Wednesday, June 17, 2009

St. Louis Pizza Time! Johnny C's: 11200 W 75th St and George's Pizza: 8435 W 95th St.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009
As if the world really needed another style of pizza, I started to hear about the St. Louis variety upon moving to Missouri three years ago. I don't get really excited about specific pizza styles, probably because of my experience with the Chicago deep-dish stuff. Seriously, I think it's rather gross, like an overpriced cheese brick. And it's not even as prevalent as Chicagoans and television shows would lead you to believe; the vast majority of neighborhood pizza places serve really lame, standard fare. In fact, I would venture to say that Chicago overall is a lousy pizza town.

Anyhow, who knew St. Louis had its own style? And that it is so incredibly weird? People who read this blog probably know more about St. Louis pizza than I do, but for those who don't, here's an overview:

It has a thin, crackery crust, sparse use of sauce, and is topped with something called provel cheese--a creamy, processed mixture of provolone, swiss, and cheddar, kind of like a white velveeta. It is often cut into squares rather than triangles.

George's Pizza

One of the most loyal and helpful commenters to this blog is JH, and he (I'm assuming it's a "he") recommended Georges Pizza to me not once, but twice. I dutifully visited a couple months back and ordered the lunch special with his recommended mix of provel and mozzarella. It's a nice deal at $6.95. The special came with a tepid little salad accompanied by these weird homemade croutons.

George's Pizza

What is it about pizza parlour salads? Do they not understand fresh vegetables?

George's

Seriously, it's like these places try to make the salad as much like a pizza as possible. This one, as you can see, has cheese, pepperoni and black olives.

George's is interesting because it is owned and operated entirely by Asians. And the place has a locomotive theme. Train memorabilia decorates the joint and a track runs along the perimeter of the ceiling, though I saw no little train car up there.

George's

I was not crazy about Georges pizza to be honest. I can't find the photo I took at the time but it was a 10" little pie with lots of cheese and a few chunks of sausage. The dry, thin crust reminded me of those cheap Totino's frozen pizzas that cost $1.09 at Price Chopper. The sauce was essentially nonexistent and the provel was mildly off-putting. It smells odd and has a sharp undertone to its flavor. Like JH, I liked the sausage quite a bit, but there was so little of it on the pizza that it didn't really make up for the overall weirdness. In all fairness, JH did indicate that the larger pies were better.

But sorry JH, I put off writing about this place because you like it so much and hesitate to piss you off. However it turns out that there's probably nothing wrong with George's, I just don't like St. Louis pizza that much.

George's St Louis Style Pizza on Urbanspoon

You see I paid a little visit to Johnny C's recently, which is another St. Louis pizza parlour at 75th and Nieman. I did this at the urging of local blogger and food lover Goofy Girl. Indeed, she was the first to really explain St. Louis pizza to me comprehensively. Johny C's seemed like the kind of place that, love it or leave it, I had to try.

Johnny C'S

Johnny C's is a classic pizza parlour in a lot of ways, with a bar, pool table, video games and those traditional hanging lamps you used to see at old pizza huts.

Johnny C'S

Their lunch special involves your choice of two of the following: a pizza slice, salad, half sandwich, toasted ravioli or garlic bread (there may be other choices I'm forgetting). I opted for the slice and a salad to make a proper comparison to George's. I got the full provel treatment, and it was pretty strange.

Johnny C'S

The odor of this cheese is just a little intense for me, and I'm no shrinking violet. The salad was almost exactly like Georges: shredded cheese, a pale tomato wedge and a couple pepperoni slices. It was topped with a couple of odd, dusty crackers.

Johnny C'S

Service at both George's and Johnny C's was excellent. At both places you order from the counter and wait for your food at a table. Value is likewise very good: you can't beat a $5 lunch special which is what you get at Johnny C's but George's gives you more food for the money since there is a whole little pie. The ambiance at both places is pretty unique and cool, far exceeding that of chain pizza restaurants around the metro.

