melo's pizzeria's wood-fired pizza, p. 38
MEALS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE
T E D
W I L S O N P. 12
ST. LOUISâ€™ INDEPENDENT CULINARY AUTHORITY
I C O N I C
ST. LOUIS PIZZERIAS P. 30
P I Z Z A
P. 25 SAUCEMAGAZINE.COM
DOGTOWN'S HOTTEST FROZEN PIZZA P. 46 FREE, FEBRUARY 2017
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F E B R U A R Y 2 017 • VO LUM E 17, ISSU E 2 What’s the best pizza place in St. Louis?
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contents FEBRUARY 2017 editors' picks
ELIXIR Made for Each Other
by kristen chalfant
EAT THIS Fried artichoke salad at Katie’s Pizza & Pasta Osteria
by meera nagarajan
EFFICIENT KITCHEN by kellie hynes
HIT LIST 7 places to try this month
by heather hughes, catherine klene, tiffany leong, meera nagarajan and matt sorrell
MAKE THIS Tiramisu Pizza
by dee ryan
MEALS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE Ted Wilson of Union Loafers Café and Bread Bakery
by meera nagarajan
STUFF TO DO by matt sorrell 46
WHAT I DO
by catherine klene
NEW AND NOTABLE Mona’s
by michael renner
LUNCH RUSH Sauce on the Side
by andrew barrett 21
NIGHTLIFE Start Bar
by matt berkley
PHOTO BY JONATHAN GAYMAN
Meredith and Rick Schaper of Dogtown Pizza
dine & drink 23
A SEAT AT THE BAR Four experts tell us what to sip, stir and shake
by glenn bardgett, katie herrera and ted and jamie kilgore
gnocchi at mona's, p. 15
THE OGs OF ST. LOUIS PIZZA 12 iconic St. Louis pizzerias
by heather hughes, catherine klene, tiffany leong, meera nagarajan and matt sorrell COVER DETAILS
FRANKENPIZZAS by tiffany leong
OBSESSED The relentless repetition of St. Louis pizzaioli
by heather hughes
On this month’s Sound Bites, art director Meera Nagarajan and managing editors Heather Hughes and Catherine Klene discuss iconic local pizzerias, wood-fired pies and how many slices were consumed in the making of this pizza issue. And tune in to St. Louis Public Radio KWMU 90.7 FM at noon on Wednesday, Feb. 1, for our monthly Hit List.
THE PIZZA ISSUE Wood-fired pepperoni pizza at Melo’s Pizzeria. Learn more about three pizzaioli obsessed with Neapolitan-style pies on p. 38. PHOTO BY CARMEN TROESSER
by maggie pearson February 2017
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The FRIED ARTICHOKE SALAD at KATIEâ€™S PIZZA & PASTA OSTERIA is a balancing act of temperatures and textures. Blooming in hot oil, the crisp, tender fried artichokes are the stars, supported by roasted asparagus on a bed of dark leafy greens. Studded with dollops of tangy goat cheese, pistachios and a drizzle of syrupy aged PHOTO BY CARMEN TROESSER
balsamic, this salad makes the perfect start to pizza.
9568 MANCHESTER ROAD, ROCK HILL, 314.942.6555, KATIESPIZZAANDPASTA.COM
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7 new places to try this month
classic burger with double patty and cheese at hi-pointe drive in
HI-POINTE DRIVE IN
PHOTO BY MICHELLE VOLANSKY
Hi-Pointe Drive In is the new counter-service burger and sandwich spot from the team behind Sugarfire Smoke House. Nothing beats the classic cheeseburger with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles: the thin smashed patties have a crispy edge but manage to stay a little pink inside. Order it with fries and a milkshake – we’re partial to the butterscotch with a dash of whiskey. For something healthier, try the Salmon Banh Mi with a seared salmon fillet, pickled vegetables, cilantro and a sweet and spicy chile-mango aioli on a Companion baguette. Or go for the refreshing Greens & Grains salad, packed with quinoa, wheat berries, avocado, veggies and mixed greens with lime vinaigrette. Expect long lines during peak times – it’s been packed since day one.
1033 McCausland Ave., St. Louis, 314.349.2720, hipointedrivein.com
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1. the interior at side project brewing; 2. a selection of beers from side project brewing 2
Doors have finally opened at Side Project Brewing’s long-awaited brewery and tasting room, and we’re posting up at the bar for a pour of its internationally acclaimed beer. A large chalkboard displays bottles available to-go or for onsite consumption, as well as the day’s offerings pulled from 11 taps. Look for the oak-aged options Side Project is known for, or try something from the brewery’s new label, Shared. These beers aren’t required to be barrel-aged – though it’s hard to believe Shared Vibes, a smooth, rich Russian Imperial stout never spent time in oak. Grab a glass of it or its caffeinated counterpart, Shared Coffee Shop Vibes, then watch brewers Cory King, Brian Ivers and Tommy Manning at work in the 20-barrel brewhouse.
SIDE PROJECT BREWING
Tucked into an industrial stretch of Gravois Avenue in Princeton Heights, Mak’s Pub & Grub is funky and eclectic. The menu is a step above traditional pub food with a concise bill of fare including specialty mac and cheeses like the Fried Chicken Mak, a massive bowl of cheesy goodness topped with chunks of breaded chicken, applewood-smoked blue cheese and some spicy, sweet Mak Sauce. The Kale & Artichoke Mak is (marginally) healthier with arugula, scarlet kale and tangy goat cheese. For those looking for a non-mac option, check out the Southside Gravy Fries, Mak’s spicy answer to poutine.
MAK'S PUB & GRUB
571 Melville Ave., University City, 314.261.4833, Facebook: Shawarma King University City
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The menu at Crave made us a little nervous – pancakes, sushi, quesadillas and fried chicken rarely go together for a reason – but one bite of a salty, savory Cubano Phatada dispelled our doubts. Basically a chimichanga filled with pulled pork, ham, cheese, Spanish rice, black beans, pickles and mojo mustard, this fried burrito hits all the right notes. Those who want something a little lighter should look for the Four Alarm Tuna. The only poke cup with raw tuna on the menu, it has cubes of spicy yellowfin sashimi in a smoky guajillo paste with furikake, cucumber, cilantro and avocado served over warm sushi rice in a paper coffee cup.
7458 Manchester Ave., Maplewood, sideprojectbrewing.com
CRAVE STREET FOOD
2605 Washington Ave., St. Louis, 314.696.8480, wecravestl.com
St. Louis’ new board game bar and cafe is open and catering to game nerds in Soulard. For a small fee, you can play more than 500 board games while munching on snacks like hummus and nachos, or more substantial rice bowls and chilis. Come in for weekend brunch and order the spicy chorizo-pepperjack omelet, topped with sliced avocado, Sriracha and a cooling drizzle of sour cream. Opt for a beer off the short drinks list while you play classics like Battleship and Clue or more complex games like Terra Mystica and Game of Thrones.
Start your day with a green juice made fresh at I Love Juice Bar, like the lightly sweet-tart Ginger Greens made with ginger, apple, kale, spinach, cucumber, parsley and lemon juices. Smoothie fans can try one of the blends on the menu, or create their own with a mix of bases, fruits and add-ins like turmeric and chia seeds. Continue your clean eating spree with vegan meals like the pad thai noodles: sweet potato noodles joined by shredded carrots, cucumber, spinach and cashews in a spicy-sweet peanut sauce. Rock Hill just got a little healthier.
1535 S. Eighth St., St. Louis, 314.797.8200, stlpieces.com
9849 Manchester Road, Rock Hill, ilovejuicebar.com
I LOVE JUICE BAR
PHOTOS BY MICHELLE VOLANSKY
Shawarma King isn’t a misnomer. Order the beef shawarma plate with rice, which comes with tahini sauce and a small Arabic salad of cucumber and diced tomatoes tossed with lemon juice and olive oil. The sauce is good, but those tender, moist slivers of meat don’t really need it. Other classic dishes are no afterthought, either. The falafel has a thick, dark crust and soft, herbaceous interior. Try the savory mahshi version, which comes stuffed with onion and sumac and topped with sesame seeds. And don’t miss the baba ghanoush, which has a nice charred flavor from grilled eggplant, brightened with lemon and a zip of garlic.
