Another week, another great state in our ongoing 50-plus-part series The United States of Pizza. This time, I'm proud to take you on a cheesy tour of my home state, the Sunflower State, Kansas. So slip off your ruby slippers,* relax, and come along.
Like a lot of the states in the region Kansas is a big ol' rectangle with only a handful of densely populated metro areas (most in eastern Kansas) and lots little cities and towns on the rolling plains out west. We'll focus on the larger population centers here in this guide — the greater Kansas City metro area, Lawrence, Topeka, Wichita, Manhattan. If we've missed anything, please do let us know in the comments.**
Kansas City Metro Area
Note: Because folks from the metro area hop over State Line Road with little thought, we're including both KCK and KCMO in the Kansas guide. Deal with it.
When owners Robert and Janet Bloom opened D'Bronx about 20 years ago, the idea was to pay a nod to her father's deli in the NYC borough it takes its name from. Sandwiches were the focus and pizza was an afterthought. But these days, when you ask Kansas Citians for pizza recs, D'Bronx is on most folks' short list — and about half the joint's revenue now comes from pizza, which is sold by the pie or by the slice. (I should note here that by-the-slice pizza is still a relative rarity in KC but has been appearing more lately.) The crust at D'Bronx isn't quite as thin as pizza you'd find in NYC, but it's not too thick, either. And if you get the thinner variety, it'll be recognizable as New York–style. The undercarriage often has some nice color to it, and the ingredients on top are always fresh and applied with a generous hand.
3904 Bell Street, Kansas City MO 64111; 816-531-0550 2450 Grand Boulevard, Kansas City MO 64108; 816-842-2211 7070 West 105th Street, Overland Park KS 66212; 913-649-9000
Onetime Slice–Serious Eats contributor Jonathan Bender, now based in Kansas City and working for the local alt-weekly's food blog, has good words to say about recently opened Santora's on Main Street, which, like D'Bronx, is going for a New York–slice:
The crust is key, and this slice has the proper balance of substance and crunch. There's also not too much cheese, which means that the homemade marinara, a family recipe from Anthony Santora (the ricotta is also Santora's own), has a chance to shine.
3834 Main Street, Kansas City MO; 816-756-1616; santoraspizzas.com
Looks like I started this guide with New York–style pizza in KC, so I'm gonna slide into some new styles after this one last one.
One of my favorite New York–style slices in the KC area is at Original Pizza in Oak Park Mall. Yeah, I know. Good pizza in a mall food court? Believe it. I used to house slices from this place when I was a teenage mallrat, so you might chalk up my admiration to nostalgia. But, no. Last time I was in KC, I tried a slice just to see if it held up, and it did. Crust-sauce-cheese ratios are all harmonious, the sauce is classic NYC pizza sauce, and it's even served up with the same surliness you'd get in the Big Apple. Still, a mall? But in the course of my sleuthing, I found that a number of chowhounders had my back on this one. Oak Park Mall food court 11511 West 95th Street, Overland Park KS 66214; 913-888-9301; originalpizzakc.com
Spin! Neapolitan Pizza
This mini chain of Neapolitan-inspired pizzerias sprang up about four years ago in Overland Park across from the Sprint campus. There are now locations in Olathe; Kansas City, Missouri; and Lee's Summit, Missouri. Spin makes its dough daily, putting it through a 24-hour room-temperature rise to give it some flavor, and then cooks its pizzas in gas-fired domed brick ovens. When I've had them, they've been hit or miss, mostly hit, but when they're miss, it's generally because they've been slightly overcooked into a dry and tough state. When they're "hit," it's a pretty damn good pizza — more on the crisp end than traditional Neapolitan (which I like), with a large menu of fresh, carefully prepared toppings.
541 West 119th Street, Overland Park KS 66209; 913-451-7746 14230 West 119th Street, Olathe KS 66062; 913-764-7746 4950 Main Street, Kansas City MO 64112; 816-561-7746 1808 D NW Chipman Road, Lee's Summit MO 64081; 816-246-7746
For another version of Neapolitan pizza in the KC metro area, try Pizza Bella in Kansas City, Missouri's Crossroads District. Our KC-based friend the Ulterior Epicure has this to say:
For Neapolitan-style pizzas, Pizza Bella is the champion. While I can't say their crusts are perfect, they're pretty darn great. You get the knobby rim, blackened blisters here and there, with the occasional overblown pimple in the center. The crust is at once crisp and elastic — a good chew without killing your jaws. The toppings there range from overdone to just right. The Margherita is not bad, though I do fancy the potato and blue cheese pizza (not traditional, of course).
