It’s the time of year when you may need to feed a crowd — perhaps for holiday gatherings or for college bowl game-watching. And what better way than with pizza?
Or not. Pizza is just one of those delicious dishes that’s good any time of year. Beloved by kids and adults alike, there’s a style of pie for everyone.
Whatever the case, on our annual pizza show on KCUR’s Central Standard, our Food Critics searched out the best pizza in and around KC.
Here are their recommendations:
Jenny Vergara, Feast Magazine:
We can’t discuss pizza unless we discuss the national styles and how they influence Kansas City’s pizza choices:
Neapolitan: The original pizza. This delicious pie has a history that dates all the way back to 18th century Naples, Italy. Neapolitan pizza was an affordable hand-tossed pizza that even the poorest citizen could afford. Always topped with the simplest of ingredients to keep it from getting soggy, it’s quickly cooked in wood-burning ovens, leaving a charred bottom and a bubbly top. The popular Margherita, for example, is topped with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese slices, oil and basil leaves.
Local examples of Neapolitan pizza (currently the most popular style of pizza in KC):
Sicilian: You cannot get Sicilian pizza in Sicily. It is a Sicilian-American creation. This square-cut, thick-crust pizza is trying to recreate the Neapolitan-style pizza from the old country. This pizza should always have a spongier consistency than other pizzas. Sicilian pizza features a simple combination of tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and simple toppings, and it’s usually sold by the square.
Detroit-style: The Detroit-style pizza is a square pizza, similar to Sicilian-style pizza, with a deep-dish crust and marinara sauce sometimes served on top. The crust is usually baked in a well-oiled pan to develop caramelized crunchy edges. Detroit-style pizza has developed a larger fan base as Detroit-based Little Caesars launched a Detroit-style deep dish pizza.
New York-style: Neapolitan and New York pizzas share similarities, but there are distinct differences. Some people will tell you that it’s the minerals in the Big Apple’s water used in the dough that makes this pizza stand out, but that has never been proven to be true. However, in order to make a proper New York-style pie, the crust still needs to be thin, like a Neapolitan, but wide and thick enough to fold a slice in half lengthwise. This simplifies eating the pizza without utensils, which is a necessity in New York City, where many eat on the go.
Chicago-style thin crust: This is crispier and crunchier than the New York style, and it’s normally cut into squares (also called the tavern cut).
- Pizza Man in Lenexa
Chicago-style deep dish/stuffed: Chicago pizza, also commonly referred to as deep-dish pizza, gets its name from the city in which it was invented. During the early 1900s, Italian immigrants in the Windy City were searching for something similar to the Neapolitan pizza that they knew and loved. Instead of imitating the notoriously thin pie, Ike Sewell created a pizza with a thick crust that had raised edges, similar to a pie, and put ingredients in reverse, with slices of mozzarella lining the dough followed by meat, vegetables, and then topped with a can of crushed tomatoes. This original creation led Sewell to create the now famous chain restaurant, Pizzeria Uno.
California-style: California pizza is known for its unusual ingredients. This pizza got its start back in the late 1970s, when chef Ed LaDou began experimenting with pizza recipes in the classic Italian restaurant, Prego. By chance, he served one of his newest creations (mustard, ricotta, pate, and red pepper), to Wolfgang Puck. Impressed with LaDou’s innovative pie, Puck invited him to be a head pizza chef at his restaurant. It was here that LaDou came up with over 250 unique pizza recipes that eventually formed the menu of chain restaurant, California Pizza Kitchen.
Local examples (these probably aren’t a traditional California style, but they’re in this category because the toppings are so creative):
St. Louis-style: St. Louis-style pizza, a unique take on New York-style pizza, originated in the 1960s by Ed and Margie Imo of Imo's Pizzeria. The pizza has a thin cracker-like crust that’s made without yeast, and cut into squares. It is topped with Provel cheese, rather than mozzarella. Provel cheese is a white processed cheese, made by combining cheddar, mozzarella, and provolone cheeses, and used primarily in the St. Louis area.
Pizza parlor: This one is not so much regional as it is contextual, circumstantial or philosophical. It's not striving for sustainable organic toppings or Sicilian pizza perfection. These places are just making pizza the way they've always done it, passed on from generation to generation.
