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KC’s pizza style is a free-for-all

Hand-crafted pizza featuring fresh mozzarella, basil and roasted garlic is cooked in a wood-fired oven at 700 degrees at Pizza Bella in Kansas City.

Ink

New York loves its thin crust. Chicago’s all about the deep-dish. And in St. Louis, it’s not a pizza unless it’s cracker-thin with a gooey layer of processed Provel cheese.

But what about Kansas City?

In the land of barbecue joints and steakhouses, you’d think pizza would be an afterthought.

A Yellow Pages search reveals otherwise. There are — at a minimum — 246 places to order a pie in this city. Expand your search to the suburbs and you’ve got more pizza possibilities than you can throw a Parmesan shaker at.

So what’s the melted mozzarella that holds all of these establishments together?

It’s not the crust. Everything from paper-thin to deep-dish-thick goes here. It’s not the sauce or the cheese, either.

Maybe it’s the toppings. If there’s one thing Kansas Citians love, it’s meat. Look on any local pizzeria’s menu and you’ll find pork, beef and chicken piled on pizzas with scary-sounding names like Bacon Explosion (Next Door Pizza & Pub in Lee’s Summit) and Kansas City Carnage (Fat Freddy’s in Lawrence).

Some pizzerias try to avoid putting a carnivorous pie on their menu but cave when their customers continually request a “meat lovers” pizza.

When Spin! Neapolitan Pizza opened its first location in Kansas City in 2005, the only meat pizzas on the menu came with one topping: prosciutto, sausage or pepperoni. Customers kept ordering all three meats on one pie until Spin added its Tres Carni pizza. Today it’s one of the chain’s top-selling items.

If there’s one pizza that defines Kansas City, it’s the meat pizza, says Vic Almo, a native New Yorker who owns the Art of Pizza in the Crossroads Arts District. Almo started with traditional cheese and pepperoni but eventually added a Meataholic pizza to appease his customers.

The pizza’s loaded with pepperoni, thinly shaved ham and two types of sausage: sliced and crumbled.

Almo says he’s drawing the line at adding a barbecue pizza, though.

“I tell ’em they need to go to Pizza Hut,” he says in his thick New York accent.

It’s not that every pizzeria in Kansas City is meat-crazy. Across the street from the Art of Pizza is Pizzabella, a family-owned business that uses as many local farm-grown ingredients as possible and cooks its rustic pizzas in wood-fired ovens.

And a few blocks from Pizzabella is Grinders, which tops its pizzas with tandoori chicken, crab, salmon, fresh cilantro, Tater Tots … you name it, it’s on a pizza at Grinders.

Maybe there’s no one thing that unifies Kansas City pizza into a “style.”

“No, there’s not,” says Pizzabella co-owner Hilary Glynn. “And I don’t mean that in a negative way at all. There’s just so many different types of pizza in Kansas City.”

The Dish in Liberty is famous for its deep-dish pizza. Brookside’s Bella Napoli serves pizza like you’d eat in Italy. Waldo Pizza has vegan pizzas and an authentic St. Louis-style crust. And so many other local pizzerias don’t fall into a neat category.

Spin co-owner Gail Lozoff says Kansas City is a melting pot for pizza styles.

“There are so many people here that have moved from other places,” she says. And they brought their pizza tastes to the plate.

You’ll find everything from Thai to Tex Mex on pizzas in Kansas City. That’s a good thing according to Glynn, who says she loves trying pizza at other locally owned restaurants around town.

This past month, we ate our way through more pizzas than was probably necessary to bring you this mini-guide to 10 of Kansas City’s most popular pizza styles.

When the crushed red pepper flakes settled, we saw an unexpected upside to Kansas City’s pizza style (or lack thereof): Customers here have lots and lots of options. And that’s a good thing, no matter how you slice it.

Meat! Meat! Meat!

Kansas City is hog heaven for carnivores. Our barbecue joints and steak houses are among the best in the country, and our pizzerias cater to meat lovers by loading down their pies with anything and everything you can buy at the butcher shop.

Meat-heavy pizzas consistently outsell plain or veggie versions at Next Door Pizza & Pub , 3385 S.W. Fascination Drive in Lee’s Summit, where the top-selling pie is the N9ne, a recipe from the strange mind of Kansas City rapper Tech N9ne.

The pizza’s covered with red toppings (Tech’s favorite color): pepperoni, Italian sausage, bacon, hunks of Buffalo chicken, red peppers and red onion. Jalapenos pack extra heat.

