A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

BY Steph Wilson

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Red Tops Rendezvous is a new Detroit-style pizza joint in Denver’s Jefferson Park neighborhood, which is sandwiched between LoHi to the north and Mile High Stadium to the south, bordered by I-25 on the east and Federal Boulevard on the West. It’s my neighborhood, it’s quiet (except for on concert and game days but kinda even then too), it’s clean, parking is easy and I love it.

But one thing that’s lacking is a place with great food where you want to hang out. Sure, there is Briar Common, but it’s not my fave. There used to be MacKensie’s, the greatest wine bar in the history of the planet, but that closed when someone walked in and asked the owner what it would take for him to sell—and then offered him that much, despite it being what Chad said was his “eff you” number. The new spot didn’t last and neither did Denver’s first sober bar that followed it. There’s El Cazo, which we were really excited about when it opened but it never quite found its footing. Across the street from there, the shell of what once was Sartos has sat empty since the start of the pandemic; on the opposite corner is Sexy Pizza, which is perfect for what it is: a pizza-by-the-slice joint (although I do highly recommend getting the Sexy Shiek pie). Jeff Park Pub serves food but it’s more of a bar. There’s an ice cream shop, and a handful of restaurants on Federal but that’s not really Jeff Park.

In Jeff Park, we didn’t have a solid neighborhood spot. Until now.

Cocktails, Community, and Corner Slices

In a new build on W. 25th Avenue, just west of El Cazo on the same side of the block, Red Tops Rendezvous is the new destination receiving a chunk of my discretionary income—my neighbors’ too.

It’s really, really good.

What’s so special about Detroit-style pizza? According to the team at Red Tops, it’s “a true icon of American creativity.” Born in the heart of the Motor City over 75 years ago, the first Detroit-style pizza was crafted using forged steel pans borrowed from local automotive plants. Baking it in these pans produced a light, airy dough and crisp buttery crust that is caramelized from the cheese spilling over the sides while it bakes. If you’ve never tried it, you should. And if you think you’ve never tried it but you had tried Blue Pan’s pizza, you’ve tried it. Chances are you loved it, from the anecdotal accounts I’ve heard.

Whether or not you’ve had a Detroit-style pizza before, you should try one of Red Tops’ pies now. The restaurant comes to us from the team at Culinary Creative—those creative culinary geniuses, led by restaurateur Juan Pedro, behind all your favorite spots: Señor Bear, A5 Steakhouse, ASH’KARA, Bar Dough, Tap & Burger, and more. Most recently, the restaurant group added Carrie Baird’s Fox and the Hen to the mix, and I absolutely raves about it here and then wrote a cover feature about it for Denver Life Magazine, out on newsstands now. (So good, so cute, also a destination for my discretionary income.)

It’s led by Culinary Creative founder and chief development officer, Kevin Eddy, and chef Alan Youngerman, whose kitchen pedigree in Denver includes Meadowlark Kitchen, Williams & Graham, Cart Driver, and Bar Dough. (He’s also the guy behind the Larry Bruno’s Pizza Pop-Up.)

And it’s the first project that Culinary Creative built from the ground up. Eddy, who grew up in Detroit, took the lead on the design work. In the dining rooms on both floors—yep, there are two, with bars on both and an outdoor patio on the second, plus a private dining room—light wood tables supplement tufted booths. The decor melds Denver with Detroit, with a mural of the Motor City’s famed Fisher Building by local artist Olive Moya. Red bar stools provide pops of color, as does the neon sign reading “slice slice baby.” (A-1A, Detroit Avenue!) Black-and-white movies play on the TV screens above the bars and in the dining rooms while a fun soundtrack provided by Eddy’s personal vinyl collection sets the mood. It’s a vibe without trying too hard. It’s comfortable, it’s chill, it’s cool. It’s a place to gather for drinks, for game-day snacks, and, of course, to meet for a dinner of Detroit-style pizza and Italian classics. It’s a place that, once you go, you’ll want to go back.

Corner Slices

The first time I stopped by after they opened on July 1, was after 10 p.m. on a Friday. I had been hanging out with a few neighbors at my place, we all were starving and debating about ordering from the slimming list of places to order delivery that’s both open and edible at that hour. Then I suggested we run up to the new Red Tops—it’s open until 11 p.m.—and the four of us were off.

