Big Pizza Pie – That's Amore
Spiro Athanas graduated from McKinley in 1960, where he played football, basketball, and baseball. Spiro has written numerous articles for this web site. Spiro now lives in Bloomington, Indiana. He is retired and passes his time playing golf and painting.

Luigi's Pizza was one of the first pizzas in St. Louis to be served on a rectangular tray cut into squares, made in the old fashioned St. Louis Style. Luigi's recipe of Italian sausage and sauce simmered for hours the way things were made many years ago. Before retiring, Spiro owned six pizza parlors in Bloomington for 25 years and is somewhat of an expert on pizza. Read on and you may learn something about St. Louis Style pizza.

“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie…” Whenever I hear that first line of Dean Martin’s 1953 hit, “That’s Amore” I always think of my favorite pizza when I was a teenager going to McKinley – Luigi’s. As most of you probably remember, Luigi’s was located at 3123 Watson Road, just south of Arsenal. Interestingly, Luigi’s opened in 1953 the same year “That’s Amore” hit the top of the record charts.

Luigi’s pizza was destined to become the classic “St. Louis style” pizza often copied but, in my opinion, never equaled in taste and quality. There were no pizza chains in St. Louis (or anywhere else) in 1953. The first Pizza Hut opened in Wichita, Kansas in 1958 and didn’t begin selling franchises until the 1960s. The original Imo’s, which became the first St. Louis based pizza chain, didn’t open until 1964.

Luigi’s was owned and operated by the Meglio family from 1953 until 1981. Luca Meglio was the operating partner and often served as the maitre‘d. Luca was small in stature and, I’m sorry to say, my friends and I often tried his patience when we sometimes staggered into his restaurant after midnight.

As you may recall, Luigi’s pizza was rectangular and the pieces were cut in three or four inch squares. The super-thin cracker-like crust was made without yeast, as opposed to thick Chicago-style or even thin NewYork-style pizza dough. That made it crisp and not easy to fold. That crust was layered with a salty tomato sauce seasoned with more oregano than most other pizza types. The pizza makers kept that sauce simmering continuously to concentrate and develop the sweet and savory tomato flavors.

But the real key to the taste of Luigi’s, and thus all St. Louis style pizza, was the Provel cheese layered on top of that wonderful sauce. Even today, Provel process cheese (a mixture of Cheddar, Swiss and Provolone) is made in Wisconsin primarily for the St. Louis market and is not widely available outside of this area.

My friends and I only ordered one of two toppings on our pizza at Luigi’s – pepperoni or sausage. To this day, the three most popular pizza toppings are pepperoni, sausage and mushrooms – in that order. Luigi’s pepperoni was made locally and had a distinct flavor. The Italian sausage was chunky and spicy, as opposed to the bland sausage pellets that are served today on many pizzas – which remind me of something that came out of a rabbit’s butt.
We went to other pizza places. I’m sure you’ll remember, such as Pagliacci’s which was on the corner of Manchester and Kingshighway, and Rigazzi’s, which opened in 1957 and is still in operation at 4945 Daggett on “The Hill.” I liked their pizza, but nobody’s pizza makes my mouth water like the memory of Luigi’s. NOTE: The prices on the menu to the left compared to today's.

I went into the pizza business and at one time owned and operated six Noble Roman's Pizza restaurants. I was very proud of the pizza we served, and for 25 years Noble Roman's was voted the best pizza in central Indiana by a landslide. But pizza, like barbecue ribs and chili, is a food that is extremely sensitive to regional taste. People in areas outside Indiana didn't like our pizza at all, and I know people from other parts of the country who hate St. Louis style pizza.

Be that as it may, I and thousands of other St. Louisans loved Luigi's pizza. Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but sometimes I can actually taste that magical combination of flavors when I think about the good times I had there with my high school friends. Another generation of the Meglio family has opened Meglio’s Grill and Bar at 12490 St. Charles Rock Road near I-270 in Bridgeton. They advertise that they serve “authentic Luigi’s pizza.” Somehow I doubt it will be the same, but I haven’t been there so I guess it’s worth a try.

-- Spiro Athanas