Next Door’s second-most popular pie, according to manager Robert Ramirez, is the aptly named Butcher of Longview, a meat feast of pepperoni, Italian sausage, bacon and meatballs.

Also try: the Carnivore pizza at Papa Keno’s with locations at 1035 Massachusetts St. in Lawrence and 7901 Santa Fe Drive in Overland Park; the bacon strip-topped Prime Cut at Minsky’s, with 14 locations across the metro; the elk sausage-topped Snooty Coyote pizza at Chiusano’s Brick Oven Pizzeria, 1713 Village West Parkway in Kansas City, Kan., and the Cowtown Lovers pizza at Pizza 51 , with two locations in former gas stations at 5938 Mission Road in Fairway and 5060 Oak St.

Watch for Pizza 51 pizza at the Milwaukee Delicatessen, a deli and pizzeria opening next spring in the Cosby Hotel building at Ninth Street and Baltimore Avenue downtown.

Ingredient anarchy

Kansas City is the Wild West when it comes to ’za. Anything goes. And Grinders, 417 E. 18th St., is taking full advantage of that freedom.

Grinders tops its super-thin slices with everything from smoked salmon and capers to tater tots and chili. For $3.99, you can “bomb” any pie at Grinders with a pile of chili cheese tots. But the most popular pie on the menu is the Bengal Tiger, a pizza made famous on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” The India-inspired slice is a fragrant mix of pesto, tandoori chicken, crab meat, hearts of palm and fresh, verdant cilantro.

“How does this go over here in the heart of the beefland?” Guy Fieri asked Grinders owner Stretch Rumaner as Stretch assembled a Bengal Tiger on the show.

“People love it,” Rumaner said. So did Fieri, who said on the show the pizza tasted “like an all-Calypso jazz band funkalicious rock concert.”

Also try: The Reuben Kincaid pizza at RecordBar, 1020 Westport Road, the Hot Wing Chicken pizza at Joe’s Pizza, 4058 Pennsylvania Ave., and anything on the menu at Fat Freddy’s, 1445 W. 23rd St. in Lawrence, a carry-out and delivery pizza and hot wing shop that tops its Stoner Pie with pepperoni, bacon, mozzarella sticks, curly fries and extra cheese.

Fat Freddy’s also makes a Wake ’n Bake pizza with tater tots, fried eggs, crumbled sausage and gravy. Owner Jeremy “Fred” Tucker declined to comment on where he finds the inspiration for his recipes.

Fun fact: Former University of Kansas basketball guard Tyshawn Taylor was a frequent Fat Freddy’s customer when he lived in Lawrence. He even tweeted photos of Fat Freddy’s baked ziti a few days before the 2012 National Championship game.

Barbecue

Kansas City’s craving for barbecue knows no boundaries.

Case in point: the proliferation of barbecue pizzas. Scan the menu at any locally owned pizzeria and chances are you’ll see a pie made with lots of meat and sweet and smoky barbecue sauce.

Old Shawnee Pizza, with locations at 6000 Rogers Road in Shawnee and 2422 S. 34th St. in Kansas City, Kan., goes above and beyond with its Smoke House pizza. A homemade thin crust is slathered with barbecue sauce, sprinkled with three cheeses, and then topped with chicken, jalapeno, onion and pineapple.

Pineapple is also on the Spicy BBQ Chicken pie at Stone Canyon Pizza Co., with locations at 15 Main St. in Parkville and 8630 N.W. Prairie View Road in Zona Rosa. Stone Canyon, which cooks all its pizzas in a stone oven, has another barbecue pizza called Bob’s Whole Hog that comes with two kinds of sausage and two kinds of bacon.

Square Pizza, 208 W. Maple Ave. in Independence, puts red onions on its BBQ Chicken pizza. ** Minsky’s puts cilantro, provolone and Swiss cheese on its Barbecue Chicken pizza and also makes a BBQ Bacon Cheese Burger version, complete with barbecue sauce and every burger ingredient except for the bun. Even pickles and bacon strips.

Lawrence pizzerias such as Rudy’s, 704 Massachusetts St., bow to Kansas City’s barbecue kingdom, too. We ordered the Bar-b-que Rudy, which comes with crumbled beef, crispy ham, slices of sausage and KC Masterpiece barbecue sauce instead of marinara. Slightly caramelized red onions and the molasses in the sauce combine to form a sweet counterpoint to all the savory meat.

