Bob Fortel, the founder of Fortel’s Pizza in Affton (and now with half a dozen locations) was a friend and client before his passing. Bob was a smart businessman and I asked him why, of all the things he could invest his blood, sweat and tears in, why pizza?
He said, “Pizza is fun. Pizza is togetherness; you share it with the people you love.” And his passion for his product, the joy he got from seeing a packed house almost every night, was very, very tangible.
We St. Louisans LOVE our pizza.
Rather, we love OUR pizza. St. Louis style pizza.
While Fortel’s wasn’t on the provel bandwagon, I consider it St. Louis style because it’s got many of the characteristics of what one thinks of when one thinks of St. Louis pizza.
Bless her heart, my bride has tried to replicate the St. Louis pizza experience in our Los Angeles kitchen. Well intentioned bloggers have posted recipes on the internet to replicate provel cheese, the cracker thin crust, the sweet and tangy sauce. While she came VERY close, there’s still something to be said about that whoosh of endorphins that comes when you finally open that box from Imo’s.
Last month, I finally got my bride to St. Louis. There were so many things she had never experienced, but one of the top things on the list was to order pizza from Imo’s and get that REAL St. Louis pizza taste. The anticipation had been built over years of our courtship and early marriage, my constant ravings about how much I missed the amazing combination of hamburger and bacon and onion and provel. It was clear she had heard enough and she was ready to have her senses assaulted with the goodness that comes from those little franchised holes in the wall all over town: The Imo’s Pizza.
(I know I started talking about Fortel’s, and I love their pizza, too, but Imo’s is Imo’s. I wouldn’t take her to Disneyland and introduce her to Donald Duck instead of Mickey Mouse!)
After a quick phone call and the customary 20 minute wait, it arrived in all its glory. Its cardboard box steaming in the cool night air, its glossy coupons flapping in the breeze and that unmistakable oregano scent wafting through the St. Louis dusk.
Rushing inside, I quickly prepared cold, frosty Fitz’s root beers (what else?!) and set my bride down for a life-changing experience. My heart was in my throat as she took that first piece, the small edge piece that they always give you that’s 1/3 the size that any pizza slice should be.
She popped it in her mouth. I heard it crunch.
Her eyes, which I expected to light up like Disneyland, remained their usual, lovely shade of green.
She spoke. “It’s… good.” I was heartened.
“I can see why you like it.” The kiss of death. She was not a fan. She was, I’m afraid, one of “them.”
I married a girl from out of town. She just didn’t “get it.”
I finished the pizza and tried to overlook her single flaw. The night drifted into day and our trip to St. Louis was otherwise wonderful.
And as we drove around town, she was reminded of her home town of Buffalo, New York. She said to me, “you should try the wings!”