PW Pizza in St. Louis has the pedigree for near-perfection

2011-08-04T09:00:00Z 2012-02-17T15:56:49Z PW Pizza in St. Louis has the pedigree for near-perfectionBY JOE BONWICH • • 314-340-8133

Paul and Wendy Hamilton have expanded their restaurant empire to include an almost-perfect pizza-and-beer restaurant. Almost.

The duo behind Eleven Eleven Mississippi and Vin de Set did the logical thing with the old brewery building at 2017 Chouteau Avenue that houses Vin de Set, a catering operation called Moulin, an events space called the Malt House Cellar and a boutique market called Grand Petite: They made it into a beer-centric restaurant, pairing the beer with one of its best affinities: pizza. And because the Hamiltons have something of a culinary reputation to uphold, they augmented the list of toppings to include unusual sauces like chimichurri, about a dozen cheeses, meats that range from salume to prime rib, and no fewer than 17 vegetables and fruits.

About a dozen beers are available on tap with three dozen more in bottles or cans. The beer tie-in is reinforced by reproduction vintage brewery ads painted on the brick walls, including Schnaider, whose beer was produced in the building long ago. Add to this a display kitchen with mirrors that let you watch your pizza being put together, and you have a vibrant, entertaining space even before you place your order.

Rather than building our own lists of ingredients, we decided to survey the menu's specialty pizzas.

The Wolf ($15.99), listed as one of "Paul's Picks," was an ideal multimeat pizza combining a mellow, housemade fennel sausage with pepperoni and applewood-smoked bacon and the amplified flavors of caramelized onions and whole cloves of roasted garlic.

Popeye & Olive Oil ($13.79), one of "Wendy's Faves," was an excellent all-veggie pizza, taking a simple approach with roasted red peppers and spinach for toppings, adding garlic by infusing it in the olive oil sauce and topping everything with the creamy, mild and ever-so-slightly tangy flavor of Heartland Creamery fresh goat cheese.

The four Chef's Choices are the most out-there of the predesigned pizzas, and the Blues ($15.59) simply didn't live up to its promise. The name comes from the use of blue cheese, which should be a perfect complement for the thinly sliced prime rib that joins bacon, red onions and chimichurri (a mildly spicy Argentine sauce based on cilantro, basil and garlic) among the toppings. The blue cheese was timid, however, throwing off the balance of flavors and making the beef seem bland.

My objection to the meatball topping was logistical. We got them on a specialty pizza whose recipe came from a customer contest and whose profits go to the charity Food Outreach. But the large quarter- to half-meatballs were an awkward addition to this spinach-artichoke-meatball pizza ($14.59), frequently falling off when we picked up a slice.

The pizzas are 12 inches, making them more than adequate to feed two people and stretchable to three or four. Half-and-half two-style pizzas are nice for sampling combinations of toppings. And I'm not usually one for alternative crusts, but the honey-wheat option was excellent — a little flatter and less airy than the standard crust, but with a touch of sweetness that contrasted well with boldly flavored toppings.

We also tried PW's roasted, dry-rubbed chicken wings ($8.99), which leaned heavily on paprika, and a peanut butter satin pie ($5.29), with layers of a fluffy peanut butter filling and chocolate ganache. The pie is very good, but you'll probably want to share a slice.

Our service was mixed. One of our servers was exceptionally attentive and monitored the progress of our order on a busy evening; the other, on an equally busy evening, delivered a bottle of Left Hand 400 Pound Monkey English IPA ($4.99) without glassware and disappeared (and was ultimately replaced) after dropping off our pizzas.

Despite these flaws, I'm sure I'll be going back. Stay away from the weirder pizza combinations (and assuming that the Hamiltons whip their staff into shape), and PW Pizza approaches the perfect pizza-and-beer restaurant.

PW Pizza

One and a half stars (out of four) • Where 2017 Chouteau Avenue, Lafayette Square • More info 314-241-7799, • Menu Upscale pizza on regular, honey-wheat or gluten-free crusts, plus calzones and sandwiches • Hours Lunch and dinner daily

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