Young and Hungry

Enough with Neopolitan: St. Louis- and San Francisco-Style Pizza

We've been writing a lot about New Haven-style pizza recently, and of course it's hard to avoid discussing Neopolitan pizza here in the District. But, needless to say, pizza exists in many forms unique to particular regions, many of which are not locally–or widely–available.

imosTake St. Louis-style pizza. Looks pretty good, right? (An aside: You'll note that the pizza is cut into squares rather than triangles. This is not unique to St. Louis; it's characteristic of thin-crust pizza in the Midwest.) On a recent trip to St. Louis, I made a point to try a pizza from the city's largest local chain, Imo's. The pluses: toppings galore, plenty of cheese, a crispy cracker-thin crust. In addition to being plentiful, the toppings were fresh, too. The minuses: the cheese. Yes, there's plenty of it, lending a nice cheese-to-topping ratio, but the cheese leaves something to be desired.

Provel is the pizza cheese of choice in St. Louis. No, not provolone–Provel. Provel is a processed cheese made with Cheddar, Swiss, and provolone. The word processed says it all–it's got a gooey, Velveeta-like consistency, and it doesn't brown. Imagine putting American on your pizza and you've got a pretty good idea of what Provel's like. Unsurprisingly, Provel is rarely used outside of the St. Louis area.

Imo's was actually not the first pizza I had in St. Louis. When I initially expressed interest in getting one of their pizzas, my friend Beth in St. Louis was less than thrilled. "Ugh, I hate Imo's," she said. "We can go there if you want to, but there's also this place with San Francisco-style pizza, Pi." Reasoning that it'd be easy for me to find an Imo's without her, and that I'd never even heard of, let alone tried, San Francisco-style pizza, I told her Pi would be just fine.

provelThis framed T-shirt by Pi's bar–which is also worn by many Pi servers–conveys the pizza joint's attitude toward the cheese that their St. Louis-style counterparts use.

pi2Beth definitely did right by me. Pi's San Francisco-style pizza is similar to Chicago-style pizza. It's deep dish, and the sauce is on top. (Armand's, take note.) The sauce seemed to be chunkier than most Chicago style-sauces; typically, the sauce is thin enough so that the cheese below the sauce can still get a nice carmelization on it, and on this pizza the sauce was too thick to allow for any browning beneath. But the main difference is in the crust, which is made with a liberal amount of cornmeal. Chicago-style pizza crust is made with cornmeal, too, but in a lower proportion. The San Francisco-style result is a crust that's less dense–it's almost airy, despite the thickness.

pi1Pi also makes a mean thin (cornmeal) crust pizza. That sausage you see? It's not sausage at all, it's Match meat. Match is a St. Louis-based manufacturer of meat alternatives, and this stuff is the best fake meat I've ever eaten–ideal for vegetarians who have a hard time quieting their carnivorous urges. The texture of the Match sausage was spot-on, and the caraway seeds really added that extra dose of sausage authenticity.

Pi produces legitimately good pizza, and I'll definitely be back the next time I'm in St. Louis. But the novelty factor is really the main thing they've got going for them in the Gateway City–in a town of Provel, mozzerella's got to be a welcome change from time to time.

  • B

    St. Louis style pizza is utterly vile. An embarrassment to pizza making. Shame on you for misleading your readers by suggesting otherwise. I'd even prefere continuing the inane discussion on the virtues of Neopolitan pizza rather than considering STL pizza.

    Match meat is disgusting too. Uses non-organic ingredients, which means GMO soy. I'm vegetarian and won't touch the stuff. It's in the same dubious foodstuff category as Quorn.

  • Writing Teacher

    Why do you think anyone here gives a rat's ass about what people in St. Louis eat? Not like I will ever be going there. Please stay on topic. Fail.

  • Pete Witte

    I lived in St. Louis for over two years and adapted to the pizza. It's true that provel cheese is quite the change from other, more conventional, better tasting 'za cheeses. But it's uniquely St. Louis and much tastier than American or Velveeta cheese: it's creamier with a lot more zazz. Plus, while St. Louis has a pizza style of its own, the city's proximity to Chicago means that there are also some Chicago style pizzerias that have made it that far south, which provide quality variety (e.g. Black Thorn Pub in Tower Grove Park). When I left Chicago for St. Louis, I never thought that I'd have so few pizza options. But when I left St. Louis for D.C., I never imagined that I was going even further into the pizza desert. Thanks for this article and reminding me of Imo's, which I would take any day over the pizza options around these parts.

  • Joshua

    I grew up in the Bay Area and never saw pizza like the 'San Francisco style' shown here. Strange.

  • B

    I would even take Jumbo Slice over Imo's. I'd rather go hungry than eat Imo's

  • Kokos Kong

    I'm sure you've been to, and eaten in, San Francisco enough times to know that there is no such thing as San Francisco style pizza. What you ate is obviously nothing more than a slight variation on Chicago style dressed up with a different name. I'm surprised you took it at face value.

    As for a post on St. Louis style pizza? Thanks. It's interesting to read about other cities' takes on , what has become, that most American of foods. There are actually a lot more versions out there than most folks realize (San Francisco style, not among them).

  • Mississippi mudshit

    This commentariat is expert-laden!!! So much knowledge, and with it so much superiority. I will attest to a disgust of all things Provel. Tim nails it noting that the stuff doesn't get used outside of the Lou. Anyway, I love putting Mizzoura in its place. Those folks are as arrogant as their river is brown. It's true little-man syndrome - their second to Chicago, the original Second City.

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  • W. Mark Felt

    Having spent some time in the Loo, I can tell you that they don't like Chicago, so not too surprising that they would invent "SF style" pizza. Looks straight out of Lou Malnati's kitchen to me.

  • Golden Hoya

    The deep dish pizza described here isn't "San Francisco Style", its Oakland style. The pizza is modeled after Zachary's pizza in Oakland and Berkeley.

    The Zachary's website pays homage to Chicago-style, but the pie really is different with a chunkier sauce like the one described in the review for Pi.