The first time Jake tried a Provel pizza he called me.
He described how he had tried to double check that his particular pizza would be topped with mozzerella instead of Provel cheese. The person who took his phone order confirmed this. When his pizza arrived, he knew something was different.
“I found myself eating around the cheese.”
This statement concerned me because Jake loves cheese. Like, a lot. All kinds. Don’t ask what percentage of our typical grocery shopping trip is composed of cheese.
Therefore, I was scared.
Later, Jake tried Imo’s at a pizza party at work and still couldn’t get into it. He kept describing the texture of the cheese as “pasty.” We usually enjoy the same foods so the thought of trying Imo’s made me nervous. St. Louis-style pizza is cut into party squares and you can’t buy it by the slice. I didn’t want to waste any, which is why it’s taken me seven months to visit Imo’s.
The frozen Provel-pizzas I timidly tried just tasted OK in my book. The cheese on these pies struck me as especially American cheesy in both texture and flavor. Then, I tried a housemade pizza at Serra’s and realized how different frozen and fresh STL-style pizzas taste. Suddenly, I felt ready to dine at Imo’s.
One kind reader suggested I visit Imo’s for lunch so I could order the personal-sized pizza. The Imo’s near me in Maplewood offers a lunch combo between 11 am.- 2 p.m. for $7.95 (plus tax & tip) which includes an eight-inch pizza, small salad or garlic cheese bread and a soft drink. I chose a pepperoni pizza and opted for the house salad with their signature sweet Italian dressing.
The house salad was generously portioned and sprinkled with shredded Provel. You never know what kind of provel to lettuce ratio a house salad may have in St. Louis. This wasn’t too heavy tanded.
Sweet Italian dressing is very popular here. It’s something I haven’t encountered in Minnesota, North Dakota, or Iowa. True to its name, it tastes like a sweet Italian salad dressing. I really like the flavor, though it’ll never replace ranch.
The big plates of fluffy garlic cheese bread I saw coming out of the kitchen looked delicious. I’m assuming they were covered with Provel.
And then there was pizza. Mine arrived on a metal platter, fresh from the oven. Pizza cut into party squares always tastes better. Especially those crispy triangle pieces.
If you’ve never tried St. Louis-style pizza, the crust is crisp and cracker-thin. Imo’s sauce tasted slightly sweet. I liked how there was just enough cheese; not too much and not too little. Italian seasonings mingled with a thin sheen of oil. I really liked this damn pizza.
I dragged my last pieces of pizza through the sweet Italian salad dressing. “How could anyone not like this?” I wondered. For $8, you could do a lot worse for lunch. A lot worse than a delicious, crispy pizza and big crunchy salad.
“One City’s Love Affair With Processed Cheese,” Alan Greenblat, NPR, 2013
“Provelology: The Study Of A Made-up Cheese With A Made-up Name,” Joe Bonwich, STL Today, 2012