6109 Gravois Ave., St. Louis, 314.354.8148, makspub.com
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Union Loafers Café and Bread Bakery, 1629 Tower Grove Ave., St. Louis, 314.833.6111, unionloafers.com
T E D W IL S ON Ted Wilson taught us what a Margherita pizza is supposed to be. This was in 2008, when he was pizzaiolo at Mike Randolph’s The Good Pie, but we haven’t forgotten. Almost a decade later, Wilson has debuted a hand-tossed pizza dinner menu at his Union Loafers Café and Bread Bakery. Lines can be long, but at the end you’re rewarded with some of the top pizza in St. Louis. Here, Wilson talks about three meals that changed his life. – Meera Nagarajan
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KING LOUIE’S, ST. LOUIS (2006) “I want to believe this meal is what fully put me into meal service. [My date and I] were totally taken care of, and we were two just-out-ofcollege idiots, treated like royalty. From the amuse at the beginning to a wine they shared because they thought it would go nice with whatever course we were on, it was very gracious and thoughtful service. It was a moment any diner, any restaurant or anybody offering service strives for. It gives you that sense that you know each other, so you’re comfortable. You’re in their house, and it feels like they’re doing everything just for you.”
JOE’S PIZZA, NEW YORK (2003) “We can embellish stories when we look back, but this was specific enough. In the moment, we were recognizing: This is what a plain piece of pizza is. This is the ideal. It’s been a reference point for me in pizza because I learned the importance of the simplicity of the tomato. ... Having made a lot of pizzas up until that point, I never figured out tomato sauce. I read every fucking recipe, but every sauce was the cooked down sauce. Then I was trying [Joe’s] and realizing, ‘Oh, it doesn’t need to be cooked down with sugar added and a lot of dried oregano and garlic, etc.’ [Pizza] can just be tomatoes, cheese, crust, salt and baked well.”
FRANK PAPA’S, ST. LOUIS (1998) “Frank Papa’s was a family celebration spot; my grandmother still likes to go there. As a kid, nothing green sounds good, much less a green you’ve never heard of, like escarole. It was just flashfried, then [got] a big squeeze of lemon and Parmigiano – not Parmesan. I would be so excited to eat it; it was incredible. Again, one of those reference points – where I need to have some bright acidity. I mean, hell, if you take off the bacon, that’s not far from the spinach pizza we’ve been doing. You get some crispy fried leaves of spinach, you get creamy denser parts and then that brightness of the lemon and the nuttiness of the Parmesan.”
ILLUSTRATION BY VIDHYA NAGARAJAN
MEALS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE
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reviews All Sauce reviews are conducted anonymously.
sausage & 'greens' pizza at mona's
new and notable Mona’s BY MICHAEL RENNER PHOTOS BY JONATHAN GAYMAN
hen Brendan Marsden opened Modesto on The Hill 15 years ago, the tapas restaurant was a radical move in an area revered for its Italian heritage. Notwithstanding Guido’s Pizzeria and Tapas down the street, Modesto was pretty much the only non-Italian restaurant within the 1.5-squaremile historic neighborhood and one of the few in the region serving exclusively Spanish cuisine.
n e w a n d n o t a b l e M O N A’ S p . 1 5 / l u n c h r u s h S A U C E O N T H E S I D E p . 1 8 / n i g h t l i f e S TA R T B A R p . 2 1 February 2017
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reviews NEW AND NOTABLE p. 2 of 3
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a brick-lined deck oven that can bake thin-crust pies at nearly 700 degrees in about four minutes. Thin and crispy, lightly sauced and with none of the cheesy, oozy-gooeyness typical of their American cousin, these pies emphasize flavor over volume. Alone, they won’t satisfy big appetites without the addition of an appetizer or salad. linguine Light eaters will at Mona's find them perfectly pleasing. You can build your own pie, but the 12 selections – half with red sauce, half with white sauce or olive oil – exemplify Mona’s unique spin. I rarely see green olives on a pizza, which is too bad, and never see Italian salsa verde, but both defined the Sausage & “Greens” pizza. The former “green” added a bit of sharpness; the latter enhanced the subtle tanginess of the light tomato sauce. Distinguishable from others made on The Hill, Mona’s house-made sausage had a finer texture with hints of sage. A pleasant hit of fennel came not from the sausage but from caramelized slices of the aromatic vegetable, complementing the olive’s briny punch.
Shuttering Modesto last August and replacing it eight weeks later with Mona’s, Marsden (who also owns Whitebox Eatery in Clayton) again challenged expectations. For one thing, there’s the tagline, “An American-Italian Joint,” meant to distinguish Mona’s from The Hill’s more upscale Italian-American restaurants. That explains why you’ll find appetizers like pickled shrimp, bacon-wrapped dates and smoked chicken lollipops on the menu alongside a fried green tomato salad and an antipasto salad made with kale. It’s why there are new takes on familiar dishes such as gnocchi, served here in a roasted corn
AT A GLANCE Mona's
cream sauce. It’s why wine – eight of which are on tap – is affordable (most bottles run $32) and served in short tumblers, as is the Italian way. What you won’t find is Provel – or polka dots of fresh mozzarella – because Mona’s uses its own blend of cheese for its Roman-style pizzas. In a city known for a style that’s practically trademarked and where Neapolitan-style pizza with its strict rules (no oil in the dough!) and requisite bell-shaped brick oven has become increasingly popular, Mona’s sits somewhere in between. Marsden installed
Where 5257 Shaw Ave., St. Louis, 314.772.8272, monasjoint.com
Don’t-Miss Dishes Gnocchi, lasagna
The broccoli and potato pie, dressed simply with olive oil, wasn’t as odd as it might sound – potatoes are a rather common topping for Roman pizza. But while the broccoli was nicely charred, I wanted the same for the potatoes, which could have been sliced thinner to brown and attain a bit of crispiness. There are a handful of fresh pastas, all coming from Midwest Pasta Co., including lasagna, spaghetti, linguine and pappardelle. Like the restaurant, I assume Mona’s Lasagna was named after Marsden’s mother of Sicilian heritage. If so, thanks,
Vibe Bright and open, family-friendly space that encourages chatting and lingering
Mom! If not, thanks anyway because it was one of the best lasagnas I’ve had in a while (sorry, Mom – also of Sicilian descent). The dish benefited from a sausage Bolognese, roasted mushrooms, bechamel and that proprietary cheese blend, all of which bubbled with steamy, aromatic appeal in a little cast-iron pan. But it was the noodle texture I liked most: crispy on top, chewy on the bottom. The supremely rich pappardelle and gnocchi made for winter meals worthy of the calories. The former consisted of long, fat noodles bathed in Alfredo sauce punctuated by the earthiness of roasted mushrooms and toasted walnuts. A garnish of delicate, crispy sage provided the right complement to the creamy dish without overpowering. My favorite of the three pastas I tried was the gnocchi, particularly for its distinctive creamy sauce with roasted corn and cheddar cheese. Or was it the chunks of roasted pork belly that shredded with the gentlest poke of the fork? Or the sweetness of the caramelized onion against the rich meat? Or the pillowy softness of the gnocchi that didn’t disintegrate in a hot cast-iron serving pan, perhaps? The fried green tomato salad suffered from a lack of excitement. Thick wedges – not slices – of flavorless tomatoes were difficult to eat, surrounded by a dull mixture of butter lettuce, house-made cheese and canned black olives. A white balsamic vinegar dressing provided the only liveliness. Marsden designed and constructed Mona’s interior with his staff, allowing them to remain employed during the transition. While the “joint” moniker seems more whimsy than reality, especially given the quality of food, Marsden has again captured something simple and trendy and turned it into a concept that may last another 15 years.
Entree Prices $9 to $18
When Mon. to Thu. – 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Fri. and Sat. – 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
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reviews LUNCH RUSH
Lunch Rush SAUCE ON THE SIDE BY ANDREW BARRETT | PHOTOS BY DAVE MOORE
Calzones are basically giant Hot Pockets, and who doesn’t want to be able to eat an entire pizza while driving? I will physically fight anyone who tries to tell me they’re not a kind of pizza, or perhaps change their minds with a piping hot calzone from Sauce on the Side. The newest location in The Grove has plenty of seating during lunch, where you can find me at the corner table, waiting with a calzone and a knuckle sandwich.
