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Midwest 'hounds: food unique to or that defines your community/town/metro area/state

I hope this isn't considered too general a topic. If so, I hope the moderators just relocate it to the proper board, rather than delete it.

But, what food is unique to (or, if you prefer, best defines) your neck of the woods, whereever that is, and where can the best example of it be found?

For instance, I'd never had Jucy Lucy (which is a cheese-stuffed burger) until I'd come to the Twin Cities. My favorite Jucy Lucy thus far is at The Nook in St. Paul, MN which is on Hamline at Randolph.

What's yours?

~TDQ

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  1. St. Louis has several gastronomic peculiarities:

    Provel cheese: Processed mixture of several other cheeses. Added to pizza, salads, and cheese bread.
    Toasted Ravioli: Breaded and deep-fried meat ravioli served with a marinara dipping sauce.
    Snoots: BBQ'd pig snouts, mostly served on North side of town.
    St. Paul sandwich: Available at most hole-in-the-wall Chinese places, this is an egg foo young on white bread with tomato, lettuce, and mayo.

    12 Replies
    1. re: Extreme Glow

      Sounds good. Where's the best toasted ravioli in St. Louis?

      Why is it called a St. Paul sandwich?

      ~TDQ

      1. re: The Dairy Queen

        I wish I knew why they are called St. Paul sandwiches. I posed this question on this board back in '02, and nobody knew. Here is that discussion: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...
        The St. Paul sandwich is one of the great cheap eats items in town. One of those with a half order of fried rice, and you're in lip-smacking, salty, carb heaven.

        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          Because only someone from Minnesota would put ketchup on something like that. The person who first did it probably was a transplant from St. Paul, otherwise it would be the Hinckley sandwich, Fergus Falls sandwich, Dassel-Cokato sandwich or something of the like, provided it was a town in MN.

          When I moved here from the east coast, among many other shocking quirks, I couldn't believe Minnesotans' fascination with putting ketchup on/in everything.

          1. re: MSPD

            MSPD, I didn't know you were a transplant. Yes, Minnesotans put ketchup on/in everything. Everything, that is, that they don't slather in butter. :)

            I was hoping you might chime in with more opinions about Twin Cities or Minnesota "unique" or "defining" chow, or, at least, dispute where the best jucy lucy might be found.

            ~TDQ

            1. re: The Dairy Queen

              Yeah, moved to MSP from the DC area in 1990. I don't feel any connection to the east coast any more -- I consider myself an MSP local.

              Off the top of my head...not MSP, but lutefisk is virtually unknown in the US outside of this region. Other things we've bandied about on here before are the Hot Dago sandwich and Booya feeds. Wild rice is highly regional. Believe it or not, herring caviar from Grand Marais is gaining serious respect and interest in the international culinary community.

              As for the Jucy Lucy, I can't find the post, but I've recently gone on record here somewhere adding them to my list of "most overrated foods". I've only had one truly enjoyable one and that was at the Nook (no argument with you there). They were the only ones not to end up with the overcooked/dried out meat that is the hallmark of the Jucy Lucy. It's just too difficult to get the cheese to the appropriately molten state without overcooking the beef.

              Honestly, part of my problem with Jucy Lucy's is that I've kind of been in a transformation in my chowhounding ways in the last several months. The balance between my love of food and my love of fitness activities has shifted way over to the fitness side. I decided to kick up the seriousness of my cycling, as well as running and keeping up my visits to the gym several times a week. I'm by far at my lowest body fat percentage/weight since the early 90's. What that means is, when I want a burger (and recognize the physical punishment and/or three tons of high-fiber Kashi cereal I'll have to endure to burn it off), I won't settle for the 1-in-100 chance that I'll get an enjoyable Jucy Lucy. I'll get the Nook's Lodge Burger, an Elvis Burger at Highland/Longfellow Grill, or something of that ilk. I pass by Copper Bleu in Lakeville on one of my most frequent cycling routes and visions of their burgers, which are very good, dance in my head for a few miles. Thankfully, they're never open at the time of day I'm riding.

              Lately, my chowhounding exploits have focused on finding the best granola (Bear Naked brand is excellent), best salads, best natural this and whole grain that, coffee, fresh fish and so on. I really should do a new post, but I've still had quite a few great meals/items out. Recent visits to Grand Italian Ice Cafe, Birchwood Cafe, Cafe Latte, Sea Salt (God bless grilled halibut tacos) and Trotter's come to mind.