The restaurant had been open for a grand total of seven days at that point, and it was more popular than even Culinary Creative anticipated. “We ran out of small pizzas a while ago,” the hostess told us upon our arrival. Not a problem—we came hungry.

A round of drinks for the table: I ordered the Negroni Spagiato: Hendrick’s gin, Chareau, pineapple, limonata, cucumber, and incredibly refreshing. Elsewhere on the table, The Red Pop: Traverse City Cherry Whiskey, bitters, and cherries. My beer-drinking bestie was pumped to have a few local IPAs to choose from, while another friend who went to college in Canada ordered a Molson. (In an ideal world, he would have gone to college in Michigan so I could have used the anecdote to tell you about how the menus highlight the best of both worlds—Denver and Detroit—through local ingredients and purveyors from the Front Range and Michigan. But alas, he went to McGill in Montreal so he got a Molson instead of an Oberon wheat ale from Kalamazoo.)

The menu’s “Snacks” section is where you’ll find those “game-day favorites”—twice-fried wings, dough-wrapped hot dogs known as “Coney Knots,” cheesy bread. We started with the wings, garlic & parmesan style, and highly recommend you do the same. We skipped the salad but not without debating among the four great options—the Arugula & Fennel with grapefruit, radish, pecorino, and lemon vinaigrette will be on my table next time I visit.

But we were here for the pizza, and we were met with some stellar-sounding options as creative as the names that described them. The Queen City Heat blends Elevation pepperoni and calabrese with salumi, Italian sausage, red sauce, and fried spicy peppers; the Six Mile High is piled with 2x pepperoni, locally ground Italian sausage, red sauce, and parmesan. Too Many Mushrooms? attempts to answer that question, while Millions of Peaches adds the sweet taste of Palisade to a Mile High pie.

We opted for the Olathe Street Taco pizza: roasted Olathe sweet corn, brick and pepper jack cheese blend, ’nduja (still not quite sure what that is, not that I asked), lime aioli, cilantro, and pickled jalapeño. It came out Detroit-style intends, with the cheese having melted down the side of the pan to create a crusty square edge to the light and airy dough. It was super delicious; I’ll definitely order it again.

Since that initial visit, I’ve been back to try the Brick and Morty, which is topped with Elevation mortadella, brick cheese blend, roasted balsamic onions, chile honey, and arugula—and it, too, was amazing. Can’t go wrong with any order. 

Side story: You can go wrong, however, if your neighbor who kindly picked up the tab and then left the leftover pizza in your fridge texts to ask for a slice the next day at noon and there’s no pizza left for him to have, and Red Tops doesn’t open until 4 p.m., so you have to scramble to pick up some slices from Pizza Alley on 32nd—not even kinda the same kind of pizza but IMO the best NY-style slice in town—because you feel badly about it, not to mention more than a bit gluttonous, not that you regret it in the slightest. But you probably don’t have to worry about that.

But speaking of that same neighbor of mine, he’s been to Red Tops Rendezvous five times so far—and the place has only been open for 31 days as of this writing. Can’t get enough of the place. I overheard him telling one of our other neighbors about it the other day. “You have to check it out, it’s right around the corner, great rooftop patio, great food, great vibe, you’ll love it.” I’ve told everyone about it, too—from the guys at Craft Alley (an amazing craft beer and wine store on Mile High Stadium Circle) to the strangers I often see enjoying a glass of wine on their second-floor balcony across the street. We typically just wave, but this is news worth shouting: “Have you guys been to Red Tops Rendezvous yet? New Detroit-style pizza caddywampus from Sext Pizza—it’s amazing!!”

“Yes!! We were just there last night,” she said. “It’s so good. I can’t wait to go back. Jeff Park needed a place like this.”

Which is my long way of saying welcome to the neighborhood, Red Tops Rendezvous. Everyone is so stoked you’re here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steph Wilson

Steph Wilson is a writer, editor, and creative maximalist in Denver. She makes magazines for a living and throws color around the world like confetti for fun.

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