Living in New York City for ten years is like living a lifetime somewhere else. That's why I'll always think of myself as a native New Yorker. And if there's one thing a New Yorker knows, it's New York pizza.
I'm not knocking the local pizza. Sometimes nothing but a St. Louis style pie will do, cut into squares and dripping with St. Louis' own provel cheese. I wouldn't hesitate to eat Elicia's pizza on the city's south side, or in Richmond Heights or lots of other places, and I'm sure you have your favorites too.
When I heard in Chesterfield claims to serve New York pizza by the slice, I was compelled to investigate. I mean, come on, New York pizza in Chesterfield? Fuhgeddaboudit. It would be like finding the Statue of Liberty in .
Owner David Moreno was born and raised in Philadelphia. When he was 27, he moved to New Jersey, where he spent the next 20 years. When his wife was offered a job in the St. Louis area, they moved to Chesterfield. It wasn't long before Moreno noticed he couldn't get the pizza that he enjoyed on the east coast and he thought there might be a market for it.
“I knew how to cook,” Moreno said. “I knew how to run food service. I knew how to run a business. But I didn't know how to make a pizza.”
Moreno called a friend in New Jersey who owned seven pizza joints along the East Coast and asked him to teach him how to make East Coast style pizza. The friend agreed and Moreno flew to New Jersey to spend 3 weeks learning the pizza side of the business.
“I was there opening up that shop every morning. I learned how to make dough and how to make it round. When I came back I knew what I wanted. I took a blank sheet of paper and I made this,” Moreno said, gesturing around his restaurant.
East Coast Pizza opened in 2002 and just like back east, there's nothing pretentious about it. Three large pizza ovens—running at 450ºF—dominate the large room. The faux brick facades are merely decorative, but the interiors are lined with real brick.
“Brick-lined ovens are important,” Moreno said. “It makes a difference in the crust.”
Many Manhattan pizza makers claim that New York City water—world-renowned for its quality—is the secret ingredient in their pizza, but Moreno dismisses this notion. He said quality ingredients, like the best flour at $28 a bag instead of $12 for regular flour, make the difference.
“The difference is you have to buy the better ingredients,” Moreno said. “We import our (sandwich) rolls from the Amoroso Bakery in Philadelphia. We use Grande cheese which is very high-grade. You'll find it in only the best places.”
The dough and marinara recipes originated in New Jersey, but Moreno added his own touches to the sauce, and the dough required a bit of baker's science. “It's New Jersey techniques and recipes, but I had to change the amount of yeast in the dough due to altitude and depending on the weather. Humidity plays a big role."
Their other recipes, like calzone and stromboli, were developed by Moreno himself. The restaurant also serves a variety of hot and cold sandwiches, Philly cheese steak, soups, salads and even Chicago-style pizza for deep dish fans. But I was here for the New York pizza.
I ordered a couple of slices of cheese and Italian sausage. Into the brick-lined oven they went, and they were served to me a minute later. The thin crust was soft and chewy with a crispy bottom layer as thin as a razor blade. The sauce had the familiar subtle sweetness and the mozzarella cheese was creamy with just the right stretchability.
How did it taste? It tasted like taking a bite out of the Big Apple.