FIVE-0 This calzone is like a Hawaiian pizza, and there was a show called “Hawaii Five-0.” Get it? It’s the best of Hawaiian and barbecue pizzas and then some with pancetta, pineapple, red bell pepper, smoked cheddar, mozzarella, mascarpone, smoked chile oil and a barbecue sauce on the side. (Get it?) Spicy and sweet, the barbecue sauce made an excellent complement to the savory, gooey fillings – and it’s my favorite.
has a funny name, but the way the mac and cheese filling emphasized this calzone’s lightly crunchy shell was no joke. Pancetta, mozzarella and Provel melt with pulled chicken and green onions for some of the cheesiest mac in town. With Buffalo butter on the side, it’s Buffalo chicken mac that you can hold in your hand. Let that sink in, but be careful, since it comes out very hot from the kitchen. Let it cool down then let that sink in. SMOKEHOUSE SALAD Sauce on the Side is no lowcal zone (Get it?), but if you
COCK-A-DOODLE NOODLE The Cock-a-doodle Noodle
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want a hearty salad, look no further than the Smokehouse. It’s piled with butter lettuce,
corn salsa, pancetta, smoked cheddar, pear tomatoes, basil and barbecue ranch dressing. Admittedly just calzone fillings with some crisp greenery added, it worked nicely for a smoky, creamy punch. The salads are so good, I’m not sure why all the calzones aren’t offered as salads. On the other hand, I’m not sure why anyone would give up the buttery, warm, flaky crust, either. Sauce on the Side 4261 Manchester Ave., St. Louis, 314.932.7800, eatcalzones.com
THE DOWNSIDE I wasn’t kidding; these things are coffee-lawsuit hot. Unless you want molten cheese to burn the roof of your mouth, cut your calzone in half, enjoy your salad and let off some steam before enjoying your pizza pocket. For dipping, I wasn’t a fan of the garlic-butter sauce – the flavor was overwhelming and the consistency a little booger-y.
CHAKCHOUKA AT EGG
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BY MATT BERKLEY | PHOTOS BY JONATHAN GAYMAN
the t-rav pizza
tart Bar, St. Louis’ latest and greatest bar/arcade, is unapologetically dorky, which seems to be working for it. If this 21-and-older place was an ’80s high school student, its classmates would call it a righteous dude. Like Ferris Bueller, it’s beloved by all – the jocks, motorheads, geeks, sluts, wasteoids and dweebies. On Saturday nights, there isn’t an empty spot at the bar or a vacant game in the house. With a tall can of beer in one hand, a game controller in the other, a pocketful of gold tokens and nowhere else to be, it’s easy enough to see why. The Atmosphere A laid-back watering hole Start Bar certainly is not. Especially on weekends, when the doors open, it’s game on in this weirdly sublime, booze-fueled warehouse party. Like its sister bar, Wheelhouse, Start Bar has an urban industrial feel. Everything is loud: the game cabinets, the skee-ball, the bartenders, some of the fashion decisions, the eclectic video game-themed decor. And then there’s the music: a mix of rap,
drink-stained, neon paper menus, along with a handful of enjoyable, but pretty forgettable house cocktails. The best of these on my visit was the Bruce Willis Was Dead the Whole Time, a fun little bourbon drink heavy on the Wild Turkey Start Bar and just right on the 1000 Spruce St., bitters – a zippy black St. Louis, 314.376.4453, walnut variety. Not quite startbarstl.com a Manhattan and not quite an Old-Fashioned, it did the trick. But options like the frozen booze pops are fun for indulging your inner adolescent alcoholic side. You could do a lot worse than the decadent s’mores milkshake, which combined a healthy portion of chocolate- and vanilla-flavored vodkas with vanilla ice cream. For more grown-up drinking, this seems to be a beer joint. A serious selection is offered, mainly cans, along with a couple canned wines (truly fitting for this place).
hip-hop, alternative and other random tunes from the early 1990s pumped at an impressive volume. Start Bar regularly features DJs who spin until all hours. Expect a lot of Tupac and Beastie Boys, but don’t expect to be able to hold any kind of conversation. The Main Attraction This is, of course, the game floor. New games are joined by vintage favorites from the ’80s and ’90s: expect nostalgic treats like Mortal Kombat, Donkey Kong and The Simpsons, along with enough classic pinball to keep you occupied all night. There is also an upstairs lounge area with VIP seating: cushy couches and a handful of oversized screens where small groups congregate with Nintendo 64 games like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Mario Kart and (of course) GoldenEye. It’s best to make a reservation for one of these stations. The Booze The main floor is dominated by a massive bar. Juvenile concoctions such as drunken slushies, boozy milkshakes and hard floats are proudly featured on
The Food Hot snacks like the Cool Ranch Quesadilla, Garlic Bread Nuggets and a handful of surprisingly good pizzas pour out of the busy kitchen window. Certainly not gourmet, these soft pizzas are the perfect drunk food, served fast. The kitchen offers a buildyour-own option, but it also features rotating wacky originals like the Mac & Cheese Pork Steak Pizza, drizzled in barbecue sauce. Unable to muster the stomach for that beast, I opted for the T-Rav Pizza, which ended up being a real star. A manageably sized pie with a nicely charred, medium-thick crust, perfectly gooey mozzarella and topped with a handful of crispy toasted ravioli, it was a perfect snack for sharing with a date (if your date is the type to enjoy sipping beer and challenging each other for high scores on Galaga). The End Game Though not the first video game- or pinball-centric bar to set up shop in our fair city, Start Bar has fast developed a loyal following of young 20-somethings who indulge their inner nerd while throwing back a few cold ones. A welcome alternative to the dance club and late-night lounge scene, Start Bar earns itself a high score.
ORDER IT: Start Bar
Order a sweet treat like the booze ice pops at Start Bar.
The decadent boozy s’mores milkshake combines chocolate- and vanilla-flavored vodkas with vanilla ice cream.
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& drink pizza and beer are drunk in love
ILLUSTRATIONS BY VIDHYA NAGARAJAN
A SEAT AT THE BAR / Four experts tell us what to sip, stir and shake Pizza begs to be paired with something rich and bold that will stand up to the greasy goodness we all crave. A classic Bamboo Cocktail completes any slice with sweet vermouth to balance the pizza sauce, TED AND JAMIE and sherry’s nutty richness KILGORE to complement the cheese. USBG, B.A.R. Ready, BarSmart Stir together 1½ ounces and co-owners/bartenders at Planter’s House oloroso sherry, 1½ ounces sweet vermouth, 4 dashes orange bitters and ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass garnished with a lemon twist. February 2017
Pizza is one of the most wine-friendly foods you can put on a table. I enjoy Cal-Ital blends like the lovely 2012 Elyse Winery Nero Misto (or “Mixed Black”) from Napa Valley GLENN BARDGETT with my pies. The complex Member of the Missouri Wine blend of mostly zinfandel and Grape Board and wine with petite sirah, barbera director at Annie Gunn’s and carignane grapes packs dark fruit notes and a lot of character. This dark, spicy red is easy to wrap your arms around. $30. Starrs Wine & Spirits, 1135 S. Big Bend Blvd., Richmond Heights, 314.781.2345, starrs1.com
Pizza and a clean, beautifully balanced lager go together like peanut butter and jelly. Look for light malt sweetness up front, notes of grain and yeast on KATIE HERRERA the palate, and a Co-founder of Femme refreshing, lightly Ferment and manager at The Side Project Cellar bitter finish. If you’re ’za-ing with me, expect Busch or a North Coast Scrimshaw Pilsner. North Coast: $9. Randall’s, 1910 S. Jefferson Ave., St. Louis, 314.865.0199, shoprandalls.com saucemagazine.com I SAUCE MAGAZINE I 23
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made for each other
BY KRISTEN CHALFANT
Long gone are the days of loading up mom’s minivan with friends and heading to the local pizza parlor to fight over the jukebox and stuff our bellies full of mediocre pizza and soda. St. Louis has grown up, becoming renowned for great food and craft beer. Here are five go-to places to grab a pint and a slice with your favorite people.
The U.R.B. What more could you ask for than pizza by the slice and limited-production beer? Across the street from Urban Chestnut Brewing Co.’s Brewery & Bierhall in The Grove, The Urban Research Brewery (or U.R.B.) is the brewery’s newest venture that offers New York-style pizza. Go in Wednesday through Saturday evenings for $1 samples of never-released beers. 4501 Manchester Ave., St. Louis, 314.222.0143, urbanchestnut.com
pizza by the slice at the u.r.b.
