Imo's Pizza in St. Louis

Editor's note: Below, reader Lemons checks in with some St. Louis pizza intel. For more on St. Louis–area food, check out Lemons's blog: St. Louis Eats and Drinks. —Adam

Imo's pizza (by MagDawg462)

Photograph from MagDawg462 on Flickr

It's flatter than a pancake, it's square, and there's not a hint of mozzarella about it. What's something described like that doing on a pizza blog?

It's a piece of Imo's Pizza, the epitome of St. Louis–style pie. This idiosyncratic rendition is characterized by an extremely thin crust with no raised edge, the pie itself roughly cut into 3-inch squares—or as closely as you can get when starting with something round—and the use of Provel cheese. Detractors, who include most non-native St. Louisans, describe it as Cheez Whiz on a cracker.

Nobody quite knows why the Imo family began cutting their pizza in squares, but it certainly makes it easier to eat; if it were cut in wedges, it'd collapse like the 2007 Rams' defensive line. And what on earth is Provel cheese?

Provel is a combination of cheddar, provolone, and Swiss. Imo's claims it was made specifically for them, but as with many St. Louis specialties, like toasted ravioli and gooey butter cake, there's disagreement about the origins. It is, certainly, very cheesy, but it lacks the characteristic stretchiness of mozzarella. Between the small pieces and no strings of cheese, it's a very tidy pizza to eat, which may have been an early selling point in a city whose population is generally distressed by messiness. (In St. Louis, spray blowing from fountains onto sidewalks is a source of complaint. Well into the twentieth century, locals scrubbed their front steps with a brush and bucket.)

Toppings are pretty standard, and sauce application is usually somewhere between moderate and heavy. The chain offers sandwiches, salads (with Provel!), and wings, plus a dessert item called Cinnimos—which I admit I haven't tried.

The depth of loyalty as an Imo's fan seems to depend a great deal on whether the eater were raised in the area. Arguing about pizza is like arguing about barbecue: There are no absolute answers, only deeply held opinions. And there are some excellent mozzarella-topped pies available in town. But exiles returning to St. Louis for visits crave their Imo's. (We're seeing third-generation Imo's fans in St. Louis now; partly, I think, because of the size of the pieces—it's very kid-friendly.)

There are plenty of locations around the area, many of which have little or no seating for eat-in, since the bulk of the business is delivery. They're franchises, albeit extremely closely monitored, from what I understand. They've gone as far afield as the Kansas suburbs of Kansas City, and smaller towns like Farmington have now been colonized, although there seems to be much less action on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River.

Visitors to town will find an Imo's that delivers to downtown hotels, as well as one diagonally across I-64 from the fabled St. Louis Zoo. (It sports a neon pizza chef, a beacon for the Provel-deficient.)


Imo's Pizza

Address: Various locations; use the Imo's finder for one near you

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