              That said, all bets are off when I hit La Belle Vie tonight, but I already pre-paid for that with a crack of dawn bike ride this morning and a heart pounding interval workout last night (OK, I'm starting to sound like a disgrace to Chowhounding).

            2. re: MSPD

              There's no ketchup on a St. Paul sandwich. Egg foo yung, lettuce, sometimes tomato, sometimes pickle, always mayo, on sliced white bread out of a plastic bag.

              1. re: alan

                Reply to MSPD (for some reason, I don't see a "reply" button on his post)

                MSPD, I would be interested in hearing more about your exploits in healthy 'hounding. Please do post about them when you have time, but in an outside (new) thread of course. Trotter's--is that the little cafe around the corner from Izzy's? I've been meaning to try it, but, the lure of Izzy's is too strong and I always end up passing it up.

                Lutefisk--where do you get that--anywhere in in St. Paul that you recommend? Is it a grocery store item?

                I remember some of the past posts on the Hot Dago sandwich--they make one at the Dairy-ette in St. Paul (I've listed their address in my profile) that they've recently renamed to be more PC with the time, but my favorite Hot Dago so far is at DeGidios on West 7th in St. Paul.

                I haven't been to a booya feed yet... Maybe this summer. It's a summer thing, right?

                And, I've become a huge consumer of Minnesota wild rice. It's a staple for me now. I think the stuff is fabulous.

                Herring caviar, eh? Can you get that in the Twin Cities?

                Since you're on a health kick, I think I read about a vegetarian Jucy Lucy somewhere in the Cities, but I can't seem to remember where now--I would guess Cafe Brenda or Lucia's, but I don't see it on either of their online menus. Maybe that would meet both your requirements for healthy and tasty! I'll see if I can find it.

                ~TDQ

            3. re: The Dairy Queen

              I don't know the answer to that question as my favorite Italian restaurant (Trattoria Marcella) doesn't serve it. Some of the older places on The Hill would be your best bet such as Zia's, Cunetto's, and possibly Lorenzo's Trattoria (LT is excellent but I don't know if they serve it).

              As Alan posted, nobody knows why it's called a St. Paul.

            4. re: Extreme Glow

              Do all of the Chop Suey places do St. Paul sandwiches? Any ones that are especially good or bad, especially in the Lafayette Square area?

              1. re: jumpingjack

                The Sterns recommend Chinese Express on Hampton.

                http://splendidtable.publicradio.org/...

                The St. Paul of TV fame was from Kim Van on Gravois in Fox Park area.

                http://www.thecommonspace.org/2002/08...

              2. re: Extreme Glow

                If you find the fried snoots, the place will probably also serve deep fried tripe sandwiches. The was my absolute favorite indulgence. Crsip and tender batter fried tripe, on soft white bread, with yellow mustard, sliced onion, and dill pickle chips. Don't knock it, 'til you've tried it! It's one of my favorite food memories of St. Louis.

                1. re: Extreme Glow

                  How could I forget the slinger? Two cheeseburger patties and hash browns, covered in chili, and topped with an egg (or two) of your choice. Breakfast of champions.

                  http://www.othodge.com/menu.html

                2. For Cincinnati

                  Cincinnati style chili (alone, on 3-4-5 ways, or cheese coneys)
                  Goetta
                  Double Decker sandwiches

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: TJ Jackson

                    Very interesting! What makes the chili "Cincinnati style" in your opinion? Here's what wikipedia says: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cincinna...

                    And what's goetta? (Here's what I found by googling: http://www.goetta.com/index.asp?page=... It's a German breakfast sausage made of pork, beef and steelcut oats)--is that about right?

                    Do you have a favorite restaurant that you recommend for any of these?

                    ~TDQ

                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      The best place for "Cincinnati style" chili is Skyline. It's a local chain but they are everywhere in the city.

                      I agree that if you go to Graeter's you HAVE to get something wih chips in it. My favorite is the coconut chip - it reminds me of a mounds bar.

                      The other restaurant you should try is Montgomery Inn. They are famous for their ribs. If you are visiting Cincinnati, I would recommend the Boathouse location since it sits right on the river.