PHOTOS BY JONATHAN GAYMAN
TwinOak Wood-fired Pizza and BBQ Walk into TwinOak, and you’ll find not just the coziness of a woodfired, 900-degree oven baking your pizza, but also a well-balanced, everchanging draft list including beers like Shmaltz Brewing Co. Slingshot to occasional gems like Goose Island Beer Co. Bourbon County Brand Stout. 1201 Strassner Drive, Brentwood, 314.644.2772, twinoakwoodfired.com
Felix’s Pizza Pub
What I like best about Pi – besides its pie – are the house beers from local breweries, produced just for the restaurant. A pint of Schlafly Pi Common or 4 Hands Brewing Co. PiPA really hits the spot alongside a deep-dish pizza. Various locations, pi-pizza.com
A newcomer to the St. Louis scene, Mellow Mushroom has a killer draft lineup. With more than 30 taps inside and another 18 at its massive outdoor bar, there is a style for everyone. From Founders Backwoods Bastard scotch ale to O’Fallon Big Walt blonde ale, new beers are landing all the time. 3811 S. Lindbergh Blvd., Sunset Hills, 314.473.1135, mellowmushroom.com
Like best friends reunited, Felix’s Pint & Slice duo brings all the warm fuzzies to the table. Its 22-tap draft selection is stocked with suds from breweries around Missouri, and each pairs oh-so-well with a slice. 6401 Clayton Ave., St. Louis, 314.645.6565, felixspizzapub.com
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Efficient Kitchen helps you cook versatile, whole food recipes with less time, money and waste. It’s written by Kellie Hynes, author of Sauce Magazine’s award-winning Vegetize It column.
Stretching the Dough BY KELLIE HYNES | PHOTOS BY JONATHAN GAYMAN
My family eats pizza like it’s health food – and if you overlook the abundant cheese, carbs and porcine toppings, it almost could be. But just because we’re enjoying the preferred nourishment of 2 a.m. beverage enthusiasts doesn’t mean we completely eschew civilized fare. Our pies are superior dining experiences because we use organic cheese, homemade sauce and, most deliciously, pizza crust made from scratch.
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You may wonder why someone who writes about efficient cooking doesn’t just buy prepared pizza dough. The simple answer is that homemade dough is just flour, water, yeast and maybe salt and sugar – zero preservatives or artificial ickiness. The deeper answer is that making homemade dough is a spiritual experience. When you pull the soft, smooth dough in your hands, you’re feeling the literal and emotional weight experienced by generations of cooks before you. Also, punching down the dough is an appropriate way to express your frustration with spouses, teenagers or organic cheese eaters.
very dry or very sticky dough. (If that happens, just add a little more water or flour. Pizza dough is very forgiving.) In the timeless “bread flour versus all-purpose flour” debate, I am firmly pro-bread flour. It makes a chewier and more flavorful crust, while all-purpose flour yields a softer, more delicate crust that tears when shaping it. The flavor and texture of the dough will improve if it’s refrigerated up to three days – or make an extra batch and freeze it up to three months. The basic recipe is easily tweaked, so you can stretch your dough into a variety of tempting treats.
Pay special attention to your yeast. I find instant or fast-rising yeast makes the crust too tough, so pick up the packet labeled “active dry.” Also, toss a thermometer into your measuring cup. The water must be between 100 and 110 degrees to fire up the yeast. If it’s too cool, the yeast will remain inert, and your dough won’t rise. If the water is too hot, it will kill the yeast and any hope of achieving the dough’s maximum potential.
PIZZA CRUST Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Dust the work surface with flour and divide 1 batch of dough into 3 even pieces. Use your hands or a rolling pin to shape the dough into ¼-inch-thick rounds. Transfer to greased baking sheets and add desired sauce and toppings. Bake 5 minutes, rotate pizzas and bake 3 to 5 minutes more.
While we’re on the topic of precision, it’s easier to get the flour-to-water ratio correct if you weigh flour with a digital scale. The spoon-and-scrape method of flour measurement is highly imprecise, and you can end up with either
CINNAMON ROLLS Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Dust the work surface with flour and roll ½ batch of dough into a rectangle. Brush the dough with 2 tablespoons melted butter. Sprinkle with 1 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon cinnamon and 1
teaspoon table salt. Starting from the long end, roll the dough into a log. Slice into ½-inch-thick rolls and place in a buttered 9-inch round cake pan. Let rise 20 minutes, then bake 15 minutes, until golden brown. Drizzle with a vanilla glaze and serve warm. GARLIC KNOTS Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Dust the work surface with flour and roll ½ batch of dough into a rectangle. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, melt 3 tablespoons salted butter. Add 1 tablespoon minced garlic and saute until fragrant. Brush the dough with half the garlic-butter mixture. Halve the dough lengthwise, and cut the halves horizontally into 1½-inch strips. Tie the strips into knots and place on a greased baking sheet. Let rise 20 minutes, then brush the tops with the remaining garlic butter and sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake about 15 minutes, until lightly brown. Serve with marinara dipping sauce. PRETZEL ROLLS Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Divide ½ batch of dough into 8 even balls. In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup warm water and 1 tablespoon baking soda. Dip the dough balls completely into the water mixture and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. In a small bowl, beat 1 egg. Generously brush the tops with the egg and sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake 20 minutes, until golden brown.
EASY HOMEMADE (PIZZA) DOUGH 2 POUNDS 1 packet active dry yeast 1²∕³ cups water, heated to 105 degrees 20 oz. bread flour, plus more if needed 2 Tbsp. plus ½ tsp. olive oil, divided 1 Tbsp. kosher salt 1 Tbsp. sugar • In a small bowl, stir together the yeast and water. Let rest about 5 minutes, until the yeast dissolves. • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine the bread flour, 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and sugar on low speed. With the mixer running, add the yeast mixture and mix until the dough forms a ball, about 5 minutes. If the dough is too sticky, add flour 1 tablespoon at a time until smooth and soft. • Grease a large bowl with the remaining ½ teaspoon olive oil and add the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, approximately 1½ hours. Punch the dough down, and either let it rise another hour, or refrigerate in a greased, airtight container up to 3 days. Allow refrigerated dough to warm to room temperature (about 2 hours) before using.
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MAKE THIS TIRAMISU PIZZA ACTIVE TIME: 10 MINUTES
Live la dolce vita with this tiramisu-inspired dessert pizza. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. On a powdered sugardusted work surface, roll 1 pound prepared pizza dough into a ½ -inch-thick round. Bake on a lightly oiled pizza pan 12 to 15 minutes, until cooked through. In a small bowl, mix 1 cup espresso and 1 tablespoon dark rum. Poke the crust all over with a fork and brush with the espresso mixture. Let cool completely. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat together ¹∕³ cup sugar and 3 room-temperature egg yolks 6 minutes on high speed. Add 8 ounces mascarpone and mix 2 minutes. Spread the mascarpone mixture over the crust and dust with cocoa powder before serving. – Dee Ryan
PHOTO BY JULIA CALLEO
BUY IT Trader Joe’s premade pizza dough $1.50. Trader Joe’s, various locations, traderjoes.com
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T H E O G s O F S T. L O U I S P I Z Z A
monte bello pizzeria owner tom nix
Loyalty is fierce when it comes to St. Louis pizza institutions. Everyone has a favorite, earned over countless Little League victory feasts, family meals, drunk second dinners and cozy delivery nights. Some hidden gems have served house-made pies since the 1950s, while other local chains have made names for themselves in less than 10 years. When itâ€™s time for checkered tablecloths, Parmesan and red pepper flakes, we return to these 12 St. Louis classics to give us what we need.
by heather hughes, catherine klene, tiffany leong, meera nagarajan and matt sorrell // photos by carmen troesser
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italian sausage, onion and bacon pizza from monte bello; right: tom nix makes pizza at monte bello.
P IZZAA-G O-G O In 1967, Frank LaFata opened Pizza-A-Go-Go on Grand Avenue. Fifty years and two locations later, his son, Paul LaFata, carries on the family tradition. Here, four things to know about Pizza-A-Go-Go:
J OANIE ’S P IZ ZE RIA Inspired by trendy little pizzerias while exploring Chicago more than 20 years ago, Joanie Thomas decided to open her own. “Back then, there weren’t any pizza places down in Soulard,” she said. Like many St. Louisans, this decision has benefitted Sauce staff a lot since then. For years, we have celebrated holidays and powered through press days with the help of those thincrust pies. The Joanie’s Favorite Veggie with fresh spinach, yellow squash, mushrooms, onions and roasted garlic is how we eat pizza and still feel like we had something nutritious. The Johnny’s Special Meat Pie is reserved for late nights at the office.
