There have been a lot of theories advanced over the years about the origin of pizza: There’s the leaning tower thing, the queen that ate peasant food, and the GI’s bringing a taste for it with them when they came back from the second World War. Some say that an Italian immigrant by the name of Genaro Lombardi started America’s fascination with the pie, when he opened his first pizza shop in New York City in 1905. It was the original “brick oven” pizza. The ovens back then were heated with coal. You may have heard that at first, tomatoes were considered poisonous until some brave soul sat on the town steps somewhere, ate a whole bunch of them, and didn’t die.
The first pies in New York were simple affairs: the crust, mozzarella cheese, tomato, and fresh basil. These were also the colors of the Italian flag. One theory even states that the word “pie” comes from the Magpie, a blackbird that gathers small objects and drops them into his nest, just like you would scatter toppings on top of the pizza. One thing is for certain though, we love the stuff. The average American consumes about 25 pounds of pizza per year.
Then, of course, you have the age-old argument about which pizza is the best: New York thin crust or Chicago deep dish. Those two are the only ones that really matter. I guess you could say that there is a California style, but they put all kinds of fruits and vegetables on theirs. Weird.
St. Louis is host to most of the large pizza chains. We’ve got Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and Papa John’s. We also have quite a few full service restaurants that serve an excellent pizza. Just go down to the hill area, stand on a corner, any corner will do, spin around a few times and point your finger. The restaurant that you are pointing at probably has a pretty good pizza. Then there is the Blackthorn Pub. This little joint probably has the best pizza in the area. Nothing fancy, just meat and cheese and maybe some onion, mushroom, and green pepper. But it’s a bar and they don’t deliver. If you just want to chill out at home with a cold one and watch the game, or take the family out, here are a few alternatives:
Imo’s Pizza (various locations throughout the city) is what most people mention when they think of “St. Louis” style pizza. The “Square Beyond Compare” has all of the usual toppings and one unique topping that you can’t really get anywhere else: Provel cheese. This cross between Velveeta and Elmer’s glue is the bane of restaurant critics everywhere, but your average citizen in these parts just can’t get enough of it. It even shows up on a lot of deli sandwiches. Provel has very little taste, but the “Goo from the Lou” has a consistency and chewiness about it that has to be experienced to be appreciated. Imo’s sauce is a little bit on the sweet and tangy side and some say that the sausage is a tad too greasy, but that’s the nature of sausage, isn’t it? The pizza is square in shape so it fits in the box better and the thin crust is truly thin as a cracker.
Racanelli’s bills itself as the only truly New York style pizza in the city. They have four locations, but the best one is down on Delmar, in the Loop. The crust is medium thin and the toppings are generous. You can also go into the restaurant and order the pizza by the piece. Be sure to pick up plenty of napkins and eat the oie New York style: grab the whole piece with your right hand, support it with your left, fold it down the center and chomp away. Racanelli’s motto is: “It’s Not A Piece Of Pizza, It’s A Masterpiece!”
Fortel’s Pizza Den (7932 Mc/Kenzie Rd) is the epitome of the family run business. In the first few years after opening in 1981, Bob Fortel and his family camped out in sleeping bags on the stockroom floor. Now, with quite a few other locations in the metro area, all that hard work is finally paying off. Bob usually scores a #1 pizza review in the newspaper and magazine polls every few years. This is definitely a family friendly place to go and the pizza ain’t bad either. The pizza is served up on a medium thin crust, and though Bob is from St. Louis, you won’t find any Provel cheese here. It’s strictly 100% mozzarella. All of the usual toppings are evident here as well as a few unusual ones like white sauce, pesto, beef gravy? and sauerkraut.