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Monday, May 05, 2008

[Special Report] Imo's Pizza

742 S. 4th Street, St. Louis, MO (GoogleMaps)
(314) 421-4667

Stu and I had a lovely day yesterday, making the trek from Chicago to St. Louis to watch the Cubs spank the Cardinals 9-3. As there are some White Sox fans in the CPC, I will respectfully decline to elaborate on the game. But I will write about my return to Imo's Pizza for the first time since I lived in St. Louis in 1998-99.

Imo's, which has been around since 1964, is the most prominent St. Louis pizzeria. It's pies have a cracker-thin crisp crust, a tangy sauce, and provel cheese. What is provel cheese, you ask? It's a cheese that was developed in St. Louis more than fifty years ago and, despite massive globalization in the food industry, is still pretty much only available in St. Louis.

A food reporter from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch did some research into Provel's origins:

It was originally developed to meet perceived demand for a pizza cheese with a "clean bite"—one that melts well but still breaks off nicely when you bite into it. Neither gentleman had a definitive answer for where the name comes from, although one popular theory is that it's a combination of the words provolone and mozzarella, two of the cheeses for which it is substituted.
What the local reporter left out is that provel is actually processed cheese a la American cheese or those lovely Laughing Cow cheese disks. Like other processed cheeses, provel has a wax-like quality that both retains heat and gives it a very chewy texture.

The original Imo's is no more, so Stu and I opted for convenience and went to the location closest to Busch Stadium. We picked up our sausage pie and headed over to the Arch to enjoy St. Louis' pizza under St. Louis' classic monument.

While I understand why provel has not caught on nationally, I enjoyed the pizza. We had to walk about 3/4 of a mile from Imo's to the Arch, but the pizza was still warm and the crust still had it's cracker-like crispness. The sausage was nothing special, but there was a decent amout of it on the pizza.

Imo's was a nice trip down memory lane for me and I'm glad I went. That said, if I don't eat it for another ten years, I'll be just fine.

A couple of Chicago-related notes. First, Hoffman's, the Milwaukee cheese manufacturer that developed provel with a St. Louis grocery store, is now owned by Northbrook-based Kraft Foods. Second, Feed the Beast, a bar and restaurant in Chicago, is owned by a St. Louis native and serves St. Louis style pizza, complete with provel cheese. Perhaps the CPC will visit someday.

Award Winning St. Louis Pizza... at least until 1999...

I wonder what's inside?

Oh yeah... Pizza!

Dan enjoys a square under the Arch...

Where it went down...


  1. It'd been a while since I had Imo's Pizza as well, though it had never earned a place in my heart as it did in Dan's... It's not totally terrible though. I do enjoy the crispiness of the thin crust, and the sauce had a nice tang to it (at least, I hope that tanginess was from the sauce), I'm not quite sure I'm down with the Provel cheese though. Wikipedia may say that Provel is a comibnation of Swiss, Cheddar and Provolone, but I think there's a good portion of wax in there as well... in fact, I do believe my mouth still has a waxy coating from eating those few squares of Imo's...

  2. There is a very good reason Imo's has locations almost everywhere in St. Louis-because it is absolutely phenominal. The sause is unique, the crust is unique, and the cheese is impossible to find anywhere outside of St. Louis (this is very frustrating). Additionally, provel is the most delicious topping on a salad one can imagine when paired with Imo's italian dressing.

  3. This St. Louisan would take a Giordano's over an Imo's any day of the week :/