President Obama’s Favorite Pizza Squares Off Against A College Favorite

pi pizza in st louisWho could resist trying a pizza fit for the President of the United States? Last week, I visited a friend in St. Louis and he mentioned that President Obama offended some in his adopted hometown of Chicago a few years ago by choosing a St. Louis pizzeria called Pi to cater a pizza party at the White House, after having tried and liked their pizza at a campaign event at the St. Louis Arch.

Any pizzeria worthy of the President’s admiration is one I want to try, but I was just in Italy for five weeks earlier this year and ate at Da Michele, a pizzeria that many consider to be the best in the world. The pizza at Da Michele is otherworldly and cheap too, so I was skeptical that Pi could measure up but was still eager to give it a shot.

We met at Pi’s Washington Avenue branch, which is in a stunning, high-ceilinged building in downtown St. Louis. My friend and I decided to split a large, thin-crust Central West End pizza, which comes with mozzarella, prosciutto, goat cheese, cherry tomatoes, red onions, and a mountain of arugula.Pi’s thin-crust pizza has very tasty, super thin, almost crispy crust that I found to be outstanding. All of the ingredients were first-rate and the pizza melted in my mouth. For my taste, there was too much arugula and not enough prosciutto, but that’s splitting hairs.

My only complaint about this pizza is the portion and the price, $21. With crust this thin, I could practically eat the large by myself. I had four good-sized slices – half the pie – but I wasn’t full. It’s more than a little unfair to compare a pizza with a slew of toppings in St. Louis to a cheese pizza in Italy, but I’m going to do so anyways.

At Da Michele, the large cheese pizza is just over $6 and is so good you want to get a job at the place, or, better yet, move in upstairs to benefit from the aroma. Over the last decade or so, the gourmet pizza craze has hit every good-sized city in the U.S. to the point that you can get really good, wood-fire pizza fairly easily. But the prices can be ridiculous. In Italy, pizza is never expensive – never. And it shouldn’t be here either.

shakespeare's pizzaWith that ethos in mind, I tried another well-hyped Missouri pizzeria called Shakespeare’s, in Columbia just a few days after our Pi experience. I was just as anxious to try Shakespeare’s because fellow blogger Sean McLachlan wrote that it was “the best I’ve ever had and I’ve been to Rome.”

Shakespeare’s is located right next to the University of Missouri’s main campus in downtown Columbia and the unpretentious vibe couldn’t be more of a contrast to the sleek, trendy interior at Pi’s downtown location. We sat underneath a large sign advertising “Liquor, Guns & Ammo,” and I fell in love with the place after having a look at their homemade food pyramid, which values pizza, candy and my other favorite foods above broccoli and fruit.

We ordered a large sausage pizza and it was tasty, huge and cheap at $15.50. The circumference of the pizza was probably similar to the one at Pi, but the crust was more substantial and filling. That said, I thought that the pizza at Pi was a lot tastier. I ate every morsel of the crust at Pi, but the crust at Shakespeare’s was flavorless.

Verdict: Pi wins the Battle of Missouri for my taste, but even pizza fit for the President should cost less.

Note: Pi now has a location in D.C. as well.

(Photos: first photo by Stlbites on Flickr, second by Dave Seminara)

*Breaking* St. Louis airport damaged and closed by tornado

The historic Lambert Field in St. Louis was damaged by an apparent tornado last night, wreaking havoc on the main terminal and disrupting operations. According to the Huffington Post, “The storm lifted the roof off Concourse C and sent plate glass flying everywhere. Four people were taken to the hospital with minor injuries after glass shattered as the storm hit.”

All inbound flights were diverted, while operations ground to a halt internally. As of this morning, no flights are operating in or out of the airport.

If you happen to be flying through Lambert Field this weekend, be sure to check your schedule for any cancellations. American Airlines Southwest Airlines flies the majority of routes out of Lambert, so that carrier may see the largest disruptions. American currently has a travel waiver available on their site here while Southwest has one here.

