First look: Arch Pizza opens in Park Hill with St. Louis-style pizza

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UPDATE: After a year in Denver, Arch Pizza closed all of its metro-area stores in November 2014. The move came on the heels of an aggressive expansion by the St. Louis-style pizza chain, which opened its third store in March.

Last month, comedian and television host Jimmy Kimmel squarely insulted the city of St. Louis when he royally crucified Imo's, a legendary, family-owned St. Louis-style pizza chain that Kimmel described as a "terrible, terrible pizza place," adding that the Midwestern chain, which has additional locations in Missouri, Illinois and Kansas City, also turns out "disgusting toasted raviolis."

There are thousands upon thousands of Imo's loyalists who would vehemently disagree with Kimmel's assessment of the joint's pizza (and toasted ravioli), including Marc Dak, who, along with his wife Stacy, just opened Arch Pizza, which not only serves St. Louis-style pizza but is using the same recipes and ingredients that you'll find at Imo's.

See also: Pizzeria Locale: Will Frasca's dough boys get a pizza the fast-casual action?

"My wife is from St. Louis, and she grew up eating at Imo's, and we love the pizza, so we wanted to bring it to Denver," says Dak, adding that the owners of Imo's gave them permission to mirror their concept in another city, just so long as they use their recipes and purveyors.

For the uninitiated, St. Louis-style pizza is the antithesis of Chicago-style, or New York-style pizza, or, for that matter, any pizza. The crust, which utilizes baking powder rather than yeast, is cracker-thin and unyielding -- the flop factor is entirely absent; the sauce relies more on sweetness than acidity; a blend of processed cheeses -- Swiss, provolone and white cheddar, trademarked as Provel, takes the place of mozzarella; and the pizza is cut into squares. About that cheese: it's a little smoky, a little gooey and when it's bubbling hot, it kind of reminds you of molten lava. And while Dak admits that it's not for everyone, he's betting that it'll generate more fans than foes. "We're gambling on the fact that people are really going to love the cheese blend, mostly because it just has a lot more flavor than mozzarella," he says.

And the Park Hill store is just the beginning of what the Daks and their third business partner, Matt Leiss, hope will evolve into a mini empire. They've signed a lease on two additional spaces, one in Lone Tree at 8854 Maximus Drive, and a second in south Denver, across the street from Kennedy Golf Course, and they're scouting for a fourth location.

The menus, which proffer pizza titles that pay tribute to St. Louis, including the "Arch," "Mighty Mississippi," the "Ozark" and one called the "Tangy Cardinal," a pizza crowned with bacon, chicken and pineapple and paved with a sweet, tangy and spicy sauce, share space with sandwiches, salads, garlic bread and several starters, most of them fried. The majority of the ingredients are shipped to the store from St. Louis, although the meatballs are made locally by Palidori Sausage.

A beer-and-wine license is in the works (the hearing is slated for November 1), and each subsequent store will pour beer and wine and offer the same menu. "I don't necessarily think that this pizza is better than every other pizza," admits Dak, "but we're definitely doing a different kind of pizza than just about anyone else in Denver, plus we have a fun, family-friendly atmosphere, an enthusiastic staff and a great neighborhood feel," he concludes.

Arch Pizza is open daily for lunch and dinner, and the store also offers delivery within a three-mile radius. Here's a sneak peek at the space and the pizzas.

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