One of the most popular questions we get on our EAT Saint Louis Food Tours is “What are some of the foods unique to St. Louis?”. It’s a great question and actually the first question I ask when I run into a foodie or taking a food tour in a new city. St. Louis has a continually evolving food scene, but I tend to be a purist at heart, a traditionalist. In this article, I will answer this question and tell you what classic old school eatery is known for that particular food item. Again, there are many places that may have these items on their menu, but my recommendations in this post are places that have become synonymous with the food.
So here it is, in no particular order, foods that are unique to St. Louis:
In the summer, you can’t go to a St. Louisan’s home for a barbecue and not find pork steaks. This steak is cut from the pork shoulder aka Boston Butt. The slow cooking time and slathering of BBQ Sauce helps tenderize this cut of pork, which is the same cut that is usually used for pulled pork.
Oddly, you would think you would find it on the menu of all of the barbeque joints in St. Louis, but it is not. Many of them opt to turn it into pulled pork. Your best bet for a traditional Pork Steak is Smokie O’s Barbeque on North Broadway. This family has been slow cooking their barbeque since 1997 and have it all down pat.. and the extra bonus is it’s located across the street from Bissinger Chocolates.
Mama Mia they are delicious! Originating on “The Hill” where we conduct our flagship food tour, these breaded pillows of deliciousness are filled with either a meat or cheese filling and deep fried. Two restaurants on the Hill claim to be the originators of the Toasted Ravioli – Charlie Gitto’s and Mama Campisi’s. These days, some restauranteurs will take regular boiled ravioli and bread them and fry them, but the true toasted ravioli officionados can tell the difference.
If you want to try handmade Toasted Ravioli, try them at Mama Toscano’s Ravioli. Nick Toscano and his family have been making them by hand since the late 1940s. They offer the original meat (beef and pork blend), Cheese (ricotta cheese based filling) and pizza (sausage, pizza sauce and provel cheese).
ST. LOUIS STYLE PIZZA
Thin crispy crust, laden with Provel cheese, and cut into squares is the best way to describe the St. Louis style Pizza. It’s all about that Provel Cheese which you either love or hate. It is a processed cheese loaf made specifically for the St. Louis market and comprised of White Cheddar, Provolone and Swiss Cheeses. This blend was formulated for pizzerias in St. Louis for its amazing melting properties.
The iconic Pizzeria known for making the St. Louis Pizza popular in St. Louis is the IMO’s Pizza Chain. My sister, when visiting us in St. Louis, always makes us grab an IMO’s pizza upon her arrival. St. Louisans just love Provel. I tend to think if they made a Provel flavored baby food they would feed it to their children. Me, not so much. With over 99 locations, there is bound to be an IMO’s near you.
THE ST. LOUIS SLINGER
The slinger is the late night culinary choice for almost every college student –found at many diners in St. Louis it really hits the spot after a night of heavy drinking…or so I hear. The slinger is a diner specialty consisting of a meat (typically a hamburger patty), topped with hash browns and two eggs (typically sunny side up) all covered with chili and shredded cheddar cheese. I get mine with the optional onions and jalapeño slices.
For the ultimate diner experience I recommend Courtesy Diner at 3am on a Sunday morning when the 3am bars let out and the hordes of inebriated flood the diner for their fix. If you will be tucked in bed at 3am, don’t worry, Courtesy Diner serves a ton of these all day long and they are marvelous. So heavy they will sit at the bottom of your stomach and you won’t need to eat for another day.
ST. PAUL SANDWICH
Said to be named after the hometown of the inventor (St. Paul Minnesota), the St. Paul sandwich can be found in almost every Chinese Take-Out restaurant in St. Louis and outlying cities. The sandwich consists of an egg foo young patty (made with mung beans sprouts and chopped white onions), topped with dill pickle slices, onions, white onion slices, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise all sandwiched between two slices of white bread. You can also select whether you would like chicken, pork, shrimp or beef in the egg foo young patty.
Just google “Chinese food take out St. Louis” , select and nearby eatery and give them a call to see if it is on the menu.
GOOEY BUTTER CAKE
One of my favorite desserts is the gooey butter cake. The cake is a flat and dense coffee cake about an inch tall that is usually dusted with powdered sugar and cut into squares similar to a brownie. It is made of a bottom layer of butter and yellow cake batter and a top layer of butter, sugar and eggs. It is extremely rich and delicious. There are many versions of this cake – one made with cream cheese and one without. I tend to stay away from the store-bought cakes which tend to be cream cheese based or flavored.
This dish is usually best purchased from a bakery or coffee shop. My absolute favorite is Gooey Louie‘s in South St. Louis. One of the things I dislike about the grocery store versions is that they typically have a large portion of the cake bottom which is my least favorite part. The best part of the gooey butter cake is the gooey butter NOT the cake! Gooey Louie’s has the perfect proportions of cake to gooey butter filling and they make different varieties fresh daily. It is all they do and they do it the best! My Second runner up would be Park Avenue Coffee which make a large variety and has several locations.
First made by the local family-owned Ruma’s Deli, and named in 1973 after a customer called Dick Gerber, the sandwich has been duplicated by many other St. Louis restaurants. The sandwich is an open-faced sandwich consisting on a half section of Italian or French bread, spread with garlic butter and topped with ham, and Provel (traditionally) or Provolone cheese, seasoned with a sprinkling of paprika and then toasted.
Chances are there is a version of this sandwich on the menu at your favorite St. Louis deli. But, remember, I am a traditional kinda guy and I would say you need to go to where this originated to truly taste its splendor. Unfortunately, there are only 2 locations remaining of the famed Ruma’s Deli. If you do go, I suggest you ask for a half prosperity (a version made with roast beef) and half Gerber. Best of both worlds.
While there are many ice cream places that have a soft serve in St. Louis, there are few that have frozen custard which is a dairy based iced cream made with eggs and honey. A concrete is this custard blended with any combination of dozens of ingredients. The mixture is so thick that a spoon inserted into the custard does not fall if the cup is inverted.
The ultimate classic concrete can be found at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. They have a location on Chippewa Ave (Route 66) which is a sight to behold during summer evenings with crowds, holding their signature yellow cups with straw and spoon, pouring into the streets. To this day, after umpteen requests to turn the business into a franchise, it remains a family-owned business.