Italian-inspired

Kansas Citians don’t have to book a flight or convert dollars to euros to sink their teeth into an authentic Italian pie.

They just have to drive to Brookside. At Bella Napoli, a warm little cafe and deli at 6229 Brookside Blvd., the 10-inch pizzas are made with ingredients imported from Italy. The flour, the yeast, the San Marzano tomatoes, artichokes and prosciutto — all authentic Italian. The only ingredient that’s not is the water in the dough, according to manager Giorgio Antongirolami, who says he grew up in a pizzeria in Rome.

“I believe that our pizza is the closest you can find to pizza in Italy,” Antongirolami says.

At Bella Napoli, simple pizza recipes let the authentic ingredients shine. The top-selling Margherita bursts with ripe tomato flavor and the sunny aroma of freshly torn basil. The fresh mozzarella doesn’t overtake the soft, chewy, excellent-on-its-own crust, which is bubbly and charred around the edges.

Go on a Monday night, when $5 pizzas pack the place. Peek through the kitchen window and you might see Antongirolami and Bella Napoli owner Jake Imperiale tossing dough and arguing in Italian about whether Rome or Naples makes the best pizza.

Avelluto’s Italian Delight , 6522 Martway St. in Mission, also makes a classic Margherita pizza with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese imported from Italy. Other toppings include portobello mushrooms and polpette, or meatballs.

Top-secret family recipes are behind the spicy-sweet Sicilian sauce that tops the pies at Caddyshack, 700 E. Third St. The dive bar tucked into an industrial corner of the River Market makes delicious thin-crust pizza and delivers it until 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Santora’s Pizza, 3834 Main St., delivers its hand-tossed pizza pies until 4 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Try the lasagna pie, topped with homemade herbed ricotta cheese and spicy Italian sausage made by Scimeca’s in Kansas City.

New York-style

If making New York-style pizza in the middle of the Midwest is an art, Vic Almo is a regular Michelangelo.

Almo, the affable owner of the Art of Pizza, 1801 Baltimore Ave., is a New York native with Italian ancestry and a big appetite.

“I learned to make pizza by eating a lot of it,” he says.

When Almo moved to Kansas City, he couldn’t find a slice he liked. So he opened his own shop and started schooling locals on the art of New York City-style pizza. Each slice has to be thin and pliable, Almo says. You should hold it at the crust, not on the sides, and fold it slightly — but not like a taco! — so the slice stays straight and doesn’t droop.

Most important: The crust, the sauce, the cheese and the toppings must work in harmony. Almo says adding too much fresh basil or too much meat upsets the balance.

The Art of Pizza makes a Meataholic pizza to please its meat-loving clientele, but Almo prefers plain cheese or pepperoni slices fresh from the oven. If you’ve never tried one, he might make you eat in front of him so he can watch you take that first transformative bite. Seriously, this is the stuff Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ dreams are made of.

If you’re really hungry for New York-style pizza, head east to Lee’s Summit, where Monetti’s Taste of Italy, 1313 N. Douglas Road, serves up 28-inch Gigunda pizzas. Owner Giuliano Monetti, a native of Brooklyn, says each thin-crust Gigunda is made fresh from family recipes and weighs about 11 pounds. Monetti’s Gigunda pizzas are available for carry-out only. The restaurant’s dine-in menu features 10-inch personal pizzas cooked in Monetti’s wood-fired oven.

Also try: D’Bronx, a New York-style deli and pizzeria with four area locations selling hand-tossed pizza by the pie or slice. Mamma Leone’s, a little Italian restaurant in a former fast food joint at 650 E. Red Bridge Road, also specializes in New York-style pizza. Chicago-style deep dish

Head north for a pie with a buttery crust so thick you have to eat it with a fork. Not to Chicago, but to Liberty, where The Dishhas carved out a reputation as one of the best Chicago-style pizzerias outside of the Windy City.

The Dish, 846 S. Missouri 291, makes hand-tossed and thin crust pizza from scratch. But its bread and butter is the deep dish, made from scratch and baked in a pan until the deep red layer of marinara on top gets bubbly.

“It’s what people come here for,” says owner Mattie Ransom.

Because the pizza’s so thick and cooked to order, the wait time averages 25 minutes. But that doesn’t stop hungry customers from forking over time and money for popular pies such as 5 Meat and the Works, stuffed with sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, black olives, green peppers and onions.

If you live far from Liberty, look for The Dish pizza in the freezer at local Hy-Vee, Price Chopper, Sun Fresh and WalMart stores.

