Last week we explored Charleston, SC authentic low-country dining. This week in my exploration of authentic regional dining, it’s all about discovering St. Louis dining. And boy, does this city have some regional dishes. St. Louis began life as a French fortress in the 1600s, but with the Louisiana Purchase became an important American port along the Mississippi River. Culturally it reflects its Italian, German, and Irish immigrant roots. Thus most of today’s St. Louis dining selections are deli and diner food, so put away your calorie counter and dig in.
Five St. Louis Dishes and Where to Eat’em:
Provel Cheese Pizza at Imo’s Pizza
Provel cheese is a processed cheese made of cheddar, swiss, and provolone. Even those who love it say it is an acquired taste. But those who grew up on it love it, and it is found everywhere in St. Louis–on hamburgers, pastas, soups and salads. It is most commonly used on St. Louis-style pizza.
With no retail experience and very little in cooking, the Imo’s opened their first pizza parlor in 1964. The cash register was an old tackle box. People in the neighborhood were amazed at this time period that they could have pizza delivered to their doorway. Today they have more than 90 locations, mostly in the greater St. Louis area, with a dozen others throughout Missouri. Order up some pizza melting with Provel, a thin crust, and, of course, sliced in squares.
Famous Gerber Sandwich at Ruma’s Deli
This is another regional dish with Provel cheese as an important ingredient. This toasted open-faced sandwich, made with Italian bread, garlic butter, paprika, ham and Provel is sold everywhere in the St. Louis area. The sandwich was first made in Ruma’s Deli in 1973 and named for a customer (Dick Gerber). In 2008 Ruma’s won the “Best Use of the Worst Cheese St. Louis” category in the Riverfront Times. According to them “Time was you couldn’t swing a cat in this town without hitting a Ruma’s Deli.” These days there are only two locations, but they still serve the original Famous Gerber Sandwich.
Toasted Ravioli at Mama’s on the Hill
Toasted ravioli, breaded and deep-fried, is a popular St. Louis appetizer. Toasted Ravioli may have originated in Sicily, where a ravioli with a sweet filling is traditional at Christmas. However, most accounts claim that it originated in the Italian neighborhood of St. Louis called “The Hill” at Oldani’s (Now Mama’s on the Hill) when Chef Fritz accidentally dropped some in the fryer and it became an instant hit.
Mama’s on The Hill started out in the 40’s under the name Oldani’s, in 1982 it was renamed Mama Campisi’s and in 2005, Mama’s on the Hill. Through it all it remains a St. Louis landmark serving up wonderful southern Italian and Sicilian cooking–St. Louis style.
Gooey Butter Cake at Straubs
It is claimed that this cake was first made in the 1930s by a German baker who accidentally reversed the proportions of butter and flour. This coffee cake is made with yellow cake mix, cream cheese and plenty of “gooey butter” smeared on top. One of the best places to try this rich concoction is at Straub’s. They began selling ice cream at the 1904 World’s Fair and remain St. Louis’ favorite grocery store. If you’re not going to St. Louis soon, you can still order from Straub’s and serve up Gooey Butter Cake alongside your pumpkin pie this year for Thanksgiving.
St. Paul Sandwich at Park Chop Suey
The St. Paul Sandwich consists of an egg foo young patty served with dill pickle slices, white onion, mayo, lettuce, and tomato slapped between two pieces of bread. It can come with many different versions of egg foo young, such as chicken, pork, shrimp, and beef. The St. Paul sandwich is believed to date back to the early 1940s, invented by Steven Yuen at Park Chop Suey, and named for his hometown of St. Paul Minnesota.
Park Chop Suey, now relocated to Chouteau Ave, still serves up this St. Louis classic. Try it with pork, chicken, ham, beef, duck, vegetarian, mixed meat, or plain. And don’t forget to try their crab rangoon–the other big thing they are known for.
I hope this list give you some inspiration to visit St. Louis and explore their food culture. Until then, try out this recipe for a St. Paul Sandwich and give it a try at home:
St. Paul Sandwich Recipe
For the egg foo young:
- 1 TB oil (sesame/peanut/vegetable)
- 1/2 cup meat, shredded, sliced, or cubed (shrimp, pork, chicken, ham etc.)
- 1/2 cup mung bean sprouts
- 6 scallions, sliced
- 6 eggs, whisked
- 1 TB soy sauce
To assemble the sandwich:
- 8 slices white bread
- white onion, sliced
- tomato, sliced
- pickle slices
- shredded lettuce
- Heat the oil in a skillet; sesame or peanut oil will give the omelet more flavor.
- Saute the meat, bean sprouts, and scallions until cooked through– but the vegetables are still crisp.
- Remove from the skillet.
- Combine the whisked egg, the soy sauce, and the sauteed vegetables.
- Cook on one side until set.
- Flip, and cook until second side is set.
- Remove and cut the omelet in four.
- Place 1/4 of the omelet in between two slices of bread in combination with the sliced onion, sliced tomato, pickle slices, shredded lettuce and mayo.