Every order at Pie Guy Pizza comes with a trophy. It makes a fun substitute for a boring table flag or pager, allowing staffers to find you with your food once you've secured a table. Since diners have their pick of seating in either the small pizzeria or the adjacent tap house and bottle shop, locating hungry patrons would be a difficult undertaking without the visual cue.
However, the moment you bite into a slice of Pie Guy's gob-smackingly superb pizza, you can't help but wonder if the trophy is something more. Perhaps it signifies that you've won the pizza lottery, a prize that comes with not just a trophy but also a crust that manages to be both crisp and soft at the same time, as if suspended between two states of texture. Maybe the trophy signifies Pie Guy's place at the top of St. Louis' pizza scene and the superlatives that come with making a masterpiece. Ultimately, though, the symbolism doesn't matter. This pizza is all you need to feel like a winner.
Mitch Frost, better known as the Pie Guy, is the master behind the works of pizza art coming out of the garage-door-fronted pizzeria in the heart of the Grove. A lifelong home cook, Frost fell in love with restaurants thanks to his uncle who worked in the industry and got him his first job, at Longhorn Steakhouse, when he was sixteen.
Frost's fate as St. Louis' king of pie was sealed at his second job. Though he took on the part-time gig at Dewey's Pizza simply to make some money, he learned how to throw dough and realized he had a real knack and passion for making pizza. That skill eventually led him to Pi Pizzeria, where he learned the ins and outs of running a kitchen and managing people, two important pieces of a puzzle that would prove invaluable in his trajectory.
Frost was beginning to see a future for himself in the pizza business, but his path would become even more clear when a friend asked him to take over his longstanding gig teaching pizza-making classes at the Kitchen Conservatory. Before Frost knew it, he was working on his recipes and perfecting his craft, using his time at the teaching kitchen as a research and development opportunity while working in other restaurants around town.
One of those restaurants, the U.R.B (Urban Chestnut's Urban Research Brewery), would provide the final puzzle piece. There, under chef Andy Fair, Frost learned baker's math and the chemistry behind making naturally fermented sourdough. It took his pizza game to a whole new level and gave him the confidence to open a place of his own.
Frost was not the only one happy with his product. His friend Brandon Cavanagh, owner of the tap house and bottle shop Gezellig, took note of Frost's delicious pizza and suggested he take over the adjacent space. With his recipe perfected, Frost jumped at the opportunity, opening Pie Guy Pizza last September.
Pie Guy is slightly more than a pizza counter, but not much. The small restaurant has an industrial feel, with white-painted brick walls, a cement floor and a garage door that serves as its storefront. Guests order at the counter and are encouraged to watch as their pizza is hand-tossed to order. Frost and his team can throw quite high. Thankfully, the space has lofty ceilings to accommodate their range.
Though Pie Guy and Gezellig are separate entities, they share more than just the walkway that connects the two businesses. After placing an order at the pizzeria's counter, guests are encouraged to grab a seat at the communal high-top table that sits in the center of the room or at one of the many tables or barstools within Gezellig. The arrangement allows you to pair your slice with something from the tap house's impressive beer selection. Then again, you could simply pour a cup of Kool-Aid from Pie Guy's large Igloo-style cooler. Either way, you win.
Drinkable fruit-flavored nostalgia aside, the real prize at Pie Guy is, of course, the pizza. Frost's painstaking research has paid off in an outstanding New York-style pizza with a wonderfully crispy crust. It's not that the entire thing is crunchy; the pizza has a pleasant chew and softness. However, it's undergirded by a thin layer of crispness that yields to soft dough, similar to a perfectly griddled piece of Texas toast.
Frost credits a few things for this ethereal texture. The first is the Caputo flour, imported from Italy and both of the highest quality and pesticide-free, which Frost emphasizes influenced his decision. The second is his technique. Without giving away his trade secrets, Frost explains that his ratio of flour, oil and water makes his crust special. His dough is wetter than most, which makes it fluffier and bubblier, while the oil, when heated, crisps it up and gives it crunch.
Pie Guy's crust is so good, you could eat it plain and still be happy. However, it serves as a lovely canvas for Frost's other quality ingredients, including his tomato sauce, which is made from imported Italian tomatoes. In the spirit of Neapolitan-style pies, this sauce is a simple mix of tomatoes, salt, oil and fresh basil that serves as a bright accent for toppings like fennel-kissed sausage from Such and Such Farms, garlicky pepperoni so fatty it's equal parts white and red, or fleshy Castelvetrano olives that add a gentle brininess to any pie they grace with their buttery presence.
Frost keeps things simple, offering pizza by the slice that's either cheese, sausage, pepperoni, veggie or vegan. For the veggie version, he pairs tomato sauce with spinach, red onions and artichoke hearts thoughtfully pulled apart into individual petals. Dollops of fresh ricotta enhance the richness of the molten mozzarella and pecorino cheese that cover the pie.
Pie Guy typically offers a specialty pizza of the day. On one of my visits, Frost paired the Castelvetrano olives simply with red onions and artichokes, showing a penchant for combining these complementary ingredients with enough restraint to not overdo it.
In addition to the slices, whole pizzas are available to customize with everything from pineapple to Ozark Forest mushrooms to Such and Such Farms bacon. The restaurant also offers tangy marinara, garlic butter or ranch dressing for dipping.
Outside of the pizza offerings, the menu is small, consisting only of a few salads and appetizers. "Pizza Knotchos" are an Italian-style nod to the bar-food staple. Using bite-sized knots of dough as a base, Frost piles on pizza sauce, melted mozzarella, fresh ricotta, a generous dollop of basil pesto and a mouthwatering giardiniera-style tapenade. It's a playful — and delicious — twist on the classic appetizer.
His "STL Chop" salad also impresses. It has the flavors of a standard St. Louis-style sweet Italian vinaigrette salad, but they're elevated with little gem lettuce, garlic knot breadcrumbs and the same piquant tapenade as the "knotchos." Like Pie Guy's pizza crust, the salad's masterful play of textures makes it a standout.
Frost and his staff are clearly having a blast with Pie Guy, creating a party atmosphere past midnight and well into the morning. The restaurant fills the neighborhood's (and city's) void of quality late-night dining options by staying open until 3:30 a.m. for by-the-slice service on Friday and Saturday nights. Originally, Frost envisioned a pizza window, serving walk-up customers on the sidewalk. Then came the wintry weather, and he felt bad making people stand out in the cold. He decided to open up the garage doors and invite everyone inside, turning the space into a pizza-fueled after-party for Grove bar-hoppers.
At that point in the night, Frost and his team stop giving out trophies. There's no need; after 1 a.m., everything is by-the-slice only and pretty easy to manage. Besides, no one needs a piece of paraphernalia at that hour to know they're winners. That they're eating at Pie Guy is proof enough.