M ONTE B E L LO PIZ Z E RIA The Petrillo family opened Monte Bello Pizzeria in 1950, making it the oldest on our list. “I pretty much grew up there,” said current owner Tom Nix. His mom and stepdad bought the place in 1965, and he started helping out when he was just 8 years old. “The whole place was always totally packed back then,” Nix said. Unfortunately, that didn’t last. “My stepdad changed all the recipes. They were kind of crappy, and he lost a lot of business.” February 2017
When Nix took over, he wanted to turn things around. He painted, replaced windows, brought the kitchen up to code and more important, he searched the place. “I was digging through old drawers and I found the original handwritten recipes. I had to use a magnifying glass to [read] them,” he said. “I knew we needed them.” Now Monte Bello is making the same toothsome thin crust, barely sweet tomato sauce, Provel-free cheese blend and toppings that were served in the ’50s. “It’s back to the way it was,” Nix
said. “Back to the way it’s supposed to be.” While we’re partial to the house Italian sausage (with a hint of fennel and a wink of spice), Nix is pretty passionate about his Tom’s Special: sausage, pepperoni, ground beef, salami, ham, banana peppers and light onions. He’ll allow substitutions, but expect your pizza with a side of snark from Nix: “You don’t think I would know what tastes good?” – H.H. 3662 Weber Road, St. Louis, 314.638.8861, Facebook: Monte Bello Pizzeria
Thomas still owns Joanie’s ToGo, but she sold the original location to longtime manager Jeff Schneider, who continues to turn out the same quality pies. “My favorite is the Grilled Chicken BLT pizza, but our best kept secret is the doublecrust pizza,” Thomas said. A hand-tossed base layered with sauce, cheese and toppings is then covered with another thin round of dough, brushed with melted butter, sprinkled with Parmesan and baked. It sounds like a pie to get when wonderful news or a terrible day come your way. We’ll add it to our repertoire. – M.N. 2101 Menard St., St. Louis, 314.865.1994, joanies.com
Nothing has changed since 1967 – including the recipes.
“We’re pretty simple," Paul LaFata said. "We make pizzas and serve sodas. … The customers would notice if I changed anything.” The customer base spans generations.
“I think [our longevity] is due to being on Grand and Gravois for 30 years. [My dad] built up a very large clientele, much of which has followed him to Scanlan Avenue. If those customers wouldn’t have followed him, then I don’t think we would have made it.”
Frank LaFata never suffered fools – or order cancellations.
“Once you work the dough, it’s not like you can change your mind and put it back,” LaFata said, recalling a customer who changed his mind and walked out after Frank started preparing his pizza. “I guess it must have set my dad off. He took the dough, walked outside and as the guy was walking down the street, he threw the dough at him.” No, there were never go-go dancers at Pizza-aGo-Go.
“I’m sure he didn’t tell me every story from back in the day, but I’m sure he would have mentioned that.” – C.K. 6703 Scanlan Ave., St. Louis, 314.781.1234, pizzaagogo. blogspot.com
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after the last slice is devoured. Pepperoni and nubs of extra crispy bacon offer sublime crunch that contrasts with the molten St. Louis-style cheese blend. – C.K. 1775 Washington St., Florissant, 314.839.3633; 299 Salt Lick Road, St. Peters, 636.278.3800, pirronespizza.com
FERARO’S JERSEY STYLE PIZZA Feraro’s Jersey Style Pizza is a true family affair. Started by the mother-and-son team of Nancy and Jon Feraro, this beloved establishment produces New Jersey-style pies in homage to the family’s East Coast roots.
top: jerry's special from pironne's; left: jim coe assembling a pizza at pirrone's
LA PIZZA Nestled between a pair of aging strip malls a bit off the beaten path of the The Loop, La Pizza is cozy – tiny, even, with barely enough room inside for the pizza oven and the folks behind the counter. But what it lacks in size, the restaurant makes up for in heart. Co-owner Paul Bishop cultivated a passion for pizza when he was living in Queens, New York, and his dream to run his own place came true when La Pizza opened 14 years ago. The smells, sights and sounds of the place will make you swear you’re in an old-school pizza joint in one of the outer boroughs. Bishop and his son, Paul Bishop Jr., still make the giant, foldable New York slices daily. “Come in and you’ll get fed,” Bishop February 2017
all the same as the first St. Louis-style pie that was slung in 1976. “People in Florissant grew up on it,” he said.
said – if you’re waiting for an invitation. – M.S. 8137 Delmar Blvd., University City, 314.725.1230, lapizzamenu.com
PIRRONE’S PIZZERIA Jay Jaworski and Rick Puckett started working at Pirrone’s in
1980, when they were 14-yearold freshmen. At just 21, they bought the place. “We were young and foolish enough to not be scared,” Jaworski said. Much has changed since then – a second location in St. Peters, a newly remodeled dining room in Florissant – but Jaworski said the recipes for the dough, sauce, sausage, meatballs and hamburger are
Though “sausage and pep” will always be Jaworski’s go-to pie, Jerry’s Special holds the distinction of being Pironne’s only original pizza on the menu and a crowd favorite. Named for a veteran manager, Jerry’s Special starts with Pironne’s ultra-thin crust, lightly oiled for a buttery, crisp texture and smeared with a slightly sweet Sicilian-style sauce accented with crushed red pepper flakes for a pleasant heat that lingers long
So what’s New Jersey style? Jon said it’s all about the oven: brick-bottom deck ovens that cook hand-tossed pies just a little lower and slower than New York-style. They’re made using recipes he picked up working for a family friend’s pizza joint down on the Jersey shore. Feraro’s started in a tiny converted garage in Soulard and made its bones with the Mardi Gras crowd. Success resulted in moving to bigger digs in South County and eventually expanding to South City. While it’s a St. Louis go-to, it’s the love for Jersey that makes Feraro’s pizzas special. “Everything goes back to stepping out onto the boardwalk,” Feraro said. “I cherish those memories so much, and I want to share them.” – M.S. 7704 Ivory Ave., St. Louis, 314.256.0500; 11726 Baptist Church Road, Sappington, 314.843.3456, ferarospizza.com
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P E R F E C T L Y P A I R E D
supreme pizza at blackthorn pub
By Matt Sorrell Next time you pick up your favorite pie, step out on your usual brew with a glass of wine instead. The Dark Room general manager and sommelier Denise Mueller helped us pick three bottles that pair perfectly with pizza.
2013 Argiano Non Confunditur Rosso Tuscano, Italy The great Brunello producer Argiano loosens its tie with this fun, funky blend of sangiovese, cabernet, syrah and merlot. Expect dried red fruit-forward aromas with an earthy character on the palate. Pair it with classic pepperoni pizza.
2014 Rio Madre Rioja, Spain Unlike traditional, tempranillo-rich Riojas, this unique wine is made entirely from graciano grapes, making it less earthy, with more fruit and floral aromatics. Pair it with Italian sausage, bacon and caramelized onion pizza.
2014 Jean-Marc Burgaud “Les Vignes de Thulon” Beaujolais Villages, France Not Nouveau! This tangy red tastes like biting into a justripe raspberry – spicy, light and delicious. Pair it with chicken and red onion pizza.
All wines available at The Wine Merchant Ltd., 7817 Forsyth Blvd., Clayton, 314.863.6282, winemerchantltd.com
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RACANELLI’S NEW YORK PIZZERIA Growing up around New York pizza in a Bronx restaurant family, it was only natural for John Racanelli to follow the way of the pie. In 1994, he opened the first Racanelli’s location in University City. Since then, the brand has expanded to the Central West End, Webster Groves, Kirkwood and St. Peters, making sure all corners of the metro area have access to those huge, foldable slices.
“I did not start that,” he said. “I recognize that people like to see it, that some people come just so they can read the walls, but I’ve never liked it.” But he and the staff do end up adding to the vandalism occasionally, editing saltier artwork to keep the place family friendly. Built sometime between 1897 and 1911, the building has been a bar since at least the early ’40s, but it’s been a deep-dish pizza destination since Difani bought an oven. Famous for gut-punching amounts of stringy cheese and filling, fluffy crusts, these pizzas were inspired by Difani’s disappointment with St. Louisstyle, which he said simply doesn’t satisfy a guy his size. “My deal was I never wanted anybody to walk out of my place hungry,” Difani said. At Blackthorn, “You get your money’s worth.” – H.H.
The key to longevity has everything to do with family recipes. The dough and sauce are made fresh each day, and the final product is baked in brick ovens (no electric conveyor belt ovens here). The classic, no-frills pizza has a light, soft crust that’s fluffier than some New York-styles and makes for a great walking pizza when folded. If you’re looking for pizza without pretention, this is the ultimate working man’s slice. – M.S.
