There's some debate as to who first started serving pizza to Kansas City patrons. Was it downtown's old Italian Gardens restaurant? Was it the neighboring Gaetano's? Or was it - back in the 1950s - Antonio's pizzeria, at 43rd Street and Main, operated by Paul Silvio and the late Jasper Mirabile (who also served pizza at his namesake sit-down restaurant in Waldo)?
Memories are unreliable, but we do know that all of those pizzerias had something in common: They all used house-made, long-simmered tomato sauce on their pies.
"You can tell the difference between a canned sauce and a real sauce made in-house in about one second," says chef Jasper Mirabile Jr. of Jasper's Restaurant and the casual Marco Polo's (which still makes and sells pizza). "A canned tomato sauce is usually almost flavorless. A freshly made sauce should be full of flavor."
For economic reasons, many local pizza joints use a packaged tomato sauce for their pizzas. Full-service restaurants that also serve pizza - including Jasper's, Monetti's, V's Italiano Ristorante, and Chiusano's Brick Oven Pizzeria - simmer their own sauces.
Compiling this week's cover story, we did find plenty of pizza places that do make their own sauces. Among my favorites: Leo's Pizza in Kansas City's Northland has been making its own sauce for more than two decades.
The Mirabile family has even gotten into the pizza-sauce business. Beginning last week, the Jasper's jars of pizza sauce were stocked on area supermarket shelves.
"We make it with whole tomatoes, garlic, onion, salt, olive oil, and red pepper," Mirabile Jr. says. "We did a taste test, and my employees like it better than the sauce I make every day here in the restaurant."