Foods Found Only in St. Louis
(and for good reason)

brains

This page last updated 05/27/2018

Saint Louis MO.  Mark Twain visited this place, found out that the locals liked to drink filthy water, and then wisely moved on to safer, more interesting places.  In this town, we have developed our own, uh, interesting way of eating.  There's stuff that is eaten here that is eaten nowhere else in the world.  Most people have better sense than that.  Here is a list of great dishes you will only find in St. Louis: dishes fit for ugly gourmets everywhere. 

In this journey of St. Louis food, note that sandwiches play a key role/  Here, they are pronounced "sammiches;" to use the proper pronunciation would label you as an outsider.


Saint Paul Sandwich

saint paul sandwich

St. Louisans decided to look beyond uglifying Italian cuisine to do the same thing for Chinese food.  Behold the Saint Paul sandwich, a, uh, delicacy served in select storefront Chinese restaurants with the words "Chop Suey" in their names.  Saint Louisans have this obsession with Saint Paul, for some odd reason.  For instance, cheap blow molded statues of Saint Paul are sold here, because the natives believe that if you bury it in your yard upside down, your house will sell soon after.

This sandwich must be prepared with the cheapest generic white bread you can find.  Colonial or Wonder bread are too good.  Store brand generic white bread, preferably bought at a day-old bread store, is far closer to the spirit of the sandwich.

6 eggs
2 TBS oil
1/2 lb. ham
1/2 cup bamboo shoots
1/2 cup water chestnuts
1 TBS flour
3 TBS oil
1/4 tsp pepper
1 small onion
1 rib celery
1/2 tsp sugar
2 tsp soy sauce
Edit 

Put bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, onion and celerry in a food processor.  Chop coarsely, in pulses.  Sprinkle mixture with sugar, soy sauce and pepper.  Fry in oil until onion is transparent, about 2 minutes.  Drain, and then sprinkle with flour.

Beat eggs, then stir ham and vegetable mix into eggs.  Pour about 1/2 cup of mixture in pan with oil.  Fry on one side until slightly browned; flip them, over and fry the other side.  You should have enough for 6 sandwiches.

12 slices white bread
mayonnaise or salad dressing
sliced tomato
sliced dill pickle
6 lettuce leaves.
2 egg fu yung patties.

Assemble the sandwich, in any order you want.  You should get 6 sandwiches out of this.


Toasted Ravioli

toasted ravioli

A lot of the smaller storefront St. Louis restaurants have a simple philosophy: "How do you like your food fried?"  I know of at at least one restaurant here where they serve fried butter as an appetizer.  In true ugly gourmet fashion, this dish starts with something that has already been cooked and frozen.

3/4 cup bread crumbs 
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 (25 ounce) package frozen cheese ravioli, thawed 
3 cups vegetable oil for frying 
1 TBS grated Parmesan cheese 
1 (16 ounce) jar spaghetti sauce 

Combine milk and egg in a small bowl. Place breadcrumbs and Italian seasoning in a shallow bowl. Dip ravioli in milk mixture, and coat with breadcrumbs.
In a large saucepan, heat marinara sauce over medium heat until bubbling. Reduce the heat to simmer.
In a large heavy pan, pour oil to depth of 2 inches. Heat oil over medium heat until a small amount of breading sizzles and turns brown. Fry ravioli, a few at a time, 1 minute on each side or until golden. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve immediately with hot spaghetti sauce for dipping.



Prosperity Sandwich

prosperity sandwich

Supposedly a joke on president Herbert Hoover, who said repeatedly that prosperity was just around the corner.  To a Saint Louisan, grease equals good.  For instance, if a soup has small balls of grease in it, that means there's meat in it.  This is an extra greasy concoction.  Newspaper columnist Elaine Viets claimed that grease in food lubricated your joints.  Grease is every ugly gourmet's friend.

5 TBS butter
two 4 oz. cans mushrooms, drained
1 chopped onion
1/4 cup flour
2 cups whole milk
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 tsp mustard
2 tdp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp pepper
4 slices French bread
8 oz. sliced turkey
8 oz. sliced ham
2 sliced tomatoes

Melt 1 TBS butter in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until well-browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to bowl.

