As devoted Catholics in the early '60s, Ed and Margie Imo would wait until after midnight every Friday night to pickup meat-topped pizzas from their favorite local St. Louis pizzerias. Tired of going out so late, they were inspired to make a change. In 1964, they opened their first Imo's Pizza to offer what was then an innovative concept—home delivery. As a nod to Ed's career cutting squares of linoleum, the duo's pizzas were always cut in squares and used as tiling to construct restaurant's floor. Today, the Imo's franchise encompasses more than 90 stores, and hasn't strayed from their square slices and pledge to never-frozen ingredients. The thin-crust pies are layered edge-to-edge with 100% provel cheese, homemade sauce, and more than 15 meat and veggie toppings.
At Pizza Express, cooks toss yeast-free dough into skinny discs, topping it with the St. Louis's signature provel cheese that melts into a delightfully molten and not-at-all-stringy thing of beauty inside the oven. Alongside their pizzas, they bread, fry, and toss wings in any one of a dozen sauces, ranging from classic buffalo to exotic habanero-mango BBQ, which is served in a grass skirt. Pizza Express also serves up salads, hot sandwiches, and a variety of desserts and hand-spun shakes.
Since 1981, the pizza specialists at Elicia's Pizza have zipped through St. Louis's tangled roads delivering piping-hot pies to households in 30 minutes or less. At the shop, marinara masters stretch house-made dough into the shape of a mad professor's monocle and lavish each thin-crust disk with fresh sauce and the house's three-cheese blend. Additionally, the pizzeria's menu celebrates casual eats, such as wings, baked pastas, sandwiches, and crisp salads.
Fortel's Pizza Den was founded more than 30 years ago by pizza enthusiast Bob Fortel, giving the restaurant plenty of time to develop a compelling formula for creating its hand-tossed pies. It starts with the crust: the dough is made fresh daily, and—since eating pizza, like playing Battleship against yourself, shouldn't involve too many tough decisions—it's formed into a single, medium-thin thickness. Chefs then slather this crispy foundation in one of seven sauces, including pesto, gravy, or Bob Fortel's original sweet-and-spicy tomato sauce. Topping choices number in the dozens, ranging from sweet chicken sausage and eggplant to corned beef and sauerkraut. While waiting for their pizza masterpieces to arrive, diners nibble on beer-battered mushrooms, toasted ravioli, and other appetizers.
Grassi’s West administers mammoth lunches and capacious dinners from a menu teeming with Italian favorites. Cheesy heaps of chicken parmigiano ($8.95) accompany an entourage of crispy salad and buttery bread, and the Carla special boasts lean layers of trimmed roast beef, turkey, veal, or meatballs bookended by italian bread ($7.25). Sixteen-inch thin-crust pizzas ($13.75+) sport an undershirt of homemade sauce reinforced with rooftops of veggies, sausage, pepperoni, and strips of american and canadian bacon. Locals have gotten lost within the labyrinth of Grassi’s chef salad, drizzled delicately with homemade dressing ($5.05+), and diners who prefer big chomps to small talk can revel in the cafeteria-style serving, in which indecisive slowpokes won't stymie valuable chewing time. If there’s room for desert, a slice of cherry cheesecake ($3.75) can tickle tongues or provide creamy insulation for another mound of jaw-dropping sandwich extravagance.
Onesto is Italian for "honest," so it's no surprise the owners of Onesto Pizza & Trattoria strive for transparency when it comes to their food. They proudly showcase the list of more than 10 local farms from which they gather their menu's organic and seasonal fruit and antibiotic- and hormone-free meat. They even reveal the secrets behind their wild-mushroom- and Gulf-shrimp-topped pizzas by letting diners watch as each pie is hand-tossed. Pasta, from the housemade fettuccine to the macaroni and cheese served with lobster in a cast-iron skillet, joins elaborate seasonal entrees such as pan-seared wild striped bass, accompanied by a pumpernickel-crusted saffron risotto cake and sautéed spinach and apples in a lemongrass-butter broth. In addition to sourcing its ingredients locally, Onesto strives to reduce its carbon footprint by recycling, serving to-go orders in compostable containers, and asking diners to take off their carbon shoes at the door so as not to leave a footprint.
The gourmet ingredients and eco-friendly attitude seem to overshadow the restaurant's decor, which the Riverfront Times describes as "unassuming … with no obvious flash or flair." But subdued is sometimes best, as the paper named Onesto's "simple" patio as Best Outdoor Dining of 2010, hailing it as "an escape from the hustle and bustle of other St. Louis restaurant patios."