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Simple pleasures: Golden Crown Panaderia offers superb pizza, baked goods in modest setting

The Golden Crown combination, one of four specialty pizzas, can be ordered with peasant, green chile or blue corn crust. (Richard S. Dargan/For The Journal)

“Would you like a bizcochito?”

The offer from the server at Golden Crown Panaderia left me momentarily confused. I hadn’t been there in a couple of years and had forgotten that every visit to the esteemed bakery begins this way.

“Uh, sure.”

I took the cookie and ate it, even though I was about to order a salad and a pizza. Who knows? Maybe anise is a palate cleanser.

Besides, you don’t turn down a free bizcochito from perhaps the most famous eatery in the state.

With nearly 50 years in business and plaudits from the Food Network and numerous travel magazines, Golden Crown is officially an institution. Its fame and proximity to the highway mean plenty of tourists, but it also remains firmly stitched into the fabric of a neighborhood that has remained largely unchanged over the decades.

From the outside, the low-pitched roof building at Fourth and Mountain NW on the edge of the Sawmill District reflects this timelessness. You enter through a brick archway that leads past a rustic, cluttered patio. Inside, fat loaves of bread line shelves behind the counter, and empanadas fill the cases below. The climate control is as balky as ever. Heaters blow warm air out from behind the counter, warming up the customers at the counter but missing those in the middle of the dining room.

But not everything is the same. The place has been tricked out with a bank of display screens that loom over the counter where the chalkboard menus used to be. It makes for a strange juxtaposition, the high-tech displays hovering over uneven brick floors and painted stucco walls.

Each table has a video screen that appears to play a continuous loop of an episode of the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” featuring Golden Crown. Your reaction to this will probably depend on your feelings about Guy Fieri.

The menu has pizza, salads and sandwiches and a good selection of local beers.

Golden Crown’s full salad, one of the few menu items that don’t come out of an oven. (Richard S. Dargan/For The Journal)

Golden Crown’s full salad ($9.95) was precisely constructed, with quadrants of tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms and onions over a generous bed of greens. Two cups of very smooth blue cheese dressing and a roll accompanied the dish. The avocado fanned out over the top was creamy and spotless. Despite the fresh ingredients, the salad felt more like duty than pleasure. Once the good stuff was eaten off the top, the bed of greens underneath, including baby spinach and arugula, proved to be insurmountable.

Golden Crown’s pizza menu brings a lot of variables to the equation. You can build your own or pick from one of four specialty pies. There are four sizes, from a personal pizza all the way up to a 16-inch extra-large, and three types of crust: peasant, green chile and blue corn.

I ordered the Golden Crown combination, one of the specialty pizzas, on green chile crust ($11.95). The pizza arrived quickly, bright with bell peppers, red onions, pepperoni and one unfortunate addition: a tomato sauce thumbprint on the plate. There was a good balance of cheese and sauce, and everything stuck to the pizza except for a stray hunk of Italian sausage flavored strongly with fennel. The sturdy but not tough crust, imprecisely shaped and a little blistered on the edges, was stellar. The green chile component is not particularly noticeable until after you finish and feel the lingering burn in your mouth.

Empanadas dominate the extensive selection of sweets. The shell of the cherry empanada ($2.75), with its crisp spine and flaky body, was more enjoyable than the slightly gummy cherry filling. The bizcochito was light and brittle and didn’t leave any lard film behind. I wanted to try the World’s Best Coffee Milkshake ($7), but at that point I feared I was wading into insulin resistance territory.

Service was brisk and efficient if a little brusque, in keeping with the spirit of a cramped dining room not built for lingering. For better or worse, you hear everything: one of the staffers complaining about a co-worker; an elderly couple counseling some tourists from Boston on the pros and cons of a visit to White Sands. At one point, an old-timer on his way to grab a Styrofoam takeout container stopped to inspect my pizza. When I looked up, he said, “That’s the one I always get.”

Great minds think alike. Golden Crown makes one of the better pies in the city, and a superior selection of baked goods. You’d be remiss not to take some home with you.


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