Thursday, September 22, 2016

St. Louis Style Pizza (The Debate)

Many locales across the country have their unique style of pizza, from the Brooklyn style on one coast to the California and Hawaiian styles on the other. A pizza fiend such as myself can always find something new, some unique combination of ingredients or crust or tradition. That's one of the things that makes pizza fun and has earned it a spot as one of the most popular food in the United States.

For just a regular consumer who is just as likely to eat a frozen pizza from the store or buy one from a local pizzeria or chain like I did for years, the world of pizza is just that. Pizza is pretty much pizza --- easy to make and delicious to eat. End of story.

People are generally aware of their local pizza style along with a few others, but don't really give it much thought beyond that. In my region it was St Louis style pizza. And while I actually grew up a few hours east of St. Louis, I was well aware of the style and ate it nearly all the time. In fact, the first and third pizzeria I worked at served St. Louis style pizza even though they didn't call it that.

I wouldn't call it my favorite style of pizza because I have so many I love, but I would definitely say it's my preferred and "Go-To" style.

So imagine my surprise when reading "Pizza: A Slice of American History" by Liz Barrett when the author referred to St. Louis style pizza as a subcategory of "Bar/Tavern/Party-Cut" style and lumped it in with many other style of pizzas that come from the midwest. I'm sure I wasn't the only one put off by this slight. She even included the Chicago (non-deep dish) style in this category. Her basic argument was that if it is cut into squares, came from the midwest, and originated sometime during the 1950s, then it was "bar" pizza.

Of course my first thought was "New York Snob." You can find this sort of snobbery in many aspects of society, from the arts to clothing. Basically, if it's not from New York or California, then it's automatically inferior. Now, keep in mind, that was my gut reaction from previous experiences, so that may not be the case here and I'm just defensively jumping to conclusions.

Yes, she's more of a pizza expert than I am currently am, but there are plenty of other pizza experts who do consider St. Louis style a style of its own and do not relegate it to a subcategory of bar owners who wanted to sell cheap pizzas to drunk guys playing pool. 

What makes St. Louis style unique begins with the crust. Not only is it cracker thin, it contains baking powder instead of yeast. It is also topped with Provel cheese, which is a combination of up to three different types of cheese, and does not include mozzarella. From there, it's pretty standard compared to other pizzas, but it is cut into squares both for stylistic and practical purposes since the wedge shape on such a thin crust doesn't bode well for holding a lot of weight in cases of multiple toppings.     

If you've never had this style of pie, you should give it a try just to put that notch on your pizza belt. But do be cautious: Never tell a St. Louisan that St. Louis style pizza is just "bar pizza" and not worthy of its own category. (wink)

Until Next Time...
Here's a video of a home cook explaining how to make a St. Louis style pizza. She clearly isn't from St Louis since she sometimes says "St. Louie" and the phrase she quotes at the end is actually a commercial jingle for local chain "Imo's" and is not anything anyone in St Louis actually says. But if you want to know how to do it, this is worth the seven minutes.

Squarely Yours,
Michael