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Photograph by Greg Rannells
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Years ago, I worked in quality control for a pizza chain. Five days a week for almost two years, my job was to taste and compare pizzas from unit to unit. The funny thing? I never tired of eating it and crave it to this day. So more recently, as St. Louis has seen a rise in the number—and quality—of its independent pizza parlors, no one’s been happier than me. With this culinary pleasure in mind, I hereby salute not only the latecomers to our city’s collective pizza party, but also several of the classic pizza joints…those that may never be topped. —George Mahe, Dining Editor
Pizza is like dry cleaning: It’s a business driven by endless coupons. Only the elite can avoid the jump into that unsavory scrum. And so it is with Vito’s. Here, the dichotomy of the pizza crust has been mastered—it’s simultaneously crunchy and chewy—and devotees willingly pay full price to marvel at the feat. And is it so hard to leave a bead of sauce near the crust’s edge, a savory gift to better enjoy it? Mmm…indeed not. Stick those pizza coupons in a drawer, folks, and save ’em for some less-than-perfect pie.
3515 Lindell, 314-534-8486, vitosstl.com.
Katie’s Pizzeria Café
The Town’s Top Toppings
Start with a glass of decadent red wine, or perhaps a pull of microbrew from the taps. Linger over a fried-artichoke salad whose delicacy belies its name, or prosciutto-wrapped spring rolls imbued with all the sharply contrasting, mouth-filling flavors the name suggests. Lust over the cannellini-bean dip. Move on to a main course that includes Italian sausage, leeks, parsnips, pancetta, asparagus, squash blossoms, shrimp, goat cheese, fontina cheese, mozzarella cheese... Oh, by the way, those are the toppings for Katie’s pizzas—utterly unique, incredibly tasty pizzas (many of them technically white pies) that push the very limits of pizza-making. The same can be said for those adult bevs and apps, by far the best of any pizza parlor around.
6611 Clayton, 314-727-8585, katiespizzeria.com.
Frank & Helen’s Pizzeria
Topped With Nostalgia
Frank & Helen’s is one of those been-around-forever, never-changed-a-bit local joints that’ll give even the recently initiated an unshakable case of deja vu. It’s famous for two things: “broasted” chicken, which many a regular will request time and again without ever knowing just what broasting is, and pizza. Pizza that’s cooked on pizza stones, rendering the crust terrifically crispy. Pizza that you can order extra-thin, thin, or thick, topped with Provel or mozzarella or cheddar or Parmesan or even Gorgonzola—yet, in the foggy recognizance of collective memory, most folks’ll tell you that Frank & Helen’s serves St. Louis–style pizza and none else. That’s just the wistful yearning for another visit.
8111 Olive, 314-997-0666, frankandhelens.com.
Pushing 50 With Pride
Pizza A-Go-Go has been around so long, it remembers when Gaslight Square housed nightclubs, not condos. That was the shop’s original location, but it’s been a South City stalwart for decades. As has its pizza, which defies our collective obsession with categorization: Though the thin-crust kind is popular here, it’s not St. Louis–style, but not quite New York–style either. The crust is only as sturdy as it needs to be to support a saucing of tangy tomato, a proper amount of melted mozz, and whatever blue-collar toppings you like. Has anyone ever named a style of pizza “American Pie”? Let’s call this that.
6703 Scanlan, 314-781-1234, pizzaagogo.blogspot.com.
A Side of “That’s Amore!”
Say the magic words “No Provel, grazie, mozzarella per favore,” and prepare for a slice of stone-baked satisfaction. A family-run, strip-mall joint in St. Peters, Francesco’s uses ingredients that are particularly fresh and flavorful. Texas stockyards have less meat on them than the sausage, pepperoni, bacon, and ham Deluxe here. On weekends, waiting for a table can make an NPR pledge break seem swift, and in-house karaoke’s painful, but the pizza’s worth it.
435 S. Church, St. Peters, 636-397-1883.
JFires’ Market Bistro
Defining “Illinois-Style” Pizza
Once again, JFires’ gets our vote for Best Pizza Served in a Two-Century-Old Illinois Farmhouse. A spectacular wood-fired oven here brings forth tasty pizzas with a pillowy, chewy thick crust. Toppings like shrimp scampi and barbecue chicken with smoked Gouda are inventive without being absurd. Go with the combination of Gorgonzola and fontina that’s drizzled with roasted-garlic oil. It’s a splendid combination of taste and texture.