In general I preferred the pizza at Johnny C's, mostly because of the crust which tasted more substantial and homemade than George's. Both had excellent Italian sausage. I think both places warrant repeat visits, but I probably won't get the full-on St. Louis pizza experience next time. Indeed Johnny C's advertised an Italian beef lunch special that I'm eager to try. You all know how much I love Italian beef.

I probably should have done more research on the St. Louis pizza phenomenon but it was hard to muster the motivation. I just don't like it that much. I'd love to hear from you all about your opinion of St. Louis style pizza and your favorite places to get it.

UPDATE: I located the George's pizza photo. Here is is.

Pizza

32 comments:

Chimpotle said...

I noted my hatred of St Louis-style on the Hot Blog. I think you're doing yourself a disservice though by mixing the Provel and mozzarella. The slice from Johnny C's also looked a little dried out. Provel must be consumed while hot and creamy.

Through my adventures, I've found that I sort of like the St Louis-style found at Waldo Pizza, and Leo's in the Northland isn't half bad. Imo's is the devil though.

Bull E. Vard said...

I typically find all things St. Louis disgusting with the exception of St. Louis style ribs, but I think the pizza might be the most offensive of St. Louis sins. I don't mind thin crust pizza, so I place all of my scorn upon the provel cheese. I do not ever wish to be presented with provel cheese again in my life and I view those that like it as if they are the devil. I'm no cheese snob as evidenced by my love a Velveeta based cheese dip, but provel cheese has no redeeming qualities.

In short, St. Louis style pizza might actually give the reprehensible city of St. Louis a bad name.

On a side note I wrote this comment after 6 beers.

JJSKCK said...

I agree with Chimpotle that Waldo probably has the best St. Louis pizza in town...which is a bit like saying Alberto Callaspo is the best hitter in town.

Sorry, I'm just jaded about pizza in general right now. I stop at every new pizza place I see to give it a try, hoping I'll find my new Holy Grail. If someone from out of town asked me where to get the best pizza in town I don't know where I'd tell them to go.

Don't get me wrong--there are a lot of pizza places I like, but I want to find one I LOVE.

jill said...

Provel is hardly cheese and does not belong on pizza, in my book. I'll admit we do order St. Louis style pizza at Waldo Pizza but substitute mozzarella for that slimy, creamy processed stuff.

JH said...

I'm done with this blog!

JH said...

Kidding of course. I look forward to every review.

Anyway

Sounds like George's messed up the crust. It should be like the "crackers" (croutons) with multiple layers, etc. Really, if you didn't see a rusted out beater in the parking lot, the experienced pizza maker wasn't there. I've had them fark up the crust on mine before, not good.

That said, it doesn't sound like St. Louis style is the style for you. Totally understandable. It is unique to say the least. I think it is that uniqueness that originally got my attention.

Is George's my favorite pizza? No, I have no favorite.

Like JJSKCK, I try every new pizza place I can, and I can't name a favorite. If someone asks for a recommendation I usually ask for a description of what they consider to be "good pizza" and try to match that with what is available, I've tried them all. Right now it is hard to say where to get good pizza; I'm waiting for something new.

I've rambled on long enough but could go on much longer: I love to talk pizza

Papias said...

Pizza is very subjective. What one person likes another finds reprehensible.

St Louis style pizza is strange to me. I ate at George's once, and never went back.

For thick Chicago style(there is a thin Chi style), its usually Uno. The thing about them is that it is better when you eat in. When you take out, the pizza doesn't taste as good.

When the wife goes out of town, I get a small Chi style from Rosatis. The thing literally takes up the small box, and its not cheap. But it takes me through two meals. When you get a large Chi style, better bring some friends, cause that mother ain't going down without a fight. :)

When we want pizza, we usually do Papa Murphys take n bake. The Bacon and Chicken thick crust is to die for, but some may think its too bready. But Papa M. makes a pretty good regular and thin crust as well.