3735 Wyoming St., St. Louis, 314.776.0534, Facebook: The Black Thorn Pub
Various locations, racanellis.com
BLACKTHORN PUB & PIZZA Blackthorn Pub was a Tower Grove South institution back when news of a Starbucks opening on South Grand Avenue would have been taken as a joke. “The neighborhood has changed,” said owner Dave Difani, who bought the place in 1986. “When I moved in, housing prices there were under $100,000. Now the houses are going for, well, quite a bit.” But rocketing property values haven’t much affected the graffiti-covered bar – a tradition Difani doesn’t actually approve.
Originally located in Ferguson, Faraci Pizza is now housed on Manchester Road in Ellisville, in a building that looks like it used to be a Taco Bell. Blink, and you’d miss it. Inside, framed paintings of the Tuscan countryside line the walls and the same family that’s been in the pizza business since 1968 still works in the kitchen. “My brother Pete and I oversee and do everything in the restaurant,” said Vince Faraci, whose parents opened the place. “I cook every pizza that comes out of here.” He takes pride in making every component from scratch. The dough undergoes a three-day process before it’s ready. The sauce, which has a slight wine
fruitiness, takes hours to make. The cheese is sliced Provel for even texture, finished with a dusting of Romano. Aside from pepperoni, all the meats are boned, cut, ground and seasoned at the restaurant. All melt together in the brickbottom oven for a classic St. Louis thin (but not cracker) crust pizza. And after all that work, it’s gone before you know it. – M.N.
Now Pi has five locations throughout the metro area, two in Washington, D.C. and one in Cincinnati, Ohio. With less than 10 years in the business, it has more name recognition than St. Louis staples three times as old. We can’t wait to see what Sommers does with his next pizza project, ’Zza, opening soon. – M.S. Various locations, pi-pizza.com
15430 Manchester Road, Ellisville, 636.230.0000, faracispizza.com
PI PIZZERIA Compared to others on this list, Pi Pizzeria is a recent addition to the St. Louis pizza universe, but it has made a name for itself that can’t be ignored. Founder and St. Louis native Chris Sommers was working in the tech industry in San Francisco when he fell in love with the pies at Little Star Pizza. He was so enamored that he bought the recipe for its dense cornmeal crust and moved back to St. Louis in 2008 to reintroduce the pleasures of a deep-dish to a hungry populace. “We had a little bit of luck, fresh eyes and great pizza,” Sommers said. These “new” pies immediately caught the attention of the anti-St. Louis-style camp, producing acolytes who helped spread the word. Sommers’ political activism also garnered immediate national attention for Pi, attracting the restaurant’s most notable partisan: Barack Obama. The former president tried a slice while campaigning in St. Louis in 2008, and was so impressed he invited Sommers to cook for the first family in the White House shortly after winning the election.
FAROTTO’S PASTA & PIZZERIA Walking into Farotto’s, you’ll notice the layout is a little quirky; 61 years of additions and renovations have resulted in the odd nook and cranny – like the pizza pickup area, which is offset from the main dining room and has its own entrance. “That was the original space,” said owner Jeff Parrott. Parrott’s aunt and uncle, Betty and Lou Farotto, opened the pizzeria in 1956 with just three tables and carhop service in the tiny building that grew to approximately 6,000 square feet with a bar and a large enclosed patio. Aside from the building and the people in it, not much has changed at Farotto’s. “I like seeing kids come in time after time, growing up in front of my eyes. I look forward to seeing them becoming adults,” Parrott said. About 10 years ago, a man came in with a relic from his own childhood at Farotto’s: a beat-up old pizza pan. “He said he dined and dashed back when he was a kid, around 1958,” Parrott said. More than 50 years later, the man came across the pan at his mother’s house and decided to return it. “It would
have been nice if he’d offered to pay for the pizza,” Parrott joked. – T.L. 9525 Manchester Road, Rock Hill, 314.962.0048, farottos.com
IMO’S PIZZA No St. Louis-centric dish is more contentious or provokes more passionate discourse than “The Square Beyond Compare.” The Imo’s pie, featuring the thinnest of thin crusts topped with sauce and Provel cheese, has for years had purists crying foul, while sending diehards into a frenzy for those crispy, foursided slices. The Provel, of course, is the provocateur here, that creamy amalgam of Swiss, provolone and cheddar that provides a smoky tang and an unmistakable, unnatural texture. The Imo’s saga started in 1964 when Ed and Margie Imo opened their first pizzeria in a tiny space at Thurman Avenue and Shaw Boulevard. Originally, Imo’s only offered carryout and delivery during evening hours, since Ed still worked days as a tile setter. After opening 30 locations, the company began to allow franchising in 1985, spreading the St. Louis-style gospel even further. Today, there are nearly 100 stores, and no matter your pizza allegiance, Imo’s is forever ingrained in our local culinary consciousness. Though some may think all Imo’s are created equal, our loyalties lie with the location on Hampton Avenue near Forest Park. Maybe it’s the oven or the lady who always takes our orders, but those pies have the best sauce-tocrust ratio in town. – M.S. 1000 Hampton Ave., St. Louis, 314.644.5480, imospizza.com
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frankenpizzas We ca n only a ssume ea ch of t hese m o n strosi ti es bega n i n t he hea r t of a hungr y d runk , and we t ha n k t hem . – Ti f fa ny Leo ng The T-Rav Pie at The Sliced Pint The ultimate St. Louis drunk food: This doubledecker pie is stuffed with toasted ravioli filling. The second crust is adorned with your choice of toppings to solve the age-old, late-night dilemma: pizza or t-ravs? 1511 Washington Ave., St. Louis, 314.696.8787, theslicedpint.com
Felix’s Baby Back Pie at Felix’s Pizza Pub This 18-incher is topped with a half slab of ribs: Shredded rib meat, barbecue sauce and a sprinkle of dry rub join with mozzarella and are crowned with the final three bone-in ribs for good measure. It looks prehistoric. 6401 Clayton Ave., St. Louis, 314.645.6565, felixspizzapub.com.
ILLUSTRATION BY VIDHYA NAGARAJAN
The Clayton at Felix’s Pizza Pub Why choose between Thai and Italian? Coconut red curry replaces standard tomato sauce in this fusion pie, which is topped with chicken, lettuce, tomato, green onion and a deluge of jalapeno ranch sauce. 6401 Clayton Ave., St. Louis, 314.645.6565, felixspizzapub.com.
Cubano at Pi Pizzeria Is it a sandwich or a pizza? Who cares when yellow mustard replaces tomato sauce and is layered February 2017
with a healthy dose of Swiss cheese, savory slow-cooked pulled pork shoulder, country ham and dill pickle slices for a pie that satisfies all kinds of cravings. Various locations, pi-pizza.com
Tim’s Breakfast Pizza Pie at Chris’ @ the Docket Slathered in sausage gravy and topped with smoked cheddar, sunny side up eggs and broccolini, this pie stands out as exceptionally odd amongst its breakfast pizza compatriots. 100 N. Tucker Blvd., St. Louis, 314.977.4615, chrisatthedocket.com
Vampire Slayer at Basso This fancy Frankenpizza version of a sausage pie features shrimp sausage, Fresno chiles, salmoriglio (an Italian dressing made from lemon juice, garlic, oregano and olive oil) and garlic chips with a creamy fontina bechamel. 7036 Clayton Ave., St. Louis, 314.932.7820, basso-stl.com
Spaghetti Pizza at Jonny’s Pizza & Pasta This is exactly what it sounds like: just spaghetti noodles and a sweet house-made meat sauce on a hand-tossed crust with mozzarella cheese. The place isn’t called pizza or pasta, people. 4628 N. Illinois St., Fairview Heights, 618.416.4464, jonnyspp.com
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OBSESSED the relentless repetition of st. louis pizzaioli
b y h e a t h e r h u g h e s // p h o t o s b y c a r m e n t r o e s s e r
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opposite page: margherita pizza from pizzeoli; scott sandler of pizzeoli
“I always think of Neapolitan pizza as being similar to sushi,” said chef Mike Randolph, who opened The Good Pie in 2008. Randolph was the first pizzamaker in St. Louis to pursue VPN True Neapolitan Pizza certification. “The people coming up have one task, and that’s what they do for years before they’re finally able to touch the dough. And just like the sushi master, there’s one guy that makes all the pizza. There’s something very romantic about that.” It may be romantic, but being a pizzaiolo is also punishing. Aside from the physical exertion of tending a wood fire and making pizzas night after night, it takes a certain kind of person to devote so many hours working toward an ideal they’ll never accomplish. Even when a shift yields only happy, pizzapraising customers, it’s not uncommon for pizzaioli to consider that night a failure because the crust could have been better. “These places in Naples that have been doing it for hundreds of years – that’s what we aspire to be, right?” Randolph said. “And we’re never going to get there, to be frank.”