Also try Rosati’s, a national chain of pizzerias with roots in Chicago. Rosati’s has one location at 9928 College Blvd. in Overland Park, and according to myrosatis.com, two more are opening soon in Kansas City.

St. Louis-style

It’s easy to tell Waldo Pizza owner Phil Bourne hails from St. Louis: The pizzeria’s signature crust is extra thin and crispy, almost like a cracker. There’s toasted ravioli on the appetizer menu, and the dessert menu is one of the few places in town where you’ll find Gooey Butter Cake, a dense and deliciously rich cake that’s dusted with powdered sugar and soft enough to eat with a plastic spoon.

Despite its St. Louis-inspired menu items, Waldo Pizza is a Kansas City original. The pizzeria, which has locations at 7433 Broadway in Waldo and 1543 Douglas St. in Lee’s Summit, has one of the best beer selections in town. It also has separate gluten-free and vegan menus.

“We offer lots and lots of choices,” says manager Heather Rama. “Any kind of pizza you want, you can have it here.”

St. Louis-style pizza is the go-to here, but if you like a thicker crust, there’s also hand-tossed and honey wheat. The long list of toppings includes everything from basic pepperoni to figs, artichokes, pine nuts and pulled pork. We tried the staff-recommended St. Louis-style thin crust pizza with jalapeno bacon and smoked gouda on top.

The thin crust put the spotlight on the spicy, smoky, crispy pieces of bacon, which were nothing like the crumbled bits you usually find on pizzas. The melted smoked gouda, which is made by Waldo Pizza staffer Bob Keifer, was insanely good. The pizza barely survived a half-hour commute.

If you’re craving St. Louis-style pizza north of the river, try Leo’s Pizza, 408 N.W. Englewood Road, which tops its authentic pies with Provel, a gooey cheese made with cheddar, Swiss and provolone.

Rustic wood-fired

Walk through the Crossroads Arts District on a cold day and you’ll smell the comforting aroma of wood smoke drifting through the air, pulling you inside a warm, modern wood-paneled pizzeria where everything is made from scratch and cooked in brick ovens.

There’s no microwave, oven or stovetop in the kitchen at Pizzabella, 1810 Baltimore Ave. Everything on the one-page Hammerpress-printed menu is cooked in a pair of wood-fired ovens facing the dining room.

The toppings here aren’t over-the-top. Top sellers include the basic Margherita (tomato, garlic, mozzarella, basil) and the Biancoverde (a cheese pizza topped with a leafy pile of arugula). More elaborate versions include homegrown vegetables from a farm in De Soto.

Hilary Glynn, who co-owns Pizzabella with her husband, Quillan, says the key to making a great pizza is choosing real ingredients and then preparing them simply to maximize their natural flavor.

Pizzabella’s mushroom pizza, for example, is made with three kinds of mushrooms roasted with a little beer. The onions are roasted, too, which brings out their sweetness. The simple crust (made from flour, water, salt and yeast) is imperfectly round, charred in some places, and sprinkled with fresh thyme leaves that release a lemony aroma when they hit the warm pizza.

At Pizzabella, the charm is in the details.

A second Pizzabella opens soon in the Mission Farms development, which straddles the Overland Park/Leawood border.

Also try: Prairie Fire Oven, a mobile wood-burning oven that uses oak and cherry wood to cook pizzas topped with local ingredients. Follow the food truck’s whereabouts on Facebook or Twitter (@pfoven). Open Fire Wood Burning Pizza, a new restaurant at 3951 Broadway in Westport, lives up to its name with not one, but two brick wood-fired ovens. The most popular order at Open Fire is the Fire It Up, sauced with spicy marinara and topped with sausage, roasted peppers, onions and pepper jack cheese. If you want to try something different, there’s a Thai pizza with spicy peanut sauce and cilantro or a Baja Taco pizza.

Chef-approved

Last year, Restaurant Business magazine named Spin! Neapolitan Pizza ’s Margherita pizza one of the nation’s best dishes of the year. That’s kind of surprising when you consider that the humble pie has only three toppings: fresh mozzarella, roasted tomatoes and basil.

It’s the way the tomatoes are cooked, explains Spin co-owner Gail Lozoff, that sets this pizza apart from the rest.

“We roast grape tomatoes in our garlic olive oil,” Lozoff says. “They pop in the oven, so they soak up the oil.”

