by Jesse Gernigin
I love pizza places. And not just artisan pizzas, I love all pizzas. I am an equal opportunity pizza eater. What do you have? Provel? I’m in. Deep dish? Great! You serve the pizza out of a cardboard box smattered with grease? Slide it my way! I am in no way a pizza snob. But don’t let that fool you, I know good pizza.
A good pizza place, at its heart, is a place that serves good food comfortably. The ovens heat lends even the most generic of venues ambient warmth and comfort. Prime examples of this are Shakespeare’s at Mizzou and the Mellow Mushroom in Lexington. They are both places that, when entered, you instantly are comfortable.
This was not the case at Peel. Entering Peel on a busy night (and they’ve all been busy thus far it seems) is a cramped affair. The entrance lies off to one side of the room were the majority of the waiting area space is consumed by the bar. Although Peel isn’t a heavy drinking venue, I have to imagine parents won’t enjoy their children sharing the same space as the bar. The turnover of tables is odd and twice when I went tables sat empty while we were told fifty minute waits were required.
However this is easy to overlook because Peel is a newly opened restaurant and not competing on the same level as St. Louis luminaries such as Niche or hometown heroes Erato and Fond. What I’m really here for is the pizza, and pizzas they have.
Peel offers a good number of pizzas (although no gluten free alternatives) that range a little in cost, but none are overly expensive. I had three different pizzas and two different salads on my visits. The pizzas were okay. What was mostly disappointing was the prosciutto and fingerling potato pizza. The first couple of slices were mediocre but for some reason one slice was a grand slam of flavor and after that I couldn’t eat the pizza because I knew what it was intended to taste like and therefore knew the level of disappointment to expect.
“Intention” it is the best way to describe Peel. If we are going to be honest, Peel is a less zazzy version of California Pizza Kitchen. The pizzas they serve seem to suffer from internal confusion. The confusion is not psychological though, it must surely be the oven. When cooking pizzas at an incredibly hot temperature, as Peel claims to do (and they do), you have little time to make (or correct) mistakes in. My first two trips to Peel the hostess excitedly informed me that it only takes the chefs ninety seconds to cook a pizza. By my third visit this had stopped (note: this may have just been the hostess, but I imagine it must be hard to justify a fifty minute wait, packed restaurant or not, if you are serving pizzas at ninety second intervals).
That said the food was less than extraordinary, in truth it was barely passable as average. The pizzas came out either burnt on the bottom and chewy in the middle (not in a good way) or just overcooked to hell. The salads were just greens on a plate and the appetizers weren’t worth the time it took to eat them. The wings were average, the wood fired goat cheese had a flat flavor and the tapenade was more sour than good. The sandwiches were either saturated with too many competing flavors (the chicken mozzarella) or were dull (the Italian job). I hadn’t tried the pastas nor had a chance to ask anybody about their experience with them so I can’t comment. As for the desserts I’ll say this, don’t. Putting nutella on graham crackers, adding honey, and cooking it in a wood fire oven in no way justifies charging eight bucks for a smore.
As for the service it was good, if not overly gracious at times. The first two visits I had servers who have served before. The third time I carried out (busy holiday season, read my blog). The beer selection was pretty good with a dozen crafts on tap (thumbs up) and a few ho hum wine selections (although no liquor).
In total I give the experience two stars out of four. I give it two stars because the idea they have works (as seen in the California Pizza Kitchen) and they have room to grow, but the 222 bakery has been serving pizzas on Friday for some time now and they are about the same price and far better than Peel’s. I’ll have to review the place again in six months (a lot can happen in that time) but for now my review stands. Eat there if you are interested, you might get lucky, but be warned.
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Filed Under: Restaurants