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Sep 20, 2007 06:04 AM

What should I eat to get a "Taste of St. Louis"?

Dear St. Louis Chowhounders, I need your expertise.

I am a foodie from Kansas City (and a big fan of Chowhound) who is using my summer to travel to six different food festivals across the U.S. My goal is to see if it is possible to truly get a "taste" of each city/state and then write about my food experiences for a local food magazine in KC.

Many foodies I have spoken with show complete distain for these types of food festivals as they don't believe one can truly get great food at them. I know that this is not the best food festival your city has to offer. I also know that most of these food festivals feature restaurants that are more fast food in nature and that very few of a city's culinary heavy hitters ever attend these events. And I know that chain restaurants also use these events to drive their business. Trust me, I am not out to judge your culinary scene, I am trying to see if I can eat something that you would call your own, at an event called Taste of St. Louis.

I do believe (and have now seen proof) that there are hidden gems at each of these festivals that are locally-owned and truly represent the tastes and flavors of city that they live and do business in. Those are the places, I am trying to find.

The Taste of Chicago was my first festival this summer, which was attended by over 3.5 million people and is considered the biggest food festival of its kind in the U.S. Upon asking the locals what I should eat to "Taste Chicago," I was kindly pointed to and gladly ate the following Chicago-style Deep Dish Pizza, Chicago-style Hot Dogs and Italian Beef Sandwiches.

This is not fancy food, this is food that came from the large immigrant population and workforce that flowed from the port into the Windy City. It is food that all Chicagoan's know and call their own. So, I ate it.

See my photos attached:

Next, I attended the Taste of Dallas, where I was directed by Chowhounders in DFW to go eat: Texas BBQ, Country Cookin' or Tex Mex food . . .or really any dish involving lots and lots of meat, preferrably BEEF.

This is food that came from the men out on the ranges hearding cattle and eating trail food and from the Mexicans that moved across the border into Texas that influenced their cuisine. I dutifully obliged and had some terrific culinary experiences along the way.

See my photos attached:

Next I attended the Bite of Seattle, where the Seattle Chowhounders suggested I eat at one local restauranteur's upscale culinary booth, (this man hosts a FODDIE tasting within the bigger event that one can experience for an additional price), anything the Indians would have eaten such as corn, fresh salmon and berries and finally any Asian food booth . . . and there were plenty to choose from: Chinese, Thai, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Malaysian etc. Heck, I walked around this event drinking fresh coconut juice straight from a coconut. Awesome!

Seattle's food scene seems to come from what the Asian population has brought with them and their access to fresh fish and the desire to buy local, eat local . . .fresh and in season whatever the land gives you, much like the Indians.

Still working on my photos from that experience . . . sigh!

Next, I headed to Taste of Colorardo in Denver over Labor Day weekend, and although the festival was impressive and large, I found very little to eat and enjoy that I would say came close to representing the cuisine of Colorado. Lots of funnel cakes, corn dogs and candied nuts . . .however, I did get a chance to meet and interview Chef Cat Cora who was doing a cooking demo at the event. Cool!

I also had some stand out restaurant experiences in Boulder that made the trip more than worthwhile from a culinary standpoint.

Please see my link below: Will you help me make sure I hit only the best places that really will demonstrate what St. Louis is about from a culinary standpoint?

If you can point me in the right direction, I would appreciate it. Then, I guess my bigger question for you is, if I cannot really find a "taste of St. Louis" at this festival . . . what restaurants or types of cuisine should I hit outside of my time at the "Taste" to really taste your city?

What are the culinary highpoints and the things I must eat to know what food is about in St. Louis . . .we are sister cities and yet I have so much to learn about your cuisine? Are there foodie side trips in your city I must see and do?

Many thanks!

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  1. Not being form St. Louis, these are the six indigenous foods of St. Louis in my opinion as a transplant:

    1. American Lager aka Budweiser (sure it's nasty, but it doesn't get more St. Louis then this)
    2. Toasted Ravioli - I withhold comment on these. I don't like them, but many do.
    3. Gooey Butter Cake - i prefer the gooey butter cookie, the cake is heavy to me
    4. Slinger - delicious breakfast/hangover cure typically of eggs, home fries, and a hamburger patty all covered in chili and topped with cheese
    5. Pork Steaks - cut from the pork shoulder blade
    6. Cracker style thin crust pizza with provel cheese - which Bonwich has informed me is a processed cheese blend of cheddar, Swiss, and provolone.

    These are things I would eat at the Taste of St. Louis if I was trying to feel us out:
    Here's my opinion:
    1. Beer from Schlafly (because I'm never drinking Budweiser again)
    2. Someone, probably the Pasta House, will have toasted ravioli. They will probably be cheap frozen ones. They're often kind of gross anyway, but they are a St. Louis original. This is just, unfortunately, not their finest moment.
    3. currant bread pudding w/ bourbon currant sauce and whipped cream from Harvest - the one upscale restaurant in attendance that is actually serving a classic from their menu
    4. Someone has Pizza every year. I know Vito's is there, but I don't think they're serving St. Louis style. As if it's provel before eating any pizza.