Melt remaining 4 TBS butter over medium heat. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in milk and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 4 to 6 minutes. Off heat, stir in 1/2 cup cheddar, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and pepper; set aside.

Adjust oven rack 5 inches from broiler element, and heat broiler. Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with vegetable oil spray. Toast bread slices in toaster or arrange on prepared baking sheet and broil until toasted, 1½ minutes per side.

Divide mushroom mixture among toasted bread slices. Arrange 2 ounces turkey, 2 ounces ham and 2 slices tomato over mushrooms on each slice of toast. Spoon ½ cup cheese sauce evenly over each sandwich and sprinkle with remaining 1½ cups cheddar. Broil until cheddar is browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.


Fried Brain Sandwich

brain sandwich

Fried brain sandwiches used to be the standard bar food here, until eating brains was connected with mad cow disease.  You can still find them if you look.  I remember one friends trying one and saying "It's like eating nothing!"  Brains have no flavor, except for the flavor in the breading, and any flavor they get from the frying grease.

1 set of beef or pork brains
1 quart water
2 eggs
1 cup flour
1 tsp pepper
oil for deep frying

Take membrane off brains.  Boil until firm.  Dry them and pull into small pieces.  Dip in eggs, and then roll in mix of flour and pepper.Heat oil until a small piece of bread put into it starts to sizzle.  Fry brains until brown, turning over once.

Serve on bun with pickle and onion and mustard.


Gooey Butter Cake



Supposedly made as the result of a chef mistakenly adding too much butter to a cake recipe: rather than throw it out, the bakery decided to sell it..  Like a lot of St. Louis foods, this came out during the Depression, and back then people would eat anything.  Various attempts have been made to market this across the USA, but the reaction from everywhere else is that it is a "flat gooey mess."  On the sweetness scale, this falls under sickly sweet.

1⁄2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 box yellow cake mix
3 eggs
1 box cream cheese
1/2 tsp vanilla
  4 cups powdered sugar

Grease one 9x13 rectangular cake pan.  Melt butter.  Empty cake mix into a large bowl.  Stir melted butter, along with one egg, into the cake mix.  Press dough into pan.  

In a food processor, mix cream cheese, vanilla, powdered sugar and the remaining two eggs.

Pour evenly over top of the cake mixture in the pan. Use a spatula to spread.  Process it until well mixed.

Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes until golden brown on top. Allow cake to cool.   Dust the top with powdered sugar, and serve.


St. Louis Style Pizza

ketchup on a cracker

Native Saint Louisans refer to this as "ketchup on a cracker," which is a fairly accurate description.  This pizza is made from Provel cheese (recipe below), which is also seen only in St. Louis.  It's as if, many years ago, an ugly gourmet decided to redo the concept of a pizza.  "Bread dough crust?  Nope: biscuit crust rolled thin.  Marinara sauce?  No, sweetened tomato sauce.  Mozzarella cheese?  Nope.  Let's mix up three different cheeses, just like Velveeta!"  What you get only appears   here, and thankfully the disease has not spread.

Crust
2 cups plus 2 TBS flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. olive oil
2 tsp. honey
9 TBS (1/2 cup & 1 TBS) water
1 TbS vinegar

Mix ingredients together and press into in greased pizza pan.  Bake at 300 degrees for 10 minutes, cool, then put on toppings.

Sauce
1 can tomatoes, chopped
1 can tomato paste
1 1/2 TBS sugar
1 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. thyme

Whirl around in a food processor until mixed.

Topping
Provel cheese (see recipe below)

Bake at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes.  Slice it in squares.


Soft Stick Pretzels

stick pretzels

For years you would see street corner salesmen hawking these pretzels.  Even when fresh, they have the hardness of day old bread.  Flavor?  None.  They're like eating a mouth full of flour.  Now, the best place to get them is where all food goes when it is ready to die: gas stations.  I suspect they are sold in stick form because it's easier than twisting the dough into proper pretzel shapes.  

Be sure to let these sit out for a day before eating them, to get that authentic texture.

