It was only a matter of time before I talked about Imo’s Pizza on this blog. People love or hate this pizza; there’s rarely a middle ground. While I expect that some of you will never trust my taste buds again after this, I have to admit a love of this pizza that no span of time or leap toward adulthood can undo. Every year when we go back to see my family in Missouri over the holidays, we must, at least once, hit Imo’s to partake of a cracker-thin bacon pizza with a side of toasted ravioli.
I can’t remember how old I was when I first had this pizza. I think maybe I was with my step-mother shopping or visiting family in St. Louis. We ordered the pizza and while we were waiting, I was warned that the pizza was a little … different. Now, my family is very polite. Different is typically the nice thing we say instead of horrible or annoying or ugly. I personally love “different,” but I know to be wary when it is potentially being put to euphemistic purpose.
In the end different just meant different. For one, the familiar floppy triangle slices were replaced by crispy little squares. Also, the usual mozzarella was absent and was instead replaced by something strong-flavored and entirely other.
Provel cheese is a weird mixture of cheddar, Swiss, and provolone cheeses. To my knowledge, it is not used outside of Missouri. Also (and I’m cringing in anticipation of your reaction) I love it. The cheese - oh, the cheese - it is so wrong and yet so right. I have been known in the past to buy a bunch of provel cheese over the holidays and cart it back to Texas for the express purpose of attempting to make this pizza at home (more on that at a later date, hopefully). In fact, the year before last, I received some for a Christmas present.
As an interesting and somewhat disgusting aside - Sean was horribly wounded in college by this cheese. It isn’t nearly so springy as mozzarella, so when it’s very hot, it tends to pour liquid-like from its firm-crusted platform. In Sean’s case, it cascaded onto his lower lip and chin. From all accounts, the burn was pretty nasty. But get this, he goes back for more Imo’s every chance he gets.
I don’t know whether I love the pizza more or if it’s really the toasted ravioli that I hold most dear. Holy crap,they’re delicious. Meat ravioli are breaded and deep-fried and served with marinara or meat sauce. I know it sounds like no big deal, but trust me when I say they are the perfect beer and pizza accompaniment. (I make a respectable toasted ravioli. Hopefully, I’ll get around to telling you how I do it; it’s not difficult.) Come to think of it, the ravioli are a little dangerous as well. Fresh from the fryer, they’re piping hot pockets of steam and molten meat. My approach is to nibble off a corner to let the steam vent and some of the otherwise-pasta-contained heat escape.
This past holiday, we were driving up to St. Louis from my parents’ house to visit my brother and his wife and my little, toddling nephew. The skies were threatening rain, but we’d only seen mild sprinkles and weren’t all that fussed up about it. We met a friend of ours at what he considers to be the best Imo’s in St. Louis, and for the next couple hours were lost in a pizza and ravioli haze, catching up with an old friend and generally enjoying life. We drove over to my brother’s house and were met with worried faces. Apparently, while we were comfortably eating our pizza, storms had raged and tornadoes had been sighted not far from where we were eating. We didn’t notice a thing. That, my friends, is powerful pizza.
Sean and I order the same thing every time: large bacon pizza and toasted ravioli. This time, our friend taught us a new way of ordering it which accentuates the nature of Imo’s thin, cracker-esque crust. Light sauce, extra crispy. The sweet tomato sauce is still a lovely counter to the strips of salty bacon and the creamy tang of the provel cheese, but its presence has been sufficiently diminished to allow the crust to firm up even more than normal. It was so crispy, you got a pleasing snap every time your teeth crunched through another bite. Bliss.
We enjoyed our pizza and ravioli, tornadoes be damned. If you try something “different” yourself, just remember to respect the cheese - it’s scary stuff, but worth the risk.