Another shout out to my sister-in-law, Becky, who was telling me a while ago about Joanie's Pizzeria in the Soulard area of St. Louis. She was incredulous that I'd never heard of Joanie's. "I can't believe you've never been there after going to St. Louis for all these years, " she half-scolded me. "I think it's the best pizza in town."
Her sister, Katie, lives in the neighborhood and helps out at Joanie's from time to time. Becky told me that there's a good chance I'd run into Katie at Joanie's. While in St. Louis for a series of meetings and some product trainings earlier this summer, I stopped in for dinner at Joanie's.
Joanie Spurgeon is the "Joanie" behind Joanie's Pizzeria. Since 1995, Spurgeon has been churning out pizzas topped with the freshest ingredients she can find. Surgeon regularly ventures up the street to the Soulard Farmer's Market to get fresh produce and toppings for her pizzas. Joanie's signature Pizza Margherita is topped with fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella that I was told she gets from the Soulard Farmer's Market.
(Update July 2015 - In late May of 2015, Joanie Spurgeon officially handed the reins over to her manager of 4 years Jeff Schneider. She is still involved with the restaurant, but she felt that she really needed to start to slow down. Schneider said that the core of the business will stay the same, but he had some ideas to spruce up the menu a bit. We were there the weekend of July 18 and the pizza was still the same. Picture at left courtesy Sauce Magazine.)
The other plus for Joanie's pizzas is that they use mozzarella cheese and not the St. Louis-style provel cheese on their pizza. Some pizza places in St. Louis give you a choice of provel or mozzarella, some only have provel. I couldn't find any reference anywhere that Joanie's offers a provel cheese pizza. While I don't mind provel cheese on a pizza, I'd rather have mozzarella.
It was an early evening visit to Joanie's and I pulled up to the corner of Menard and Russell in Soulard (see map) and found a parking space just up the street from Joanie's. The Cardinals were in town that evening and a number of people were gathering at Joanie's for a pre-game meal and to take Joanie's complementary shuttle to Busch Stadium. I went in and was met by a waitress who wanted to know if I wanted to sit downstairs in the bar area - which was heavily filled with smoke (St. Louis County's smoking ban goes into effect early next year) or sit upstairs. Another waitress said, "Hey, don't forget out back!"
Joanie's has a very nice little back patio area, as well. It was sort of warm outside and I decided to head upstairs to have my pizza in the upstairs dining area. There's two rooms upstairs, a larger room toward the front of the building and a smaller toward the back. The waitress guided me to a small two-person table and dropped off a menu. She took my beer order - while in St. Louis, I always order a Budweiser - and told me she'd be back to take my order when she dropped off the beer.
Joanie's is also famous for their calzones - a Napoli-style stuffed pizza that features both mozzarella and ricotta cheese along with your choice of topping. I love a good calzone, but I was there for pizza that night.
That's not to say that Joanie's Pizzeria is all about pizza and calzones. They also feature a number of sandwiches including their own "Soulard Muffalatta" topped with Joanie's homemade olive spread. I understand it gives the muffalatta over at the Blues City Deli a run for their money.
Joanie's also features basic pasta dishes such as lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, and chicken alfredo with penne noodles. And the menu at Joanie's also has four different types of salads to choose from. And through the week, Joanie's has a handful of lunch specials on the menu.
There are three different types of pizza crust to choose from at Joanie's - thin, thick or double crust. They have a 9" personal-sized pizza available for all three types of crust, as well as 12", 14" and a giant 16" pizza (double crust not available in 16"). I figured that a 12" would work for me - I was pretty hungry as I didn't have lunch earlier in the day. Of course, I got my standard Italian sausage, pepperoni and mushroom pizza.
By the time the waitress got back to take my order, I'd already downed the beer. Not that the service was slow, but I DOWNED the beer. It was a hot day, I'd just gone through a two-hour training earlier in the day and I needed a cold one. I gave her my pizza order and told her that I definitely needed another beer. She raised her eye brows and said, "Wow! That went down quick!" Anyone who knows me knows that the first beer usually goes down rather quickly.
The decor in the upstairs dining room at Joanie's featured paintings of St. Louis landmarks such as the Fox Theater, Soulard Market and the infamous Eat Rite Diner. Large windows looked out onto Menard Ave. and helped give the room some ambient light. A couple flat screen panel televisions were turned on to ESPN providing a little bit of entertainment for those were were interested.
About 20 minutes passed and my pizza made it to my table. I'm telling you, I have to quit writing my entries early in the morning. The above picture of the pizza is just making my stomach do jumping jacks. The asymmetry of the pizza's shape showed that it was definitely hand-tossed and topped with ample amounts of pepperoni, fresh sliced mushrooms and Italian sausage. Although the Italian sausage wasn't really in big chunks as I like it, it definitely wasn't ground up in to fine pieces like I find back home in the Quad Cities or out in Indianapolis.
From the first bite, I was hooked. It was a great pizza. The crust wasn't crunchy, but it wasn't limp, either. The mozzarella cheese was outstanding - some of the best mozzarella I've had on a pizza. But the toppings are what made the pizza - the combination of Italian sausage, pepperoni and mushroom were all very fresh and flavorful. Each piece was overflowing with toppings and flavor.
As I was leaving, I went outside to take a couple pictures. I stepped into the back patio and there was Joanie Spurgeon asking me if I needed any help. I said, "No, I just ate upstairs. I just wanted to get a picture of the patio on my cell phone camera."
I said, "It was very good. I'm very impressed."
Joanie said, "That's great! Thank you! So, you'll be back?"
I told her I would. I liked everything about Joanie's - the pizza, the service, the atmosphere. I'll be more happy when they ban smoking in St. Louis after the first of the year as the bar area downstairs was very smoky. Nonetheless, Joanie's Pizzeria is probably in the top 3 of pizza places I've visited over the years in the St. Louis area. I can't wait to go back later this fall to get another one.