Happy National Pizza Day! Some pizza memories…
When I was a kid we got carryout from Pasquale’s in the Norwood section of Birmingham. One night when I was 9 or so, my dad let me go in and order and pay and bring the pizza to the car. In those days, Pasquale’s put the pizza in a paper bag to be carried home horizontally. I, however, carried it vertically.
The pizza toppings all slid to the bottom of the bag into a greasy lump. Happily, my dad only chuckled at my mistake and the pizza was easily repaired when we got home.
My first gig after college was at KSTT radio in Davenport, Iowa. We had a station basketball team that would face off against area high school faculties. After each game, we would go to Pizza Hut where we had trade and would order lots of pizza and beer. I pigged out often on Pizza Supreme and Budweiser. Good times!
I became a fan of deep-dish pizza when visiting Chicago in the 70s. In the 80s, Chicago deep-dish joint Pizzeria Uno went national. I enjoyed their pizzas in Philly and Dallas and later in St. Louis. Nowadays, my favorite deep-dish pizza comes from St. Louis’s own Pi Pizza. (Love Pi’s cornbread crust, too!)
When we moved to St. Louis in 1988, a neighbor sent over an Imo’s pizza as a welcoming gift. I recall we were all curious—especially my son Mark—about this thin crust pizza with the strange tasting cheese.
In time, we came to embrace Imo’s and Mark went on the cook and deliver for them. He worked at a number of pizza joints around Ballwin and learned every subdivision shortcut and cut-thru in west county.
He excelled at “hot selling.” If a pizza joint had no lunchtime orders, he would cook a few pizzas and drop by area businesses such as banks or car dealers. He’d say, “Hey, we made too many pizzas today. Would you guys like to buy a couple? Five bucks apiece!” Sold.
When I was a country DJ at WIL, I learned that singer Vince Gill was a huge Imo’s fan. He makes a habit of delivering an Imo’s shoutout from stage anytime he performs in St. Louis. Around 1994 or so, I took him and his band and crew several Imo’s pizzas when he was performing at Six Flags. His gratitude was overwhelming.
In the early aughts, I saw a Travel Channel show about Best Places In the U.S. To Pig Out. Among the suggestions was Poynter’s Pizza in Richmond Heights with their enormous Poyntersaurus pizza. There’s an eating challenge connected to the Poyntersaurus—if two people can finish it in thirty minutes without bathroom visits, the pizza is free. We talked about them on WIL and—voila!—they dropped off a Poyntersaurus. Although I’d never try the challenge, I can attest that their pizza is good.
A few years later when I was doing the morning show at KLOU, my producer Aaron and I were chatting casually about favorite pizzas and the phone lines lit up. I learned then the level of passion that people have for pizza. Of course the Imo’s lovers chimed in, but many other independent local pizza joints were also mentioned including Pantera’s, Fortel’s, Elicia’s and Black Thorn Pub.
In 2012, I had my first visit to Slice in Birmingham and had their Soul Pie (pictured below), which is topped with turnip greens, black-eyed peas, Conecuh sausage, red onion, bacon and pepper jack and cheddar cheeses. Not for everyone, but I love it.
In 2013, I took my grandkids to PW Pizza on Chouteau. It immediately became their favorite and is a go-to spot whenever I take them out to lunch or dinner. I like the Pulled Piggy pizza (shown below) with pork, sweet BBQ sauce and slaw. A great beer selection at PW, too! (Named for owners Paul and Wendy Hamilton.)
I have long thought that pizza joints should jump into the breakfast market but that hasn’t happened. Although last night’s pizza leftovers continue to be a breakfast staple for many. Remember when ESPN-2 had a morning show called Cold Pizza? QuikTrip markets introduced breakfast pizza a couple of years back and it’s decent.
Pizza love continues to grow around St. Louis with numerous new joints popping up everywhere, especially over the last five years or so. It’s understandable. People like pizza. And the raw material costs versus the menu prices can be favorable to operators. Plus, all the new pizza ideas keep the pizza world ever evolving.
My National Pizza Day suggestion: Avoid the “commodity level” pizza as much as you can. Enjoy the good stuff.