I've only had the pizza here a couple times, but pretty much what I found as well. Crusts are perhaps a little blonder than some char-loving pizza hounds would prefer, but it's good stuff overall. 1810 Baltimore Avenue, Kansas City MO 64108; 816-471-3300; pizzabellakc.com
A number of my friends would rip me a new one if I didn't mention Waldo Pizza. (I haven't yet been, despite their constant urging.) Waldo has a few different kinds of crust, but it's best known for its St. Louis–style cracker crust. And, yes, that pizza comes topped with provel — though you can ask them to sub in mozzarella instead. 7433 Broadway, Kansas City MO 64114; 816-363-5242; waldopizza.net
Speaking of St. Louis–style, if you want to go straight to the horse's mouth, there are two Imo's Pizza locations in the KC area.
11552 West 135th Street, Overland Park KS 66221; 913-529-4667;
4037 Mill Street, Kansas City MO 64111; 816-931-4667
When I turned to the Ulterior Epicure for his KC pizza picks, I was hoping he'd come back with newer stuff like the Pizza Bella rec. But I knew I was dealing with a true KC guy when he said Minsky's:
Minsky's pizzas represent everything that New York pizza eaters hate about Midwest pizza. The crust is thinner, with a yeasty wallop. The meat toppings are their most popular: sausage, pepperoni, etc. I could just stand outside the restaurant (multiple locations) and get off on the smell of the place. Beer, yeasty crust—it's the PBR of Kansas City pizzas. (Pizza Shoppe and Kelso's do a similar type of pizza.)
I don't want to put words in UltEp's mouth, but I think he's sort of hit on something here. If the Kansas City area could be said to have a pizza style, I think the three he mentions above (Minksy's, Pizza Shoppe, Kelso's) would typify it — along with Torre's Pizzeria, Stone Canyon Pizza, and maybe even Godfather's Pizza back in the '80s.
Minsky's, various locations
Papa Keno's in Overland Park is a spin-off of the original location in Lawrence, Kansas. Known for its HUGE, thin, crisp slices, the original is a favorite with college students at the University of Kansas for high food-to-price ratio. It's also popular for its seemingly endless variety of toppings that allow you to customize a slice just so. The pizza quality at the Overland Park location, when I've had it, has been pretty consistent with the one in Lawrence. 7901 Santa Fe, Overland Park KS 66204; 913-648-1313; papakenos.com
Pizza 51 makes enormous very thin and crisp pies and slices — though situated as it is near the University of Missouri–KC, it specializes in by-the-slice pizza. After ordering a slice, you can specify toppings, which are then added, and the pizza goes back into the oven for a quick reheat. Slices are so big that Pizza 51 cuts them into a grid — but you can ask for them uncut, if you want to fold them. 5060 Oak Street, Kansas City MO 64112; 816-531-1151; pizza51.com
Last (for now) but not least in our KC metro roundup is Grinders, which will forever be etched in my mind as the creator of a tater tot chili pizza as seen on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives (watch video here). I promised Slice'rs that I would check out this pizza, and I have yet to make it to KC to do so. From what I hear, though, the regular pizza at Grinders is good. Can anyone back this up? 417 East 18th Street, Kansas City MO 64108; 816-472-5454
Lawrence is a college town — home to the University of Kansas, my alma mater — and as such has a number of cheap pizza options. But some newer, fancier places have opened up since my old bones rumbled through the town.
