, no.
Advertising that the oven can bake a pie in as little as 90 seconds, Duca's is not always the hot beast's master. As mentioned, some flatbread Piadines boast aromatic, browned but light bread. Others feature charred shells, which, while edible, aren't exactly on the money. Much like the sauce-to-crust ratio, the pizza's cheese can also become thick -- and later, rubbery. Case in point: the Quattro Formaggi ($9.35), which features mozzarella and provolone as well as gorgonzola and ricotta, two of my favorite pizza cheeses.
I never would have guessed that the "nature versus nurture" debate could crop up in the culinary world, but in the unique case of Duca's Neapolitan Pizza, there is just that case to be made. Does a restaurant succeed based on what has inherited or the experience it gathers in its lifetime?
A bit of both would be my opinion, and Duca's is on the right track in that regard. With the passion and practice comes the polish and artistry. And Duca's multi-generational family restaurant could one day reign supreme over the realm.