The DLC said...

Thanks all. Whenever pizza comes up in this town, people mention Minsky's and Waldo Pizza. Waldo is nice for some interesting toppings, lots of options and good beer in-house. I forgot they have a St. Louis style and it is pretty good now that I think of it.
Minsky's is a KC tradition that I respect but don't think is all that special. Occasionally a pie from Pizza 51 really hits on all cylinders, but it's way inconsistent. Grinders is probably my favorite of the lot but I rarely get over there for lunch.

jill said...

I don't get Minky's either and i, too, am not a local. I did like their BBQ chicken pizza - though it's a been a few years since I've had it. Pizza 51, Grinders and D'bronx are the closest I can find to east coast pizza.

Chimpotle said...

I am local and think Minsky's is awful.

My favorite pizza to get is an Italian beef on thin crust from Rosatti's. It should be illegal.

James said...

I just moved to KC after several years in NYC. Waldo Pizza is the hands down winner. NYC is to pizza what Ohio State is to college football...overrated.

The DLC said...

Looks like I have a fellow Wolverine in the house

m.v. said...

years ago IMO's pizza moved here advertizing as being voted #1 in St.Louis since pizza was invented or whatever. I tried it both here and in STL and it was nasty both times.
Re: Minsky's - it's just as overhyped as every other "KC legends.

Olentangy said...

If you like New York style pizza, try Johnny Brusco's at 135th and Nieman, it is in the strip mall just east of where IMO's is located. It has the new york thin chewy, bagel/soft pretzel type crust with plenty of sauce. It is a chain, but is the best pizza I have had in KC.

Owen said...

My family is from St. Louis and I grew up eating Imo's, Talyenas and too many Washington Park places to remember. Back when it was owned by George, George's couldn't be beat. It would import its provel from St. Louis and love it or hate it, provel is proper St. Louis style. Problem was George was always trying to sell his place and he had an affinity for yelling at customers.

Dan said...

Love Imo's and Waldo, but I grew up over on that side of the state.

Goofy Girl said...

Hmmm...in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I was born 'n raised in the STL. Please don't be a hater!

So...maybe you have to be weaned on this stuff, but I can't get enough of STL-style pizza (...or Chicago pizza or NY pizza - I'm pretty much equal opportunity when it comes to pizza).

Here's my thought. You should return to Johnny C's at DINNER time (skip the pre-heated lunch triangle crap), order a FULL pizza (a small one will do), which will allow you to have the SQUARE slices. It's the squares that make the difference, dude. And you abso-f'ing-lutely need a BEER with this pizza. And (as several previous commenters have mentioned) it must be consumed immediately, even though this will almost definitely result in the OMG-I-JUST-BURNED-THE-ROOF-OF-MY-MOUTH-OFF syndrome.

And a rousing game of Defender on the archaic video games helps round out the full experience. :-)

p.s. Real St. Louisans NEVER mix provel with mozzarella, by penalty of law.

The DLC said...

Goofy, My Johnny C's slice was full on provel. George's was the " special mix," as they call it. And you're right, a beer and a game of Defender makes everything better. I'm perfectly willing to give it another go.

The King said...

Just for the record Provel is the white processed cheese used at several places. Waldo Pizza's 'St Louis style' actually uses Provolone, Swiss & Mozzarella mix. Provel & Provolone are TWO entirely different cheeses.

Chimpotle said...

One of the three cheeses mixed into processed Provel is provolone, so I don't get the King's point. If anything, the difference between Waldo's mix is using mozzarella instead of white cheddar.

Waldo using their own mix is probably what makes it more tolerable.

phome said...

The toppings go all the way to the end and leave no crust(at least in DLC's pics). Is that another quality that makes St. Louis pizza unique?

The Monty Hall Problem said...

