Jim Zimmerman has rolled around the idea of opening a pizza restaurant for about a decade. He sold his printing company and went to culinary school, but it was only late last year that he put the pieces together, finding a physical space in the former Z Pizza in a strip mall on Wydown. There, he opened Pizzino in December, a sunny, fast-casual pizzeria where he could make his pizza, his way.
“His way” is actually two distinct ways: One, a focaccia-style thick crust, baked to a toothsome crunch. The second – and unique to Pizzino – is a thin crust made from a high-quality flour with a touch of whole wheat and cornmeal that’s briefly grilled, topped, and then finished in a 650-degree stone oven. It took tireless home experimentation and meticulous notes to nail down the airy yet satisfyingly crispy thin crust that’s become his signature just a few months after opening the pizzeria’s doors.
“I knew that my grilled pizza approach would be somewhat unique,” Zimmerman says. “Over the years of hosting pizza parties at home I had developed some interesting combinations of quality ingredients that I felt could become the basis for a retail shop and made sure I kept a record of what I was doing so I could replicate the item consistently. … We make the dough in-house and, because of the grilling process, it seems to get some additional flavor from the grill along with creating a crispness in the crust that is very appealing while still having some tenderness [and] chew that makes it stand out.”
The made-to-order grilled pizzas come in six varieties, and there are four focaccia varieties (designed to get ingredients “noticed and not buried”), though customers are free to mix and match their own from a generous list of fresh ingredients:
- Sauces: San Marzano tomato, arugula or basil pesto, or a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
- Meats: Pepperoni, bacon, Tuscan-seasoned steak slices, marinated grilled chicken, Italian sausage, capicola, Genoa and Calabrese salami, black forest ham
- Cheeses: Fresh mozzarella, fontina and pecorino blend, reggianito, gorgonzola, goat cheese
- Vegetables: Grilled zucchini, artichoke hearts or fennel, olives, tomatoes, roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions, basil, garlic
In addition to pizza, Pizzino dishes up thick focaccia paninis, piled with savory ingredients like Cajun turkey breast, bacon, Emmentaler Swiss and housemade Creole aioli. House salads include Zimmerman’s signature Caesar, topped with a 6-minute egg and housemade croutons and anchovy dressing. And soups like hearty tomato bisque, turkey and wild rice, minestrone and others appear on a rotating basis.
The dessert menu is short and (literally) sweet, featuring his wife Vicky’s popular chocolate chip cookies, a favorite with guests. He’s recently added panna cotta, which is served with a variety of coulis. Perhaps most decadent is the Rose del Deserto, or desert rose, a rich cluster comprised of dark chocolate and orange blossom honey-drenched corn flakes with hazelnuts.
Pizzino business hours are Monday through Saturday, 11am to 8pm. Zimmerman is adjusting weekend evening service with more intimate lighting, table candles and more formal table settings, and the possible addition of entrees like eggplant parmiggiana or lasagna, to make the space more welcoming for a dinner crowd. An expanded wine menu and a shift toward more locally made beers should serve to enhance the experience, along with the use of the outdoor patio when the weather cooperates. In addition, Pizzino will soon be adding a gluten-free crust and delivery starting in mid-March.
Pizzino, 7600 Wydown Blvd., Clayton, Missouri, 314.240.5134, pizzinostl.com
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