t’s hard not to speculate on a pizzaiolo’s psychological motivations. Why do it? What makes an impossible task with inexorable failure rewarding? For some, it’s respect for tradition. For others, it’s the meditative quality of repetition – the absorption of rhythmically recurrent tasks. Some revel in creating a dependable system, while others obsess over the subtle unpredictability of dough and fire. Usually, it’s a mix.
implicity is complicated. To be a Neapolitan pizzaiolo, or pizzamaker, you have to be willing to do the same thing over and over in a monotonous series of tasks that require active attention every time. The Italian
Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana demands a certain kind of dough (made with Italian 00 flour and a long fermentation), a specific sauce (handcrushed San Marzano-style tomatoes), a particular cheese (fresh mozzarella,
preferably buffalo) and a precise baking method (90 seconds or less at more than 800 degrees) in a specially designed wood-fired oven. For the uninitiated, the detail of these regulations is a little mind-numbing.
Obviously, this job is not for everyone – not even Randolph. “There are thousands of people in the world that have dedicated themselves – long hours, every day of the week – to making the perfect Margherita,” he said. “I mean, can you imagine making one dish every day for the rest of your life?”
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ven as he trained with Roberto Caporuscio, VPN Americas president in 2008, Randolph knew he didn’t want to make pizza full-time. After all, this is the chef who owns three restaurants with wildly different cuisines (Half & Half, Público and Randolfi’s) and still hosts the avant-garde Diversion dinner series to keep himself creatively satisfied. “I totally admire it, but you need to find someone who has that passion to revel in simplicity and feel like he’s the tip of the iceberg of something that’s been done for so long,” he said. At the moment, that person is Taylor Hamilton, who has been Randolfi’s
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pizzaiolo since it replaced The Good Pie in 2015. Hamilton is a traditionalist. He takes his time. “It’s bigger than yourself – like anything worth doing,” he said. “There is a certain level of insanity to it, I suppose. But when everything comes together to make a really good pizza – when all the conditions work in your favor and it comes out – it’s almost a euphoric experience.” “Conditions” is a word usually reserved for something like sailing, but Hamilton is so dialed in that he can notice the weather’s effect on his pizza making. Temperature and humidity alter how
dough ferments and wood burns. “If there’s ever a personality that meets a station, that’s Taylor,” Randolph said. “He’s very particular. He’s very studious. … And he’s living pizza right now. Pretty much every day of the week, that’s his life. [On his day off], he’s asking how the dough is and he wants to know what’s going on.” For someone who believes he’ll never master the thing he spends all his time doing, Hamilton has a pretty good attitude. “If you have a bad night, if the dough’s not to your liking, you just have to take it – you just have to eat it all night,” he said. “You try your hardest, and when those things are
working against you, you just have to stay in the moment and hope to do better the next time.”
izzeoli owner Scott Sandler has a different perspective at his Neapolitan-style pizzeria in Soulard. “You’re always a student, but I have to say I’ve reached the level where I wanted to be as far as making pizza,” he said. “Now it’s just making sure day by day I’m putting out a consistent product.” Sandler’s pizzaiolo personality is systematic perfection. “Consistency is important for a restaurant’s success,” he said. “So every day I make the dough February 2017
at the same time. I use the same recipe, follow the exact same procedure. … If you’re not focused on the details, then you’re not going to be successful.” All this attention to detail doesn’t mean Sandler is a born rule-follower or loves jumping through hoops. Though he traveled to Naples and trained at VPN’s Accademia della Pizza Napoletana in Inglewood, California, before opening, he didn’t apply for the official Neapolitan certification. Why pay for such an expensive assessment – more than $2,000 for rigorous VPN inspections of your pizzeria and process, then annual fees – when he already knows his pizza is impeccably Neapolitan? For Sandler, it’s practice that really makes the pizza. He’s fired around 40,000 pies since Pizzeoli opened in October 2014. He’s the engine that runs the whole place. “This is a one-man operation,” he said. “I have total control. Maybe I’m somewhat of a control freak, I don’t know. It’s possible.” Control freak or not, it’s risky and expensive to hand over the peel. It’s hard to find someone capable, and a serious investment to train them. “It requires a tremendous amount of skill to work this oven, because not only do you have to make the pizzas, but you have to maintain the temperature, you’ve got to know where the hotspots are on the deck, you’ve got to turn the pizzas at the right time,” he said. He’s only just now found someone he trusts enough to train. That’s why Sandler is going in a very different direction for his next project, Pizza Head, scheduled to open on South Grand Avenue in March or April. He plans to make New York-style pies using an electric pizza deck oven at Pizza Head – a machine for which Sandler can create a system that’s equally consistent and dummy-proof.
elo’s Pizzeria pizzaiolo Joey Valenza learned about his wood-fired oven the hard way. “I never worked one before, to be honest with you,” he said. He never even trained with an expert. “I probably should have. It would have saved me a lot of headaches.” Instead, Valenza watched YouTube videos and MacGyvered a grill into a makeshift February 2017
melo's pizza oven pizza oven. “I had a Weber grill, and I put a steel ring around it and cut an opening just like the opening in the oven,” Valenza said. “Then I put a pizza stone on the inside – I cracked, like, five of them.” For every 50 pizzas, he said a couple turned out decent. “But I was so obsessed with the transformation of raw dough – transforming into that typical spotted crust,” he said. “I didn’t even care about eating it. It was more like creating art.” He experimented for a couple years before his dad, Blues City Deli owner Vince Valenza, bought a wood-fired oven and converted the garage behind the restaurant into a pizza place. The younger Valenza only had two months to train on the real deal before Melo’s opened in December 2015. “The day we opened I was so sick, probably because I was so stressed,” he said. “We sold like a hundred pizzas and, seriously, I don’t know how we did it. They looked all right. It’s just a miracle – divine intervention.” Melo’s is clearly less traditional than Randolfi’s and Pizzeoli, turning out Italian-American pies somewhere between
Neapolitan and New York-style. Valenza uses fresh and low-moisture shredded mozzarella and makes a sturdier crust more suited to the tiny shop’s primarily carryout business. He and his brother, Johnny Valenza, currently fire all Melo’s pizzas. Influenced by their Blues City backgrounds, the brothers operate an assembly-line version of the lone-wolf Neapolitan tradition. “It took a while to even figure that out,” Valenza said. “At first we had this mentality from working at the deli: We would go super fast all the time. And then we realized that oven would cool down too much from having pizza after pizza in there. You have to let it heat back up.” The Valenzas are honing in on the right recipes, the quirks of their oven and running another business. They still work at Blues City, which is why Melo’s is only open two days a week. “I have three kids, too. I used to have a lot of energy – now I just have a normal amount,” Valenza said. “I think over time, hopefully we’ll get enough people trained up so that we can expand our hours. Until then, we’ll just get a lot of complaints. … They love the pizza. They don’t love that we’re not open.”
As a pizzaiolo who learns by doing, Valenza doesn’t get bored doing the same thing every day. “I think it’s important for anybody working in a trade – even though you think you’ve got it all figured out or you couldn’t screw up – to keep doing it over and over and over again,” he said. “You will slowly become a better craftsman.”
espite occasionally waxing poetic on the artistic expression, the Sisyphean punishment and athletic accomplishment of working the oven on a busy night, Hamilton, Sandler and Valenza don’t lose track of what’s important: They get to eat pizza almost every day.
“Everyone loves pizza,” Sandler said. “If they don’t eat it, it’s not because they don’t love it, it’s because they’re on a diet or something. I mean, who doesn’t like pizza?”