725 N. Market, Waterloo, Ill., 618-939-7233, jfires.com.
Best Downstairs Pizza Since Rossino’s
Like having dinner in your St. Louis uncle’s rathskeller, a night at Balducci’s offers family and fun and pizza with a supermodel-skinny crust—though the hand-tossed, deep-dish version has its acolytes, too. Pies arrive hot, tricked out with generous sprinkles of oregano and basil and a pleasing blend of mozzarella and Provel. A tangy sweetness distinguishes Balducci’s tomato sauce, one that flavors without overwhelming. This is the place for a pie topped with perfectly seasoned sausage.
12527 Bennington, 314-576-5024, balduccisstlouis.com.
The Good Pie
The Old Is New
In cooking, since everything’s been done before, being progressive sometimes means looking backward. And The Good Pie has been doing just that by turning out the real original: a true Neapolitan crust, chewy and lightly charred, with just the right amount of salt and topped with only the simplest of ingredients. As an increasing number of addicted customers would attest, in this case, the crust defines the genre. It’s an Italian renaissance we’re glad to support—with both hands.
3137 Olive, 314-289-9391, thegoodpie.com.
A’mis Italian Restaurant
Every visit to A’mis is like a pizza showdown: There are four variations (St. Louis thin, Chicago deep-dish, New York hand-tossed, and Manhattan-style), and regardless of your preference, each is as good as the next. Best of all, they’re inexpensive enough to bring home one of each, proactively nipping any domestic dissent. There’s even a 19-inch leviathan, topped with a superior whole-milk mozzarella, in case the Duggar family plans on stopping by.
9824 Manchester, 314-963-1822, and one other location, amispizza.com.
Onesto Pizza & Trattoria
Pizza Worthy of a Famous Jingle
“Better ingredients, better pizza”… Someone else owns the line, but Onesto is equally serious about it (after all, the name does mean “honest”). Local foodies know chef/owner Vito Racanelli loves pizza, cost be damned: “Anything to make a better pizza, I will do,” he says. How does he improve on using only 100 percent organic flour, extra-virgin olive oil, a wonderfully minerally sea salt, filtered water, locally grown produce (where he specs the cultivars), and a pizza sauce that’s roasted in-house? Easy. This year, he’ll produce all of Onesto’s pork sausage. Top that, Papa John Schnatter.
5401 Finkman, 314-802-8883, onestopizza.com.
Feraro’s Jersey Style Pizza
A Made-Up Style?
We Couldn’t Care Less. We’re not sure what to make of it exactly, but if you do a Google search for “Jersey-style pizza,” practically every hit comes back “Feraro’s.” What’s certain, however, is that while we may not have known what it was before our first bite—slightly thicker than New York–style and with a sweeter sauce, so they tell us—we were converted faster than Born to Run hooked us on Bruce.
1862 S. 10th, 314-588-8345, and one other location, ferarospizza.com.
2 “Bests” Go Head-to-Head
Thin Is Still In
Guido’s Pizzeria & Tapas
So what if there’s paella on the menu? No way a place called “Guido’s” makes bad pizza. This is the place to indulge your penchant for Provel, and it’s home to an archetypal “St. Louis–style” pie. Your napkin’s probably thicker than the crust; still, cooked in a proper pizza oven, it’s never soggy, even laden heavy with toppings. Among those, the made-on-The-Hill Italian sausage is outstanding. Regardless, it’s the only pizza in town that’ll make you say “Olé!” 5046 Shaw, 314-771-4900, guidosstl.com.
Hailing from Louisville, I was born to dislike the Provel-laden stuff most St. Louisans call “pizza.” And to be sure, as most spots in town are serving up the same gooey mess on suspiciously similar store-bought crusts (I’m looking at you, Guido’s), I generally hold to that. But as my mother always said, “There is room for compromise,” and my compromise is Pirrone’s. Making its dough fresh in-house, this pizzeria cooks it to a beautiful golden brown that leaves the delightfully thin crust perfectly flaky, with a hint of nuttiness.