Luckily nobody was fatally injured in the storm. Lambert Field, however, will remain indefinitely closed until repairs can be made.

*update, we just received this youtube video from inside of STL airport during the action. Scary stuff!*

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Empty auto dealerships mean new attractions for travelers

Auto dealerships, smacked by the recession, have shut down across the country, but many of those buildings are coming back to life. These large, empty buildings have become restaurants, schools, yoga studios and even art galleries. It’s not just empty dealerships – shuttered businesses of all kinds are giving way to new attractions that can add color to any trip. Just down the road from me, an empty commercial spot on Central Park West became home to a 10-artist exhibition for several weeks. These are the surprises that can turn any vacation into something truly memorable.

The opportunities aren’t just in New York; you can find them around the country. Art students from the Columbus College of Art & Design in Ohio have taken advantage of an empty local dealership to bring a new energy to an empty space. The school has invested $8.3 million in the space.

If you find yourself needing a yoga fix in Los Angeles, check out the Golden Bridge Yoga Studio, which occupies an empty dealership. You can dine in one at NEO in St. Louis.

[Photo by David Hilowitz via Flickr]

NYC tops U.S. list of most expensive cities

It’s not exactly shocking to see that New York City is the most expensive city in the United States. Groceries, gasoline and other items tend to run a tad more than twice the national average. Whether you rent or buy, you’ll spend a fortune in this city, where the average price for a home is $1.1 million and an apartment, on average, will cost $3,400 a month.

So, how can so many bloggers live here? Remember: these are averages. That means someone has to be on the underside of them.

Housing prices were also among the reasons why San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. worked their way into top spots on the list. Average home prices shot past $600,000 in all four of these cities. In Austin, the average home price is a much more modest $226,998, and it’s even more comfortable in Nashville, at $201,020.

The measure used to determine the cost of leaving in each of the cities is based on expenses in six categories: groceries, housing (rent/mortgage), healthcare, utilities, transportation and miscellaneous items. The prices of 57 goods in these categories were used.Six of the most expensive cities in the country are in California, with four of them among the top 10. Texas has four – Austin, San Antonio, Houston and Dallas. Most of the costliest cities are on the two coasts, though Chicago (14), Las Vegas (18), Phoenix (25) and St. Louis (35) made the top 40.

The most surprising appearance on the list of most expensive places to live is Detroit. Even though it’s plagued by unemployment of 16.7 percent, utilities are expensive. Electricity costs an average of $243.56 a month, compared to a mere $141.64 in Atlanta.

The ten most expensive cities on the list are:

  1. New York City
  2. San Francisco
  3. San Jose
  4. Los Angeles
  5. Washington DC
  6. San Diego
  7. Boston
  8. Philadeplhia
  9. Seattle
  10. Baltimore

Check out the full list here.

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[Photo via MigrantBlogger]

American finds $2.9 billion: more routes added

It’s hard to see how the machinations of Wall Street affect the end consumer, sometimes. In the case of American Airlines and its recent pickup of $2.9 billion, you can draw a straight line from the money to the exit row.

The hefty infusion, a risky move because revenues are down and this is not a trivial amount of debt, has already prompted announcements of schedule changes … for the better. American is planning to increase flying in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth and Miami, though there will be fewer flights in Raleigh/Durham and St. Louis. Look for 57 new daily flights at O’Hare, six more from JFK, two in Los Angeles and anther 19 in Dallas-Fort Worth.

The news comes at a time when most airlines are cutting back service as a way to control costs due to reductions in passenger traffic.

Since we’ve seen what fewer flights can mean – more crowded flights, less legroom and higher odds of getting stuck in a middle seat – the financial breathing room that American has gained could actually give you more actual breathing room the next time you fly. If American fill these extra seats (at the expense of your throwing up the armrest and claiming two), it will generate more revenue, which could turn into real growth. Maybe some of that cash will be used to bring back some amenities.

Blankets, anyone?