Dough
3 cups flour
3 TBS sugar
2 TBS oil
1 cup water
1 tsp yeast

Water Bath
4 cups boiling water
1/3 cup baking doda

Topping
1 egg
pretzel salt

Whirl the above around in a food processor until it forms a smooth dough.  Spray a bowl with spray grease, put the dough in, and spray the top.  Allow to sit covered ina  warm place for an hour.  Pull golf ball size pieces of dough, and shape them into sticks.

Prepare the water bath: Put the pretzels, a few at a time, into the bath.  When they float, roll them over and boil for a few seconds more.  Put on wire racks to drain.

Spray cookie sheets with grease, and then put on pretzels.  Brush egg on pretzels.  If you are going to freeze these, do not add salt.  If you are going to eat them fresh, sprinkle coarse salt on top.  Bake at 450 degrees for 12 to 16 minutes.


Pork Steaks

pork steaks

This is not so much a recipe as a way of cutting meat.  Pork steaks are cut from pork shoulder, which is usually rather tough and full of fat.  I suspect that pork steaks started out here during the Depression, and when times got better, people still kept eating them, out of sheer force of habit.  That describes Saint Louisans to a T: once someone does something, other people imitate it, and it sticks with us for generations.

You'll need the help of your local butcher for this one.  Get a pork shoulder roast, and have your butcher cut it into 1/2" slices.  The most common way to cook these is with St. Louis style barbecue (recipe below).


Mayfair Dressing

mayfair dressing

Saint Louis held the World's Fair in 1904.  And a lot of things came from there: People here talk as if it happened only a couple of years ago.  A lot of foods have been said to have first appeared at that fair, and amazingly, the list gets longer as the years progress.  Part of that list includes hot dog buns, hamburgers, ice cream cones, banana splits, iced tea, Dr Pepper, cotton candy and peanut butter.  Mayfair salad, named after the Mayfair hotel in St. Louis, also made its first appearance at the fair.  All that's left of the fair has been carted off or buried.  The Mayfair hotel is long gone.  But the dressing remains: a strange combination of things that do not really belong together.

1 onion
1 garlic clove
1 tsp pepper
1 tin anchovy fillets
1/4 cup mustard
1 1 /4 cup mayonnaise.

Whirl around all o the above in a food processor until smooth.


Gerber Sandwich

gerber sandwich

What is it with Saint Louisians and sandwiches?  It's as if there was some sort of Food Network style contest during the Depression: "OK, you have a half hour to make sandwiches out of this pile of food in the middle of the room: ready, set, GO!"  The name alone invokes a sandwich made of baby food and bread, but that isn't the case.  And Provel cheese (recipe below) makes an appearance as well. 

Yes, this is just garlic bread with ham and cheese added.  So what? 

1/2 stick of butter, melted
1/2 tsp garlic powder
french bread
ham, sliced thin
shredded Provel cheese
paprika

Slice french bread in half.  Mix butter & garlic. Spread onto french bread.  Top with ham & cheese.  Sprinkle a touch of paprika.  Bake 15 minutes at 350 degrees.


Open Faced Sandwich

open faced sandwich

The open faced sandwich is a common St. Louis food item.  It started during the 1904 World's Fair or the Depression; take your pick.  It's not so much of a recipe as a way to get rid of leftovers.

Take a slice of white breads.  Top it with leftover roast beef (or chicken or turkey) which has been boiled in gravy.


Slinger

slinger

I can picture how this came about: it's late night during the Depression.  Someone comes into a diner.  He's hungry, and doesn't have much money.  So the waiter suggests a new dish called a slinger.  The waiter goes into the kitchen.  "Hey, throw a bunch of stuff together that you're about to throw out.  Let's see if that cheapskate eats it."  The waiter brings out the steaming concoction, and both he and the cook laugh as they watch the customer dig into it.  

This is a staple of late night dining in St. Louis.  Late night is when people will eat anything, no matter how foul, to ease their guts after a night of drinking.  Always serve this with two slices buttered toast.