Wild card: This category represents the places where great pizza is unexpectedly found, like at a fancy restaurant, a dive bar or bakery.
- JJ’s Restaurant — bar pizza. It has a thinner-style crust. Crispy, delicious and just perfect.
- Tower Tavern. Fantastic stromboli as well.
- 1900 Barker Bakery in Lawrence. Wednesdays only. Delicious pizza that's topped with local ingredients of the day.
- Pinsa Pizzeria & Kitchen — Angry Bee pizza. Pinsa’s pizzas are made with an imported flour from Italy. Founder Kellen Markovich has some friends in Italy ship the flour to him in Lee’s Summit. The dough is thin and oval in shape and has a bumpy texture before sauce and toppings are added. Each pizza takes a little over 4 minutes to bake. The Angry Bee is made with red sauce, spicy Italian sausage, roasted red pepper, mozzarella, red onion and a honey chili sauce.
- Trezo Mare — bacon and potato pizza. Thin roasted russet potatoes, crisp bacon, cheese sauce, crème fraiche and crispy thin fried onions. It’s creamy, salty and crunchy.
- Artego Pizza. I love the pizzas at Artego. Owner Joe Perez, a former Chiefs player, has created a place with great artwork featuring musicians from different genres. And he did much of the construction himself. The BBQ chicken pizza has a house made barbeque sauce, smoked chicken and cilantro. The sopapilla pizza has a vanilla cream cheese base, and it’s drizzled with honey, cinnamon, and sugar.
- Pizzeria Locale — sausage and broccolini pizza. A “white” pizza with mozzarella, sausage, broccolini, garlic, chili flakes.
- Pizzabella — Margherita pizza. Simplicity. Wood-fired pizza with marinara, garlic, mozzarella, and basil.
- Spin Pizza — sausage and caramelized onion. Scimeca’s sausage and sweet caramelized onions. A pizza I make a lot at home.
Charles Ferruzza, food writer and KCUR Food Critic:
- Limestone Pizza in Lawrence. My favorite pizza place in the metro; it is a class act. Current favorite: Toulouse & Apple. With housemade rustic sausage, local apples, cheddar and fig syrup. Really a lovely, lovely pizza.
- Bella Napoli. Old-school neighborhood pizzeria.
- Four Seasons Pizza & Pasta. Owned by two Italian-born entrepreneurs in, of all places, Shawnee. If you crave thick-crust Sicilian pizza, this is the spot. The best Sicilian pizza I’ve had in town.
- Nick’s Italian Pizza in downtown KCK. The most traditional New York-style pizza in KC. It’s really cheap and good.
- Minsky’s — Nature's Choice. The best vegetarian pizza I’ve ever had.
- Original Pizza. As a former New Yorker, it's the only pizza I would ever recommend. The original one was in Oak Park Mall, opened in the late 1970s by three brothers-in-law from Brooklyn. Over the years, it’s expanded throughout the city.
- Avelluto’s Italian Delight. It’s the best Italian food, including pizza, in town. It’s fast and cheap, and the pizza has a wonderful crisp fresh crust. It seems like there are a million toppings. One variation of pizza is its Stromboli, which has all the goodies on the inside and the dough on the outside.
- Papa Keno’s in Overland Park and the Crossroads is owned by a French chef. The Tuskeno is one of my favorites; it has a Mediterranean flavor with sun-dried tomatoes and pesto.
- Minsky’s in Shawnee – cheeseburger pizza.
- Minsky's — Papa Minsky's (spicy sausage).
- Fun House Pizza in Independence. It’s not connected to the one in Raytown. The sauce is a little more spicy. I like the thin-crust, double-pepperoni, double-slice (tiny slices rather than great big ones).
- RecordBar — brunch pizza. I'm a huge fan. Scrambled eggs, peppers, onions, bacon and cheese on a bed of sausage gravy. It’s probably my favorite item on their new brunch menu.
- Extra Virgin serves a new pizza every Monday night. They’re adventurous; they’ll do seafood or a classic Margherita. It’s always something different.