Sounds simple, tastes incredible. That recipe and every other recipe Spin uses was drafted with the help of Michael Smith, a well-known Kansas City chef who owns two popular restaurants in the Crossroads Arts District, Michael Smith Restaurant and Extra Virgin.

Like** Pizzabella in the Crossroads Arts District, Spin — which has five locations across the metro and is working on opening a sixth in Prairie Village — layers every ingredient with flavor.

So the potatoes on the Patate pizza are roasted before they’re baked onto the pizza so they’re crisp at the edges. The mushrooms are roasted, too, so they taste rich, not raw. The salad dressings and sauces are made from scratch. And Spin’s pizza bakers cook the pizzas quickly, at high heat in a stone oven, moving them around so they form air pockets but don’t burn.

That same level of thought and care goes into chef Michael Beard’s pizzas at 715 , 715 Massachusetts St. in Lawrence. The sausage, the meatballs and the soppressata (a spicy salami) that top 715’s pizzas are made in-house from locally raised pork and lamb.

Gluten-free

Kansas City is home to several pizzerias that serve up gluten-free crusts.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grains such as a barley and rye. Some people are sensitive to gluten and choose to cut it out of their diet. Lately, more restaurants are catering to a growing gluten-free crowd.

** Minsky’s has 7-inch and 12-inch gluten-free crusts and a separate gluten-free menu. Fred Meachum, who owns four Minsky’s locations including the one in City Market, says adding more gluten-free items increased his sales by 10 percent this past year.

Waldo Pizza has a gluten-free menu and a vegan menu, with three kinds of dairy-free cheese and meat-free pepperoni made in-house. Manager Heather Rama says Waldo Pizza’s soft gluten-free crusts are made with rice flour and locally baked by Olivia’s Oven. We tried the Tex Mex pizza on a gluten-free crust, which stood up to the toppings nicely and had a soft, chewy texture that even a bread-eater can appreciate.

Other local pizzerias with gluten-free offerings include Spin! Neapolitan Pizza , Wheat State Pizza, with locations in Lawrence and Kansas City, Kan., and [Pizza Shoppe] (http://www.pizzashoppe.com/), with locations in Kansas City, Blue Springs, Lee’s Summit, Liberty, Olathe, Overland Park and Shawnee.

Comments

  1. 1 year, 9 months ago

    What about Chiusanos at the Legends - That pizza is awesome and so is the staff!

  2. 1 year, 9 months ago

    Blue Grotto in Brookside has some really good stuff! My favorite is the Pizza Benedict on a Sunday morning coupled with there affordable mimosas or bloody marys! Makes being awake before noon much more tolerable!

  3. 1 year, 9 months ago

    *their

  4. 1 year, 9 months ago

    Rosatis at 103rd St west of Wornall is superb. (maybe different than the location you mention in the article?)

    site: http://rosatiskc.com/

    But the best in Kansas City wasn’t mentioned in the article in my humble opinion! It’s Johnny C’s in Shawnee.

    Not sure if they have a website..but I found this:

    http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/34/381081/restaurant/Kansas-City/Shawnee/Johnny-Cs-Pizza-Fmly-Shawnee-Mission

    Johnny C’s. 11200 W 75th St Shawnee Mission, KS 66214 913-631-3234

    You will thank me if you try Johnny Cs!

  5. 1 year, 9 months ago

    OK, so you you finally mention Pizza Shoppe in the final paragraph and for years it has claimed to be the home of Kansas City-style pizza, which I would classify as being unique by its laminated, fermented cracker crust — this is a unique taste to it and mmmm so good. So how do you do an article on Kansas City-style pizza and not talk to a franchisee or someone associated with this long-lasting Kansas City chain? Pink Stuff and King, Queen or Prince sized pizzas, that is Kansas City-style pizza hands down! So will you please go back and re-write this article, so that it accurately covers what is Kansas City-style pizza. It is basically just a vapid rambling of many fine restaurants, but doesn’t have anything to do about what really is Kansas City-style pizza. Also, from my understanding there are others that offer this wonderful style pizza, but Pizza Shoppe in my opinion is the original Kansas City-style pizza. So if I was your editor, i’d say let’s 86 this piece and go back and do an actual article covering Kansas City-style pizza. Maybe there wasn’t a page about it on Wikipedia page on Kansas City-style pizza so you first resource became the yellow pages or the web equivalent but I really feel this article is lacking. Let me state it one more time … Pizza Shoppe makes Kansas City-style pizza, characterized by its laminated, well fermented cracker crust!

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