Melo’s Pizzeria, 2438 McNair Ave. Rear, St. Louis, 314.833.4489, melospizzeria.com; Pizzeoli, 1928 S. 12th St., St. Louis, 314.449.1111, pizzeoli.com; Randolfi’s, 6665 Delmar Blvd., University City, 314.899.9221, randolfis.com
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10. Pillow $27. Paper Source
11. Hape homemade pizza play kit $25. City Sprouts, 8807 Ladue Road, Ladue, 314.726.9211, citysprouts.com
12. Night watch studios pizza slice lapel pin $7. Living Collective, TechArtista, 4818 Washington Blvd., St. Louis, 314.932.5665, living-collective.com
13. Meri meri pizza love notes $8. Lemon Gem Kitchen Goods, 4180 Manchester Ave., St. Louis, 314.696.2744, lemongem.com
1. Washi tape $5. Paper Source, 8811 Ladue Road, Ladue, 314.881.0473, papersource.com
6. Pizza specialty paper $4. ArtMart, 2355 S. Hanley Road, Brentwood, 314.781.9999, artmartstl.com
$25. Paper Source
3. Hand-forged brass lapel pin
Pizza is the ultimate comfort food, transcending seasons and ages, able to satisfy our celebrations, sad sufferings and empty stomachs. This explains why it’s honored in so many inedible forms. From jewelry and clothes to home decor and stationery, surround yourself with pizza. – Maggie Pearson
7. ‘You wanna piece of me?’ tote bag
$20. Philomena and Ruth, 118 W. Mill St., Waterloo, 618.939.3990, philomenaandruth.com
$15. Phoenix Rising, 6331 Delmar Blvd., University City, 314.862.0609, shopphoenixrising.com
8. Coin purse
$9. Paper Source
$4. Phoenix Rising
9. Pizza party socks
$7. Paper Source
$11.50. Phoenix Rising
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stuff to do:
FEBRUARY BY MAT T SORRELL
Left For Dead Dinner Feb. 8 – 6:30 p.m., Gamlin Whiskey House, 236 N. Euclid Ave., St. Louis, 314.875.9500, gamlinwhiskeyhouse.com Waste not at the Left for Dead Dinner at Gamlin Whiskey House. This spirited event features a threecourse dinner. Each course is paired with cocktails created with J. Rieger & Co.’s Left for Dead, a unique whiskey-like spirit made with discarded mash from Boulevard Brewing Co. Tickets available online or at the restaurant.
Orchid Nights Feb. 9 – 6 to 9 p.m., Missouri Botanical Garden, 4344 Shaw Blvd., St. Louis, 314.577.5100, mobot.org Take in MOBOT’s orchid displays along with live music and tastings from local wineries and breweries, including Augusta Winery, Montelle Winery, Earthbound Beer, Modern Brewery and Spirits of St. Louis Distillery. Admission includes a complimentary cocktail, and there will also be a cash bar and small plates for purchase. Tickets available online.
Chocolate & Whiskey Pairing Feb. 6 and 10 – 7 to 9 p.m., Larder & Cupboard, 7310 Manchester Road, Maplewood, 314.300.8995, Facebook: Larder & Cupboard Step aside, wine. Pair decadent chocolate treats from Kakao with whiskeys from all over the world. Nibble sweets paired with Kansas City-based J. Rieger’s whiskey, Missouri Spirits’ bourbon, Chicago-based Koval millet whiskey, scotch and more. Tickets available online.
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Transit Crush 2017 Feb. 16 – 5:15 to 9:30 p.m., Central West End MetroBus Center, St. Louis, 314.231.7272, cmt-stl.org/ transit-crush-2017 Citizens for Modern Transit invites citydwellers on a bar crawl. Hop on the No. 95 bus and head to The Royale to start things off, then ride to Gelateria Del Leone for a sweet treat. The night ends at Blank Space, where participants jump on the No. 73 bus to Union Station. Register online and purchase food and drinks at the stops.
Centennial Beer Festival Feb. 17 – 6 to 9 p.m. and Feb. 18 – 2 to 5 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m., Moulin Events, 2017 Chouteau Ave., St. Louis, 314.241.4949, centennialbeerfestival.com Around 40 local and regional breweries like Charleville Brewing Co., Main & Mill Brewing Co. and Destihl Brewing Co. pour samples of more than 200 beers at the ninth annual Centennial Beer Festival. Grab tickets online for one of three sessions and peruse the schedule of additional events before the festival, including a five-course brewmaster dinner and a homebrewing competition.
Hot Wing Eating Contest Feb. 21 – 6 to 8 p.m. Hammerstone’s, 2028 S. Ninth St., St. Louis, 314.773.5565, hammerstones.net At this long-running competition, participants down 3 pounds of wings and a pitcher of Kräftig beer. The top three finishers take home a cash prize. Those who don’t want to compete can order the Spectator’s Special: the same amount of wings and beer – with the option to share among friends. Sign up at the event.
sponsored events Opera Theatre’s Wine and Beer Tasting Feb. 10 – 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Sally S. Levy Opera Center, 210 Hazel Ave., Webster Groves, 314.963.4223, opera-stl.org Support the arts at Opera Theatre annual wine and beer tasting. Sip beers from Grey Eagle Distributors and wines from restaurants like Parker’s Table and Robust, while establishments like Small Batch, Cravings, Three Kings Public House and Kakao Chocolate provide snacks. Tickets available online or by phone.
GENT! Menswear Designer Showcase Feb. 16 to 18 – various locations, 314.546.8881, brainchildevents.com Connect with designers, retailers and media at Gent!, a menswear fashion showcase. Gent! features a fashion show including designers like Paulie Gibson, Skif and Marcel Coleman Jr.; a pop-up shop; and barber competition. Tickets available online.
Soirée pour la Vue: An Evening for Sight Feb. 17 – 6 to 10 p.m., Palladium, 1400 Park Place, St. Louis, 618.394.6444, mindseyeradio.org Enjoy a night of music and food at MindsEye’s annual Soirée pour la Vue. Place your bids at the silent and live auctions, dance to swing and jazz and partake of Cajun-influenced fare at the gala’s Mardi Gras-themed buffet. Tickets available online or by phone. February 2017
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WHAT I DO
Meredith and Rick Schaper
dogtown pizza is available at most area groceries, dogtownpizza.com
The Early Years “The only pizza I had until I was 14 was Imo’s. My first sleepover, we had Domino’s with pepperoni, and I didn’t know what either one of them was. For us, [pizza] was a special occasion. We went and sat at Imo’s – we didn’t even get carryout.” – M.S. “The real core of me is Farotto’s Pizza in Rock Hill. I started there when I was 11 and worked there until I was 21, so I had 10 years in a pizzeria. Literally, you’re at the most influential stage of your life from 11 to 21. That was my life. I didn’t think I’d do anything but work at that place. I was already the kid that hung out with my mom in the kitchen. [There are] stories of me on a stool, licking the strings off the roast beef.” – R.S.
A Rough Start “We invited some investors and tried to throw a party to raise
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money for a restaurant, and we got zero dollars. … It was right when [the economy] was crumbling. In our first year being in the frozen business, restaurants closed left and right. … The good fluke was people stopped going out to eat and grocery shopped more, and that’s where we were – in the grocery stores.” – R.S. “Talk about trial and error. The first batch of labels weren’t coded so that the ink wouldn’t run in the freezer. We didn’t know to tell [the printer] that. When we said we were putting it on a pizza, we thought they knew!” – M.S.
Dogtown or Die “Everybody asks, ‘When are you moving out to Chesterfield?’ Never – I’m staying in my nice cozy brick home in Dogtown. … My parents met and dated in Dogtown. My mom grew up and went to grade school at St. James the Greater
and got married at St. James the Greater in the ’50s, and our first house is on the same street as my parents’ first house. … It’s still in the city, it’s close to everything, and the community and people are just tight-knit.” – R.S.
Long Live Pepperoni “I hate plain cheese pizza. I hate my own cheese pizza. It just feels like it’s unfinished. It makes no sense to me.” – R.S. “It’s like ordering a Jack and Coke and getting a glass of ice.” – M.S.
Dogtown Pizzeria? “There’s a really strong fire inside me that still wants [to open a restaurant] because I enjoyed it, but then I go back to the risk of restaurants, the hours, the toll on your body and I say no way. … I’m not saying I couldn’t make it work – of course, in my mind I know I could – but there’s still a risk.”– R.S.
PHOTO BY KAT NIEHAUS
Rick and Meredith Schaper had big plans in 2006: open a pizzeria serving St. Louisstyle pies. But when the economy started to decline, the Schapers had to try another strategy. Today, more than 300 retailers carry frozen Dogtown Pizzas, each handmade and flash-frozen at their warehouse in North City. Here, the Schapers tell how their business thrived in a tanking economy – and why they’ll never move to West County. – Catherine Klene
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