There’s something about restaurants in Soulard that feels echt St. Louis to me. I’m sure it’s because I’ve been going to them since the Hoover Administration, but there’s a coziness that helps balance their chill and/or drafts this time of the year. The brick walls and tin ceilings, the darkness of the deeper ends of the interior, all contribute to the atmosphere, and Epic Pizza & Subs fits right into the tradition. Giant blow-ups of old Cardinals photos, drawings of Soulard buildings and an immense antique beer ad cover the walls.
They’ve got a wood-burning pizza oven that’s so well insulated that it doesn’t warm anything but the prep area, which is in plain view – we will admit it was a tad chilly on one visit. But what comes out of the oven is exceptional enough that it’s worth donning an extra sweater and perhaps a scarf on truly Arctic days, not that we’ve had many of those so far.
Two of the three starters/sides turned out to be winners. Wings are roasted in the oven, leaving them crisp, still moist, and ready for a run through their sauce. The hot variation (there’s a medium also) was just right, not incendiary, and not wetting things down so much the crispness was lessened.
Do not under any circumstances miss the garlic knots; these guys are remarkable. Nothing reheated about them, they’re cooked to order, tossed in garlic butter and then in seasonings, cheese, just a little rosemary and some salt. So addictive, they could be a Schedule III narcotic. Alas, the Caesar salad, while crisp, wore an unimpressively bland dressing, and the croutons were hard and unwilling to fraternize with the dressing.
Epic’s pizza is New York-ish, in 14” or 16” sizes, cut in large wedges. Furthermore, it’s available by the slice, the better, I daresay, to tote next door to the International Tap House, where they encourage food from outside. It’s an excellent crust, the thickness perfect, even the edges tender-chewy and flavorful. The basic margherita with its tomato sauce, fresh basil and fresh mozzarella was a reminder of just how tasty simple things can be. Very tomato-ey, with pieces of fresh tomato here and there atop the sauce, the basil dancing right along with the tomato’s slightly acid notes, and the mozzarella to add some creaminess, it was a very fine pie indeed. My pals tried a couple of the white pizze, a chicken pesto using mozzarella, parmesan and feta cheeses, white meat of chicken and the pesto not running roughshod over everything else, which that sauce is capable of doing in the wrong hands. Clearly this is a spot that understands basil. They also keep rosemary in good control, as evidenced not only by the garlic knots but by a slice of Bradley pizza. The Bradley uses Parmigiano Reggiano (the only item on the menu claiming that specific cheese), a little red onion, a dab of rosemary here and there, and the singular addition of pistachios, adding crunch as well as flavor.
The subs deserve some attention as well. They make their cheesesteak with pork as well as beef, which does good things for moisture levels, and both mozzarella and provolone cheese. The menu talks about the EPIC sauce. I couldn’t quite make out what that was, but overall, it was a first-rate take on the dish, pleasantly messy to eat. For some of us, a judicious use of the Cholula hot sauce on the tables enhances the experience even more.
Order at the counter and pleasant employees bring food to the table. Yes, beer and wine are available, especially since liquor laws don’t allow takeout orders from ITAP next door.
Epic Pizza & Subs
1711A S. 9th St.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Poor