1775 Washington, 314-839-3633, pirronespizza.com.
Battle of the Heavyweights
Black Thorn Pub
A pizza worthy of superlatives. The best “Chicago-style” pizza in the world is in St. Louis. But don’t worry—after you place your order for one of these waistline-annihilating behemoths, the wait’s long enough that you can travel down from the Windy City and still have time for a beer. And the pie’s heavy enough that merely schlepping it back to your table torches enough calories to justify the first, oh, 1½ bites. The idiosyncratic sauce is spicy enough to draw a tear. Or is that just your body’s physiological reaction to the sensory overload triggered by this outsize, larger-than-life, gluttonous giant?
3735 Wyoming, 314-776-0534.
JJ Twig’s Pizza & Pub
To me, pizza is something that can—and should—be eaten with the fingers. Hold it flat, fold it, take a bite of crust first, it doesn’t matter: Part of the appeal…is the feel. Having to resort to knife and fork negates any fun factor and fancies up a food that, quite frankly, just ain’t fancy. So I especially appreciate a pie that is thick, but digitally manageable, like the crunchy double-cruster at JJ Twig’s—which, when you factor in the hand-braided perimeter crust, technically is a triple-cruster, and perhaps a new combatant in St. Louis’ ongoing pizza battle.
2964 Dougherty Ferry, 636-225-9945, jjtwigsstl.com.
The Top Three
When we asked SLM’s four food writers to list their top 10 local pizzas, our intention was twofold: to uncover their personal favorites and to shine a light on some heretofore unheralded pizza joints. When we distilled their communal first, second, and third choices, the results surprised even us. In our seasoned opinion—and by the closest of margins—St. Louis has a new favorite pizza. Provel cheese, we’re moving on.
3. Dewey's Pizza
A Chain You Can Believe In
A la carte toppings—42 of them, from pepperoni to pine nuts—let you customize at this small, upscale Midwestern chain. Half of the specialty pizzas here are a saucy red, the other half a “white” blend of mozzarella, fontina, olive oil, and garlic. Bi-curious pizzaphiles can order a pie half-and-half. Crusts are delightfully chewy and airy, the bottom baked crispy as a Rasta at a Grateful Dead concert. Dewey’s Original, a red sauce–and–mozzarella classic, is a must-try. Ditto the accoutrements: a dozen wines, a dozen beers, and a superior selection of salads. And we remember when you couldn’t shake a stick at Shakey’s.
24 N. Kirkwood, 314-821-7474, and two other locations, deweyspizza.com.
Best Pizza That Didn’t Win Best Pizza
Pi-hards, unite! What the crust is up with Pi snagging only the No. 2 spot on our list of top pizzerias? In a city that voted 81.5 percent for Obama, his favorite local pizza—nay, the best he’s ever eaten, to believe myriad press reports—loses our little election? Like the commander in chief, Pi’s pizza is Chicagoan (i.e., stuffed and stacked) by way of other influences. The cornmeal in the dough—per a recipe pro-Pi-etors Chris Sommers and Frank Uible bought from a San Francisco restaurant—imparts Pi’s pies with a bespoke graininess that tickles the tongue. California-style white pies and New York–style thin-crusts are also worthy write-ins. We demand a recount.
10935 Manchester, 314-822-9680, and two other locations, restaurantpi.com.
1. La Pizza
The Overall (Come-From-Behind, Out of Nowhere) Champ
The Medjugorje of mozzarella, this waiting room–size shrine on Delmar Boulevard has pilgrims of pepperoni lined up daily for glorious, hand-tossed, cheese-lacquered circles of oven-baked joy. Service stops when the day’s dough is done, so call or stop by early. And a Caddy Escalade probably seats more people than La Pizza’s few tables, so a slice or a pie to go may be in order. Doesn’t matter. That lightly charred, just-crunchy crust captures the irresistible aroma of hot, yeast-leavened love. A sweet-and-tangy veneer of tomato sauce holds it all together. Those who tout this as “New York–style” miss the point. Great pizza transcends boroughs, burgs, and borders. And counties and rivers and suburbs and a certain cheese.
8137 Delmar, 314-725-1230, lapizzamenu.com.
By Bill Burge, Dave Lowry, George Mahe, and Rose Martelli