In the St. Louis pizza debate, Andrew Mark Veetyonce preached about what he thinks ruined pizza in America: the cardboard pizza box. Before the Church of Pizza fizzled out after but one pizza, it was a point he’d wanted to tackle. His plan had been to consume a pizza in-house on each visit, but also order one to go to see how it held up when eaten the way most pizzas in America are consumed: delivered.
It’s a good point, really. Pizza by the pie–or slice–should be eaten in a pizzeria or pulled from the oven in your own kitchen. To stuff a pizza into a cardboard box to steam away or, in the case of slices, stuffing pizza onto several paper plates and then forcing the whole thing into a white plastic bag for consumption elsewhere, is a crime.
But more than that, it’s sad that the classic American pizzeria, with its moderately priced pies, has faded away. As a kid I fondly recall many a post-game celebration in pizzerias where graffiti-clad wooden booths lined the walls, red and white checkered tablecloths covered the tables, and each had its prerequisite video-game room stocked with Froggers and Ms. Pac-Mans in the early days, and Castlevanias and Spy Hunters–a game at which I am particularly adept at–in the later ones.
Those days are long since gone, however, and convincing people that they shouldn’t eat pizza that got made and delivered by a cadre of under-paid teens is a battle you’ll never win. America as a whole is lazy when it comes to food–more interested in cheap convenience than the quality that often comes with effort.
Enter in again, the slice–a sticking point between Veety and I. He laments the lack of slices in St. Louis and speaks fondly of his time in Brooklyn where, on his walk to the subway ride home from work, he’d grab a quick slice.
Expanding on the idea, it could be said that the slice is pizza at it’s best. It’s rarely taken to go and, if it is, it’s usually consumed on the go, not later. So the slice—the complete opposite of the delivery pizza—is pizza at its full potential: fresh from the oven.
But here’s the thing: it’s hard to compare something like pizza by-the-slice in New York to St. Louis. We just don’t have the foot traffic. There are things that can only exist in cities like New York–and really thrive–because they have thousands of people walking by these places every day.
To get a slice in St. Louis, you get in a car, you drive there, you get your slice, you drive back. It’s not the same as grabbing a slice around the corner from your job because you’re headed that way in route to the train to get your ass back to Brooklyn.
In a way, it’s similar to the hot, out-of-the-oven, freshly sliced, pastrami and corned beef at Katz’s. It will always trump what we get in St. Louis because in St. Louis, they’re likely reheating it because they don’t have the necessary volume.
That being said, I have reluctantly been duped.
As I mentioned on the latest episode of the StewedSTL podcast, tucked away in a strip mall behind a Valvoline Quick Lube on Howdershell Road in what—let’s be honest here–might possibly be the world’s worst location, sits Mario’s Pizza. Not to be confused with the St. Louis Style, which formally occupied the space at the corner of Clayton and Baxter in which the Chesterfield Pinow resides, this Mario’s serves New York style pizza. Good New York style pizza. Even by the slice!
Open since April, it took a slow drive in rush-hour traffic ,only a few weeks ago ,to spot it and, always being on the hunt for something worthwhile near home, I pulled in to check it out.
On that visit I had a slice of pepperoni and it was a revelation to find a pizza this good in Florissant. The sauce was tangy and well seasoned without being overly herby, the bottom was nicely browned and crisp the way a good New York style pizza should be, and the crispness yielded to an interior that was chewy without being a workout. Putting it in context, La Pizza is the only place I’ve had a better New York style pizza in St. Louis.
Wondering why a slice this good was hidden away on a secondary street in North County, I asked just that. Turns out the owner had originally been one of the owner/operators of BT Pizza on Washington Avenue. As things started to go in a direction he didn’t care for, he got out and opened Mario’s.
Having now consumed three–one, in fact, being that night as I returned only a few hours later to get a pie to go—I can also confirm Veety’s original point. It wasn’t as good to go. The crunch was gone, and the pleasant chewiness of before had given way to something more akin to density. But you know what? It was still pretty damn good. I just make sure to eat a slice on the way home now to get that first crispy slice that always burns me, but also leaves a smile on my face that something this good is so close to home.
Now to find a Spy Hunter…