                      I can't help you with Goetta. I had it once and didn't like it. I know that some of the local diners serve it. There is also a Goetta fest but I am not sure when it's held.

                  2. I can't believe I've lived here (Cincinnati) 20+ years and still never tried Goetta!

                    I would say Graeter's Ice Cream for Cincinnati as well - anything w/chips. I know it is just ice cream, but because of the way it is made you will sometimes find chocolate chips the size of golf balls, which is indeed unique!!

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: cincinnatilisa

                      Sounds terrific--you can never go wrong with MORE chocolate. Here's what I found by Googling--Graeter's makes their ice cream using the French pot process, which means just two gallons at a time. It sounds like they have their own stores and sell their ice cream to various groceries.

                      http://www.graeters.com/frenchpot.cfm

                      ~TDQ

                      1. re: cincinnatilisa

                        It can be argued that Graeter's is not even the best ice cream in Cincinnati - I point to the venerable Aglamesis Brothers http://www.aglamesis.com/

                        1. re: TJ Jackson

                          One more Cincinnati specialty I've not seen anywhere else -- ice balls and ice cream. It's your choice of ice cream with a scoop of hand-shaved ice on top, with your choice of syrup. Schneider's in nearby Bellevue, Ky., is the palace of this specialty, but I know of several others that serve it. My favorite is vanilla ice cream with grape syrup.

                      2. Here in southeast Michigan we have nothing better to boast about than the lowly but tasty coney dog, a hot dog coated with some very starchy chili, onions, and mustard. It's pretty much the same wherever you go, but for atmosphere try Lafayette Coney Island in downtown Detroit.

                        Distinctive foods from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which is distinctive in many non-gastronomic ways as well:

                        Cudighi, a spiced Italian sausage made with red wine, served on a crispy roll. Found in the towns of Ishpeming and Negaunee, and to a lesser extent Marquette. Try Paisano's Pizza in Negaunee on the eastern end of Teal Lake, off M-28.

                        The pasty (PASS-tee, not PASTE-Y), a meat-and-rutabaga turnover of Cornish origin, often served with gravy or chutney. Stayed warm for hours in the mines, and to this day mostly served as takeout. Try Jean Kay's on Presque Isle Avenue in Marquette, or Toni's in Laurium.

                        Thimbleberry jam, a homemade western U.P. specialty. Quite expensive, but worth it. Marketed by various people through magic-marker signs posted along U.S. 41, and can also be found in souvenir shops. But the best place to get it is the Jam Pot, a monastery on M-26 in Eagle River. The monks, who are members of an unusual Eastern sect that is Catholic, not Orthodox, make it and other excellent jams themselves; also try the cookies.

                        Squeaky cheese, not quite as amazing as these others, but great for the kids. Try independent supermarkets. Of Finnish origin, I think.

                        Trenary toast is the Yooper's answer to biscotti, a twice-baked strip of cinnamon toast sold in bags. Sold in many stores, but the bakery is in Trenary, off U.S. 41 between Marquette and Escanaba.

                        1. Those all sound fabulous, Jim M! Is squeaky cheese the same as cheese curds? Or, is there something more to it?

                          ~TDQ

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                            I think they're baked cheese curds. They have a "skin" that makes them squeak when you chew on them. Not totally sure about how they're made.

                            1. re: Jim M

                              While there may be baked cheese curds know in Michigan as 'squeeky cheese', in Wisconsin, the real fresh cheese curds are called that because they squeek when you bite into them. It's considered one of the signs of freshness.

                            2. re: The Dairy Queen

                              no , squeaky cheese and cheese curds are two different things . The best squeaky cheese I have found is in Pinconning , the Michigan capitol of cheese . Curds are good and all that , but squeaky cheese is simply REALLY fresh mild cheese that has been just pressed , usually available every other Thursday . After a day or three , it loses it's squeakiness . I'm pretty sure it has something to do with leftover lactic acid or something , I'm not a cheese maker . But it definately squeeks on your teeth in a most satisfying way . I just picked some up last weekend , it squeaked real good then , but now it just tastes like good mild cheese . As an aside , if you are suffering from a real pasty jones , check out Barb's Pasties in Clawson Mi. just a few miles north of Detroit on Livernois . Not as good as the Red Onion way up there , or Toni's , but pretty tasty all the same . Personally , I find the use of gravy on a pasty blasphemous . Salt only , please .