PaPPo’s Pizzeria and Pub just feels right. A St. Louisan raised in Midtown and now gone, except for brief visits, for 25 years or so looked around the premises as he waited for his pizza. “It’s perfect. If you put me down here no matter what city it was in, I’d feel like I was in walking distance of St. Louis University.”
I knew what he meant, although neither of us could quite put our finger on it. Brick walls, slightly dark interior, lots of wood. (No ferns; RIP Caleco’s on Laclede.) No neon that I remember. But there are a couple of stainless steel tanks, not standard issue at any college bar. Pappo’s brews their own, at least at this location. The original PaPPo’s in Springfield, MO, and the one in Osage Beach have to make do with a large selection of craft beers.
There’s a long bar, several television sets, of course, booths and tables that seem to draw groups ranging from after work to multigenerational families. (This time of year, the college trade has getting out of Dodge on their minds, but otherwise they’d surely be among the faithful.)
The house salad is fresh and crisp, using mixed greens, mozzarella and parmesan, red onion, a little sweet red pepper, and artichoke hearts, all lightly touched with a balsamic vinaigrette. Eat with care; it’s a generous serving in a relatively small bowl and the greens can leap onto the table if not approached thoughtfully. Nevertheless, this is above average for a pizza place.
Wings, too, change things up a little. Instead of being deep-fried, they’re oven-roasted, upping their chances for staying juicy. And that they do, not as chewy as the fried version, but moister and happy to loll in one of six sauce styles. The Kickin’ Hot was medium intensity, and good enough that one longed for bread to mop the last of it up. Instead of blue cheese dressing alongside, there appeared a house-made ranch dressing bordering on splendid. Very desirable wings.
The pizza? Available as St. Louis style thin crust or a hand-tossed version, the thin is more than acceptable, but the hand-tossed is marvelous. This isn’t Neapolitan-style, so it doesn’t have the charred bubbles on it, but it’s chewy-tender, not the sort of crust whose edges get left on the plate. Of course there are options to create your own, so if your idea of heaven is anchovy and avocado, go right ahead. But there’s a passel of specialty pizzas from the merely elaborate to the near-shocking – I’m looking at you, sausage and sauerkraut. Available sizes are 8”, 12” and 14”, the first offered also as part of a lunch special.
A Sicilian from the specialty menu includes tomato sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, Italian sausage, capicola (or gabagool, if you’re from Jersey), salami, banana peppers and red onions. All this balances out wonderfully, a little heat here and there, no palate-monopolizing overdose of fennel, a very good choice. Another option is the American Cheeseburger pizza. I hadn’t had hamburger on a pizza since I was a kid in Desloge learning on Chef Boy-Ar-Dee with the nearest pizzeria in the next county, but here it was, with a light tomato sauce, bacon, mozzarella and cheddar, and topped with slices of dill pickle. It is, of course, served with mustard and ketchup on the side. It would be a fine pizza for the hesitant eater, certainly, with familiar flavors. For the rest of us – well, it’s surprising what a bite of dill pickle does to something like this, the crunch and acidity punching things up very handsomely. The ketchup and mustard seemed superfluous – but there’s nothing wrong with a sprinkle of the crushed red pepper wafted across the top.
Sandwiches on the menu, too – the Little Italy Cold Cut holds Canadian bacon, more of that capicola, Genoa salami, Provolone, onion, tomato and is dressed with an Italian dressing. It was a very meaty sandwich of good quality salume, but suffered from bread that was past its prime.
Service is casual, but very pleasant, and at off-hours, the place is a fine place for a conversation. I suspect at peak, it’s pretty noisy. I can imagine parking near the Fox early, strolling down for a pizza and returning back up Grand before curtain time.
PaPPo’s Pizzeria and Pub
3690 Forest Park Blvd. @ Spring
Lunch & Dinner daily
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Fair