When I first started on the road back in the mid-80's, one of the places that I traveled to was to Rolla, MO. I had a small dealer down there and he was a good guy. After awhile, I'd end up in Rolla on Thursday nights because that was the night that the students at the U-Missouri - Rolla (now called the Missouri University of Science and Technology) would cut loose getting ready for the weekend. Many Friday mornings I hit the road with a massive hangover heading north back toward Iowa. But the highlight of my visits to Rolla was a little pizza place that's been in business since 1964 - Alex's Pizza Palace.
Alex's Pizza Palace could be categorized as a "Greek" pizza place. It was in November of 1964 that Alex and Froso Kallas opened their doors of their little pizza place on W. 8th Street in downtown Rolla (see map). Alex's Pizza Palace became an institution in Rolla with thousands of students and locals coming through their doors on an annual basis. Each year, Alex's Pizza Palace hosts hundreds of UM-Rolla grads who come back to visit campus, but many say it's to get a pizza at Alex's.
The Kallas' sold the restaurant to longtime worker Ellie Makridis and her husband, Lazlo, in 1987. The Makridis' expanded Alex's Pizza Palace putting in a large dining room and revamping the kitchen with new big ovens. Today, Mike Samaras runs the daily operations for the Makridis family. Things haven't changed all that much over the past 45-plus years at Alex's. In fact the same original menu board still hangs over the ovens in the open kitchen area just as you walk in.
I was driving between Springfield, MO and St. Louis one evening earlier this fall when I decided to stop into Rolla for an Alex's pizza. Rolla is approximately half-way between the two cities on Interstate 44 and it's a good little stopping point for gas or food. It was late - about 8:30 p.m. - when I arrived at Alex's. The parking lot to the west of their building belongs to the bank across the street, but they allow for parking at Alex's after 6 p.m. There was only one other car in the place when I parked.
I went into Alex's and the hostess was seated in a booth talking to another customer when I walked in. She sort of apologized for sitting there, but I told her it was no big deal. She took me into the dining room and told me I could sit anywhere. I ended up taking a booth about halfway back in the dining room. She dropped off a menu and she took my drink order. I needed a Bud Light after a long day.
Alex's Pizza Palace categorizes their pizza as "gourmet pizza". Their pizza menu consists of a number of specialty pizzas as well as a long list of toppings to choose from. They have unique toppings such as feta cheese, cotto salami, gyro meat and fresh basil. Surprisingly, they don't offer fresh garlic on their pizzas. No matter to me - I was looking to get my usual Italian sausage, pepperoni and mushroom pizza.
In addition to pizzas, Alex's Pizza Palace also features calzones, sandwiches - including an outrageous looking gyro - appetizers and salads. Alex's Pizza Palace also has a number of specialty entrees including chicken souvlaki, lasagna and chicken parmesana. When the waitress came back with my beer, I was ready to order my pizza.
I downed a couple beers before my pizza showed up at the table. It was everything that I remember it to be - thin crust, loads of pepperoni and mushrooms covered with a thick cheese sauce, and a large chunk of Italian sausage on each party-cut piece of pizza. The perimeter of the pizza was a sort of a rolled crust that is unlike anything that I've encountered before.
It had been about four or five years since my last visit to Alex's and the pizza was just as good as that last visit and all the way back to my first visit nearly 25 years ago. The crust was light, thin and not at all crispy. The toppings were fresh and overly flavorful. And there was plenty of toppings right down to the large chunks of sausage on each party cut. It was very similar - right down to the name - of the same type of pizza at Steve's Pizza Palace up in River Falls, WI that I visited a couple years ago (see that entry here). I will have to say, however, that the taste of the Steve's pizza was a notch above Alex's pizza. And that's saying a lot since Steve's is very good in its own right.
It didn't take long to devour my 10" small pizza. The waitress came over to check on me one last time and she gave me my check. With the pizza, three bottles of beer and a nice tip for the waitress, my bill came to just under $21 bucks. $21 bucks for all that! What a value!
So, if you're driving between St. Louis and Springfield, MO sometime, do yourself a big favor and take the time to stop into Alex's Pizza Palace. It's wonderful that they're still in business after all these years making the same great pizza that I came to love on my first visit there in 1986.