Ultra-thin crust and Provel cheese define St. Louis’s favorite style of pizza, which is portioned out in square cuts easy to eat with one hand so you can hold a schooner of beer in the other. There’s no place better to do that than Riley’s Pub, a sociable corner bar with a full menu of ribs, steaks, burgers, and sandwiches … none of which we’ve eaten.
But we have eaten the pizza, again and again, with pleasure. That Provel cheese — a combination of provolone, cheddar, and Swiss made in Wisconsin but a St. Louis passion — has a curious non-greasy texture, even as it melts, meaning that the crust underneath stays crisp. And crisp crust is the key to St. Louis pizza. It is cracker-thin but sturdy enough to hold up under heaps of Provel as well as sausage, pepperoni, BBQ chicken, and all kinds of vegetables. No, it’s not Neapolitan pizza, nor Chicago pizza, nor New York or Boston or New Haven pizza. It doesn’t want to be. It is something altogether different.
Riley’s doesn’t make a big deal of the fact that it is home of a unique American regional-food specialty; it’s just a friendly tavern where folks go to enjoy reasonably priced drinks, toss darts, listen to the jukebox or occasional live music and, by the way, eat St. Louis pizza.