1 cup cooked hash browns
1 cooked hamburger patty
2 eggs, cooked any style
2 TBS diced white onions
1 cup cooked chili with beans
1/2 cup grated cheese

Bottom layer: hash browns
Next layer: hamburger patty
Next layer: eggs
Next layer: onions
Next layer: chili
Top layer: cheese


Provel Cheese
provel cheese

A staple of St. Louis dining, Provel cheese is a mix of provolone, cheddar and Swiss cheeses.  It has a low melting point, and at room temperature it is a gooey consistency.   Attempts to sell it nationwide hit a snag, because legally it does not meet the moisture content requirement to be called real cheese.   This makes no sense: one would think that if you mixed cheeses together, the end result would be cheese too.  Be that as it may, here is the recipe for St. Louis' version of Velveeta.

1 cup shredded white cheddar
1/2 cup shredded Swiss cheese
1/2 cup shredded provolone
1 tsp liquid smoke

Microwave until melted; stir.  Refrigerate until firm.  Use in any recipe to add foulness.


Saint Louis Barbecue

bbq

"I put my barbecue sauce on after my meat is done.  I don't have no truck with those other fools."  A professional barbecue cook, probably talking about St. Louis barbecue.

Saint Louis barbecue is not so much a recipe, as it is a method.  Any barbecue sauce will do, as long as it's sweet.  The preferred brand here: Maull's.  The method consists of using a standard charcoal or propane fueled grill.  Either hamburgers or pork steaks are the preferred meat.  Have the grill good and hot, and turn the meat over several times.  Spread barbecue sauce on top during each turn.  Have a beer in one hand.  Have the radio on (preferably to a baseball game) while you're cooking.  Sit back and relax.  These things take time.  The meat is done when you damn well feel like it.



Mostaccioli
(pronounced muskacholey)

muskjacholey 

Long a favorite at St. Louis weddings, mostaccioli (pronounced "muskacholey" here) is made in huge batches, for group consumption.  This is not so much a recipe as a method.

As many mostaccioli noodles as you need (1 cup dry per person), boiled to al dente
Lots of bottled spaghetti sauce (1/2 cup per person), heated
cooked crumbled ground beef, 2 ounces per person
pre grated Parmesan cheese, for topping
provel or mozzarella cheese, for topping (optional)

Mix everything together except the cheeses.  If serving unbaked, sprinkle Parmesan on top and serve.  If baking, sprinkle Parmesan and provel or mozzarella cheese on top and bake at 350 degrees until cheese is melted.


Concrete

concrete

No, this is not actual concrete.  There is a place in St. Louis called Ted Drewes, where they serve a custard based ice cream so solid that you can turn it upside down and not a drop will spill out (thus the name concrete).  During the summer months, people stand outside Ted Drewes in long lines to get concretes.

Interestingly, Ted Drewes closes during the winter months.  Around the Christmas season, he uses the place's parking lot to sell Christmas trees.

The below recipe calls for use of an ice cream maker.  Ice cream makers are on sale at thrift stores all the time.   There is no need to get a new one.

If you don't feel like making the below recipe, then there is an alternative.  Dairy Queen took Ted Drewes concrete idea, tweaked it a bit, and sells it as a Blizzard. 

2 cups milk
1 /2 cup sugar
2 TBS honey
1/3 cup flour
pinch salt
2 eggs
1/2 can sweetened condensed milk (about 1/2 cup plus 2 TBS)
1 TBS vanilla extract

In a large saucepan, heat milk to 175°; stir in the sugar, flour, and salt until dissolved. Whisk a small amount of the hot mixture into the eggs. Return all to the pan, whisking constantly. Cook and stir over low heat until mixture reaches at least 160° and coats the back of a metal spoon.

Remove from the heat. Cool quickly by placing pan in a bowl of ice water; stir for 2 minutes. Stir in condensed milk and vanilla. Press waxed paper onto surface of custard. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Freeze according to the ice cream maker's directions.  When ice cream is frozen, transfer to a freezer container; freeze for 2-4 hours before serving.


You can also mix in stuff, just like Ted Drewes does.  Add any one of the following to taste:

crushed Oreo cookies
tiny chocolate chips
caramel sauce