Leo's off of Englewood is a pretty fantastic representation of what I think St. Louis style pizza should be. Then again, my absolute favorite pizza in the world is pepperoni, mushrooms and extra cheese. You see, ladies and gentlemen, I simply don't fuck around when it comes to pizza.

I grew up on Pagliai's pizza in Maryville, so the transition from theirs to Leo's is really just about the cheese. It's creamy, and I like the flavor, but even for me, an admitted fan, sometimes it's just a bit too much. Going 1/2 and 1/2 with mozzarella makes for a pretty good combination.

I don't know how the pizza would be if you loaded it down with toppings, or threw a bunch of sausage on there, because in my mind, only pepperoni, mushrooms (out of a can, none of this dried up fresh mushroom horse shit) and sometimes black olives can go on these thin crust pizzas.

In the end, however, I realize that some people just don't like it--and those individuals are inherently flawed.

The DLC said...

MHP, Thank you for your impassioned defense of St. Louis pizza. I'll put Leo's on the spreadsheet and render full judgment sometime in the (distant) future when I have a hankering for the stuff.

JH said...

Just a quick FYI Leo's and George's are related. In fact, George's used to be called Leo's. I don't know all the details, but they are/were basically the same thing.

I have never made it to Leo's up north but have wanted to. If you make it, please update - I'd be interested in how they compare.

Well Hell Michelle said...

Waldo Pizza and Minsky's have pretty good St. Louis style pizza. (Yes haters, I said Minsky's.) Imo's is okay, but the cheese is a little salty.

I. F. VAN SANT said...

Ii grew up on Imo's pizza.

It is King.

kc wired said...

I didn't know what the heck that goo was on my pizza until I read this review and I didn't know St Louis claimed their own style pizza. But I can tell one thing; ST Louis style pizza is grotesque. I used to work for a company that brought George's pizza in for lunch and it crap then, back when George owned it. He used to drop that crap off. Ugh

Skullbussa said...

That dried-up piece of crap in your Johnny C's picture does not resemble pizza I have ever had from there.

No, Johnny's is not as good as Waldo...it's just *different*. But if I am hungry for pizza it's Waldo's or Johnny C's...nothing else comes close in KC.

Debbie said...

OK. I've lived in both towns and love 'em both. Truth? I understand not wanting to get next to the provel for those who didn't grow up with it.

HOWEVER, the truth is KC is NOT a pizza town! St. Louis style pizza or not. In St. Louis, you can go many places for a great pizza WITHOUT the provel, just mozzarella on a thin crust, or a chicago deep dish, etc.

If someone opens up a place in KC that has a great pizza (we did go to Waldo Pizza and it was good), they would clean up!

Debbie said...

OK. I've lived in both towns and love 'em both. Truth? I understand not wanting to get next to the provel for those who didn't grow up with it.

HOWEVER, the truth is KC is NOT a pizza town! St. Louis style pizza or not. In St. Louis, you can go many places for a great pizza WITHOUT the provel, just mozzarella on a thin crust, or a chicago deep dish, etc.

If someone opens up a place in KC that has a great pizza (we did go to Waldo Pizza and it was good), they would clean up!

JH said...

DLC, I just felt like commenting on my recent Johnny C's experience. I took my friend there the other day...I had no idea he'd never been, but anyway, I got my usual: pepperoni, sausage, mixed cheese, extra sauce (I usually go a little well done but didn't have time). Well, it was great. My friend loved it so much he wanted to come back the next day (yes, we're fat). Let me just say, they screwed up our order - we ended up with a pepperoni & mushroom, no extra sauce, and just provel. I hated it. It was dry and the cheese was cloying.

Now, ordered the way I usually do with the mixed cheese and extra sauce I love it. The "normal" way they serve it...not so much

JH said...

Oh, one more thing. Don't bother with the Italian beef at Johnny C's. It actually isn't too bad of a sandwich, but it isn't an Italian beef. It is roast beef on a fairly crusty roll, with pickled banana peppers, the ubiquitous provel, and a small portion cup of jus.

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