St. Louis-Style Pizza
Every major city has some dish or regional specialties that you can only find there and St. Louis, the gateway city, is no different. In fact, it has more than a few specialties, such as Gooey butter cake, St. Louis style ribs, Pork steak, Snoot sandwich (don’t ask), and of course, the St. Louis style pizza. With an item as ubiquitous as pizza, where does one regionality begin and another end? St. Louis style is curious though, for being so prevalent in the city. The mere mention of it delivers responses as different as an apology all the way to a starry-eyed hungry look. So, how can this pizza be so beloved and shunned at the same time? The answer is simple. Just like the movies “Harold and Maud” or “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” St. Louis style pizza is a tasty cult classic.
What defines a St. Louis pizza, and where did it originate? This pizza is characterized by a super thin crust, a mild tomato sauce, and a specialty, super melty and gooey cheese called Provel. The pizza can be round or square in shape, but it is nearly always cut into square pieces.
What we consider St. Louis style pizza didn’t develop at a single moment in time, but rather slowly, over years of modest changes. It began in 1945, when Amedo Fiore opened up Melrose Pizzeria in the gateway city. People in St. Louis had not yet been exposed to pizza, so this was their first exposure to the simple dish. Amedo made an uncomplicated pizza with a thin crust, tomato sauce and options for three modest ingredients: cheese, garlic and/or anchovies. He would bring the thin crust pizza to the table and cut it into squares, as part of the presentation, with a large pair of scissors. Due to Melrose Pizzeria’s immense popularity, copycat pizzerias began to pop up around town, and they also made thin crust pizza cut into squares. Slowly over time, the crust got thinner and thinner until it became the crisp, paper-thin crust on every St. Louis pie today.
The final and most unique piece of the puzzle didn’t come into play until the early 1950’s, when a new cheese named Provel became commercially available. Provel is a processed version of Provolone and white cheddar. The cheese was a cost-effective alternative to Mozzarella with incredible melting properties. Soon after it hit the market, a St. Louis pizzeria called Luigi’s was documented to use Provel on its pizzas as early as 1953. The popularity and acceptance of the pizza slowly gained steam and now just about every pizzeria in the metro St. Louis area offers a version similar to what was offered at Luigi’s almost 70 years ago.
- Crust: Best described as an incredibly crisp, yeast-less paper-thin base, with a lot of cornmeal. This is consistently the thinnest pizza crust anywhere across the country. A popular feature to this crust is its ability to hold a large amount of toppings and not break, crack or fold.
- Sauce: A simple, and slightly sweet tomato-based sauce with a dried Oregano profile.
- Cheese: You can ask that it be made with Mozzarella, but St. Louis style pizza is known for Provel. Provel is a processed cheese blend that today is made of Provolone, Swiss and white cheddar. It has the melting properties of Velveta, the flavor similar of gouda, and a unique, stick-to-your-teeth quality. Provel is really the biggest point of difference, and you can’t find this type of cheese outside the St. Louis area.
- Toppings: There are no unique toppings specific to St. Louis, but rather the fact that this is not a fancy, froo-froo topped pizza. One thing to note is the amount of toppings can be quite robust. The crust has the ability to be heavily topped and stay crisp or resist breaking under the weight.
- Serving: It is cut into squares, or what we call “tavern cut.”
- How to eat it: The middle piece is the most coveted slice on the pie. It is said to have the most toppings and the best experience, as the crust can hold all of it. Also, according to a few locals, the trick to not having the cheese stick to your teeth is to combine two pieces of crust on the outside, like a cheese sandwich.
BEING SQUARE IS COOL
Does the St. Louis style pizza have a place at the table with the other great regions like Detroit or Chicago styles, or should it get shunned to the kids table in the corner? Let’s evaluate. The pizza has a style and attributes that are unique and consistently applied throughout the region. It is easy to find on the menu at almost every pizzeria in the city limits and it even has a pizza chain with more than 100 locations devoted to it. This paper-thin, square cut, stick to your teeth pizza may be shunned by some, but it is hard to argue that it is not another example of a unique regional American specialty. And, many Missourians will tell you—it is hip to be square.
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Locations visited for the field research portion of this classic American trend are listed below:
- Address: More than 100 locations
- Website: https://www.imospizza.com/