Eat & Drink

Pizza styles are personal: Where the experts go

Bloggers Craig and Gay Jones are fans of Providence Pizzeria Co.
Bloggers Craig and Gay Jones are fans of Providence Pizzeria Co. Special to The Star

If you follow Port Fonda chef/owner Patrick Ryan’s social media feeds, you know that when it comes to pizza he’s a fan of Johnny Jo’s Pizzeria.

The tiny, hard-to-find West Plaza neighborhood shop at 1209 W. 47th St., between Holly and Mercer streets, is known for its New York-style pies and slices.

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With new pizzerias offering more styles than ever, we asked a few pizza experts to give a shoutout to their favorites.

Jasper Mirabile

Chef/owner of Marco Polo’s

Jasper Mirabile is the first to admit that his Marco Polo pizza is more of a “hybrid” than a true Neapolitan, yet when asked to recommend a style other than his own, he cast his vote for Spin, noting the influx of wood-fired Neapolitan pizza is creating plenty of high-quality pies.

“I like what (consulting chef) Michael Smith has done with the menu,” he says.

Meanwhile, Mirabile is keeping an eye on Pizzeria Locale, a Chipotle-backed operation that opened its first pizzeria outside of Colorado in Waldo, and Pie Five, another fast-casual chain opening locations across the metro area.

“They’re showing you can do a pizza with high-quality ingredients in less than five minutes,” he says. “Customers want to see authenticity. With social media and all the books out there, they see that’s how pizza started.”

Craig and Gay Jones

Pizza-obsessed Chow Town bloggers

A year ago Craig, a systems manager for Sprint, spent 45 nights in a row trying to perfect a Neapolitan-style crust in his builder-grade home oven. Gay was beside him, photographing the results.

Their favorite pizza?

Turns out they are ardent fans of Providence Pizzeria Co., a three-in-one pizzeria tucked into a former Long John Silver’s in Grandview. The shop, owned by brothers Luke and Aaron Salvatore, opened last April and features various ovens to serve a menu that includes hand-tossed New York thin, pan-baked Sicilian deep dish and wood-fired Neapolitan.

Providence offers counter dining so fans can chat with the pizzamakers as they toss dough into the air for the 22-inch New York-style pies. After 4 p.m., the Le Panyol wood-fired oven is stoked. “We always want to geek out at the bar so we can see them spin out the skin,” Gay says.

“I figure I can learn something from someone who stretches 100 to 200 pizzas a day,” Craig adds as they both marvel at the quarter-inch crust with lovely char known as leopardization being pulled out of the oven with a peel.

Luke Salvatore

Co-owner of Providence Pizzeria Co.

Providence Pizzeria Co. was featured earlier this month in the trade journal “Pizza Today,” along with Bella Napoli in Brookside and Chiusano’s Brick Oven Pizzeria in Kansas City, Kan.

Luke Salvatore says Providence’s inspiration comes from the black-and-white photos of their favorite East Coast pizzerias that hang on the walls. After moving to Kansas City from Providence, R.I., he missed having different pizza styles to choose from.

The Salvatore brothers say they don’t mind the recent “groundswell” of competition. “I’m excited for there to be more high-quality pizza available,” Salvatore says.

“I’ve got a lotta love for Pizzabella. Of course, they’re friends, too, but I like their simple menu,” he says.

For New York pizza, he’s a fan of Johnny Jo’s, and he has even tried fast-casual Pie Five and says it’s “tasty.”

Michael Smith

Extra Virgin and consulting chef for Spin

When Michael Smith bought a wood-fired oven for Extra Virgin, his customers immediately assumed that he was going into the pizza business. “I told them I bought it for Mediterranean (live-fire) cooking,” he recalls. “They said, ‘What do you mean?’ 

Monday night is pizza night at Extra Virgin, but Smith is never in-house on those nights, letting his cooks have fun with it, as long as they don’t get it in their heads to create an Argentinian or Mexican pizza.

Smith is a traditionalist and, truth be told, he’s not a huge fan of the pizza he has sampled on trips to Naples, Italy: “It’s sloppy and wet — not my personal favorite. I don’t care if it’s renowned around the world.”

Back here in the States, the James Beard award-winning chef has consulted for Spin since 2005. When it comes to topping one of the chain’s thin-crust Neapolitan-style pizzas, his assignment is to get creative — within reason. Whatever he presents to the chain’s owners must work in multiple locations across the country, which is why duck and Kurlbaum’s heirloom tomatoes have yet to make the cut.

So where does he go to get a non-Spin pizza fix?

“I go to Christopher Elbow’s house,” Smith says of his friend. The artisan chocolatier and ice cream maker, Smith says, is “a pizza freak — but he gets obsessed with all kinds of stuff.”

Word is after eating pizza for a month straight, Elbow has moved on to hotdogs.

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