See just above. Papa Keno's is one of Lawrence's perennial pizza favorites. When school is in session, the place is almost always busy. For $3.50 you get a cheese slice that's "as big as your face" — $5.49 if you want one of the specialty slices, which come with about 5 different toppings. They're also sort of famous for doing green beer on St. Patty's day. 1035 Massachusetts Avenue, Lawrence KS 66044; 785-841-7272; papakenos.com
I always thought of Rudy's Pizzeria as sort of the yin to Papa Keno's yang. Or vice versa. Where PK's is thin and crisp, Rudy's is thick and bready. I'm not quite sure there was ever a rivalry, though, as most folks seemed to eat one or the other depending on proximity and mood. Prices are similar. Rudy's was always sort of the "hippie" pizzeria, with more vegetarian options and a crunchier vibe. They're also known for "Pocket 'Za" — essentially a calzone. 704 Massachusetts Avenue, Lawrence KS 66044; 785-749-0055; rudyspizzeria.com
Ingredient makes small, individual-size brick-oven pizzas, offering a variety of inventive toppings, many of them vegetarian-friendly. 945 Massachusetts Street, Lawrence KS 66044; 785-832-0100; ingredientrestaurant.com
An el cheap-o delivery-only pizza that hits the spot for college kids under the influence of whatever it is they get up to. ;) Great, because you don't have to drive to get it, and it's open late. And, did I mention it's dirt cheap? That's pretty much all that it has going for it. In terms of quality, it's thick, gummy, doughy. Lots of end crust (i.e., why waste too much cheese going too close to the rim?). But ... oh, the memories. Call 842-1212. Call us now Pizza Shuttle
Glory Days Pizza
Glory Days is often voted best Topeka pizza by readers of the Topeka Capital Journal. In addition to the usual suspects, the place features a Baked Potato pizza — ranch dressing, potatoes, mozzarella and cheddar, bacon bits, all topped with sour cream and chives post-bake. A Topeka friend of mine made me try this thing once. Interesting, but I'd stick with their more traditional pizzas, which are good.
2811 SW Wanamaker Road, Topeka KS 66614; 785-271-5151
3310 SE 29th Street, Topeka KS 66605; 785-266-5353
Giovanni's Pizzeria & Cafe
Giovanni's does a New York style pizza in the heart of the Kansas capital city. Opened in 2009 by Frank Conti, a former Queens pizzaman, and his wife, Elizabeth. You can get pizza by the slice here, along with cannoli, chicken Parm heroes, cheesesteaks, and pastas. 1001 Southeast Quincy Street, Topeka KS 66612; 785-235-2023; giovanispizzeria.com
Buzzard's is the Topeka outpost of a small family-run chain of Kansas pizzerias (other locations are in Holton, Pomona, and Lyndon). Notable on the menu: buffalo-topped pizza. The Buffalo Supreme, for instance, features local ground bison, green pepper, onion, black olives, and mushrooms. 4745 N.W. Hunters Ridge Circle; Topeka KS 66618; 785-215-8827; buzzardspizzatopeka.com
Interestingly enough, Wichita was the birthplace of Pizza Hut. While the chain is now headquartered in Dallas, the original Pizza Hut remains in this southern Kansas city. But, hey, that doesn't mean there's not good pizza to be had here!
Seems Il Vicino was ahead of the whole wood-fired pizza curve when it opened in 1999 in the College Hill section of Wichita. Ten years later, its popularity spurred a second Wichita location to open in Bradley Fair. The Il Vicinos in Wichita are part of a small regional chain that also has stores in New Mexico and Colorado. Pizzas are Neapolitan-style, with the usual suspects as well as nods to more traditional American tastes -- pepperoni is available as is a roasted chicken pizza.
2132 N Rock Road, Wichita KS 67206; 316-636-2121
4817 E Douglas Avenue, Wichita KS 67218; 316-612-7085
Manhattan (aka 'The Little Apple')
AJ's NY Pizzeria
Yes, there is a Manhattan, Kansas. And you better believe they have a New York–style pizzeria there. Opened by Adam Peyton after he moved back to Kansas from NYC, he wanted to bring a slice of the Big Apple to "the Little Apple." I haven't been, but from the menu, it looks like they've got some fairly uncommon ingredients and pizzas for Kansas — fresh mozzarella, for instance, and even white pies. Points off, though, for using a dough sheeter (as seen in the video above). 301 Poyntz, Manhattan KS 66502; 785-587-0700; ajsnypizza.com
* It's required by law that at least one Wizard of Oz reference be made whenever the subject of Kansas is in play. Sorry, folks! As a native Kansan, I know how tired those jokes are.
** If you're grumbling because your area is underrepresented, hey, we asked you for intel here and got almost nuthin'! Kansans, what up?