As a St. Louis native living in KC, I’ve heard just about every jab—we St. Louisans care too much about where we went to high school, we think too highly of our baseball fandom and, yes, we no longer have an NFL team. Fair enough. But I refuse to stand idly by while people badmouth St. Louis-style pizza.
Is it an acquired taste? Perhaps. Is it bad? Definitely not.
For those who are unfamiliar, St. Louis-style pizza has three unique characteristics: a wafer-thin crust, a distinctive processed cheese and an unconventional slicing method. The pizza dough is made without yeast, resulting in a thin and crispy crust. The pie is cut into squares, not slices. The pies are topped with a processed cheese called Provel, a waxy “blend” of cheddar, Swiss and provolone. It’s a local product and prized for its low melting point, which makes it buttery and gooey out of the oven. As the pizza cools, Provel hardens into a gluey, plastic-like consistency—the leftover slices are extra good as part of a nutritious breakfast.
Kansas City has four spots making authentic St. Louis pies, and all have their merits.
You cannot mention St. Louis-style pizza without first paying homage to the chain that started it all: Imo’s Pizza. There are now two local Imo’s franchises, both on the Kansas side: 4200 Rainbow Blvd., KCK and 11552 W. 135th St., Overland Park. Imo’s also has toasted ravioli and uses Provel in its unmelted form on its salads.
The other well-known St. Louis-style pies in KC can be found at Waldo Pizza (7433 Broadway St. KCMO), which was founded by a St. Louis native in 1987. Waldo actually serves three distinctive styles of pie, so be sure to ask for St. Louis-style if you’re watching a Blues game. Those pies are something of a hybrid, using a Provel-heavy blend that dilutes the gooeyness with standard mozzarella. Waldo also applies a thin coat of garlic butter to its St. Louis-style pies before they’re sauced. Note: After discontinuing its lunch buffet during the pandemic, Waldo has now brought it back on Fridays and Saturdays.
Everyone knows that pizza pairs best with an ice-cold beer. For the full experience, look no further than Columbus Park, the historic heart of Kansas City’s Italian community. Moretina’s Caddy Shack (700 E. Third St., KCMO) is a dimly lit sports bar with TVs hung on every available wall. It serves “Sicilian-style thin crust” pub pies, defaulting to mozzarella. But there’s Provel in stock, and the staff is happy to blend the cheeses directly onto the square-cut slices.
Up in Gladstone, Leo’s Pizza (408 N.W. Englewood Road, KCMO) has been family-owned for four decades. The original owner passed away more than a decade ago, but things are mostly unchanged in this old-school spot with drop ceilings and brown carpet. Shrimp is among the available toppings, and mozzarella is available upon request, but Provel is the house cheese. Be warned that the regulars are fiercely loyal, and weekend waits can stretch to an hour and forty-five minutes. Ordering ahead on Fridays and Saturdays is highly recommended.