At Basso, Nationally Acclaimed Chef Patrick Connolly Pays Homage to St. Louis' Divisive Provel Cheese

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Not everyone gets the joke at first, admits Patrick Connolly, the executive chef of Basso (7036 Clayton Avenue; 314-932-7820), the new gastropub inside the renovated Cheshire hotel. The "Emo Cover Band" is just another of the pizzas on the restaurant's menu -- the last one listed, in fact, after the classic margherita, the cheese-laden "Stretch Armstrong" (buffalo mozzarella and strecchino), the over-the-top "Donald" (duck egg, truffle butter, shaved lardo).

Then the diner says the name of the pizza out loud. Or she reads over the ingredients: sausage, cippolini onions, pancetta, mushrooms, poblano chiles and...something called "Basso Provel"?

Commence the chuckling and slapping of foreheads. "Emo Cover Band" -- as in a tribute to St. Louis' very own Imo's Pizza.

See Also: - The 15 Best Imo's Pizza Photos on Instagram - Gut Check Chows Down on Imo's New Provel Bites

A St. Louis native, Connolly made his bones as a young cook at Tucker's Place and Dressel's before attending Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. From there, he went to Boston, where his career took off: His work at the restaurant Radius earned him national acclaim, including a nomination for the James Beard Foundation's "Rising Star Chef" award in 2007 and a win for the foundation's "Best Chef: Northeast" award in 2008. He then moved to New York City, where he helmed the kitchen at bobo and The Kitchen NYC.

Still, Connolly never lost his taste for one of the signature dishes of his hometown.

"I can't lie," he tells Gut Check. "Whenever I was away, every time I could come home, I'd have an Imo's 'Deluxe'."

He would purchase pre-made cracker-thin pizza crusts and ropes of Provel cheese from groceries on the Hill to bring back East and prepare for co-workers.

("Most people hate it," he admits, "my wife included, who's not from [St. Louis]."

The Basso take on Provel dates back to Connolly's time at Tucker's Place: "When I first started cooking out at Tucker's, they set out to be a St. Louis-style pizza joint -- they had one steak on the menu. When I was there, I was just a pizza cook. We did our own blend of [St. Louis] pizza cheese out there."

Provel is a proprietary blend of cheddar, swiss and provolone cheeses. At Basso, Connolly uses Prairie Breeze cheddar, Jarlsberg and what he refers to as generic "deli" provolone. The toppings likewise are an upscale take on the Imo's "Deluxe" arrangement. The pizza differs in two key respects: the crust, while thin, is certainly not cracker-thin, and the pizza as a whole is wood-fired.

Connolly says diners' reaction to the "Emo Cover Band" has surprised the Basso team: "It's our top seller. I can't tell if it's because it's got the most stuff on it, or because it strikes a chord." The latter explanation doesn't quite make sense to him, however. "You're not really reminiscing about [St. Louis-style] pizza when you're in St. Louis."

Has Connolly heard from Imo's, notoriously protective of the Provel trademark? (If you're not serving Imo's Provel, you're not serving Provel -- you're serving St. Louis pizza cheese.)

"No," he says and laughs. "It's imitation as the strongest form of flattery. I just love the flavor combination."

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