    Things to hit before leaving:
    Imo's Pizza...the biggest chain of St. Louis style pizza; not necessarily the best
    Eat Right or Courtesy Diner - taste a slinger
    Charlotte's Rib or someplace else with a pork steak
    A grocery store to buy a Haas gooey butter cake

    Things the locals really love but aren't exactly indigenous:
    Ted Drewes Frozen Custard
    Amighetti's for the Amighetti's special sandwich
    Good luck. If I weren't on call this weekend, I'd give you a tour.

    3 Replies
    1. re: bobzemuda

      bobzemuda - excellent advice! You are a real find in St. Louis and obviously well respected . . .I come to St. Louis fairly often for business and pleasure from KC, so although you are on call this weekend (drat!) . . might have future opportunties to get that tour out of you and pick your brain. (I read your blog, dude! Here's to living the foodie life.) Many thanks!

      Planning to hit on your list:
      Eat Right
      Ted Drewes

      And at the Taste of St. Louis: I will do beer, toasted ravioli, bread pudding from Harvest and of course St. Louis style pizza. Which leaves me with the impression that the culinary imprint that St. Louis is STILL known for (then, now and always?) stems out of the Italian culture and The Hill.

      1. re: jvergara

        I realize, as I read this now, I had a typo. It's Eat Rite. There are a few, but I think you just about have to go to the one downtown on Chouteau. I tried to add the link to that one, but the Chow Places doo-dad keeps adding Fenton, MO

        1. re: bobzemuda

          Got it! I just hate it when doo-dad's act up. Ha! Many thanks!

    2. For what it's worth, I saw Alton Brown's St. Louis segment of his Feasting on Asphalt series. Rather than partaking of the usual items, including those listed by the always authoritative and reliable bobzemuda, below, he ate, among other things, donuts from three different south side donut shops: the Donut Drive-In, World's Fair Donuts, and St. Louis Hills Donut Shop. I've never tried any of them, but I think Brown may be on to something. If you do go there, please report back.

      As for the usual list of St. Louis stuff, I'm no fan of Imo's pizza, but it certainly is popular in these parts. I think you have to be raised here to love it and I wasn't and therefore don't.

      27 Replies
      1. re: alan

        World's Fair Donuts is fantastic.

        As for Imo's, and St. Louis style pizza in general, it really isn't appealing to me, but if you're trying to get a true taste of what the average St. Louisan eats, I think you have to try some. Same w/ toasted ravioli. Not particularly tasty, but definitely a St. Louis tradition.

        1. re: mak1277

          There is something about the cheese on the Imo's pizza that is just down right strange. Don't they use something other than mozzarella? It doesn't work for me whatever it is.

          1. re: Hooda_Guest

            I couldn't stand the stuff. The moniker is provel cheese.
            From Wikipedia:
            ProvelĀ® is a white processed cheese that is popular in St. Louis, Missouri. Provel is produced with cheddar, Swiss, and provolone. It is soft at room temperature, with a gooey and almost buttery texture. The low melting point makes it the traditional topping for St. Louis-style pizza, for example Imo's Pizza. It is also often served on salads, chicken and the Gerber sandwich. Some restaurants go a step further and use Provel for their pasta dishes with white sauce instead of the customary fresh Italian cheese and cream. Although popular in the St. Louis area, Provel is rarely used elsewhere.

            Here is the link for the rest of it. And it cites our esteemed food critic/Chowhound Joe Bonwich as the source of the info. Guess Joe got tired of answering the question.

            1. re: Phaedrus

              Thanks for the explanation-that clears it up! I have never understood how it continues to be voted the favorite pizza in St. Louis year after year.

              1. re: Hooda_Guest

                I'm actually on call at work this weekend, and am stuck at home so I allowed my wife, a native, to order her beloved Imo's.

                I hadn't had it in years, and I'd forgotten precisely why I don't care for it. More then anything, I found it to be bland because of it's utter lack of sauce.

                There are definitely better examples of St. Louis pizza, that even with the oozy provel are significantly better examples. Right off the top of my head Peronni's and Roberto's are North County examples that don't lack flavor via some sauce and have great homemade crust instead of the pre bought cracker.

                1. re: bobzemuda

                  I agree with your wife :) Not all Imo's locations are the same though. They are franchised and some have better ovens than others. The crust and sauce are manufactured and distributed to all the locations.

                  If your delivery location doesn't put enough sauce on, ask them to give you extra. They make the pizza when you order it so it's not a problem.

                  We love Imo's in this house. It's a great treat here. (Thinking we'll be getting a couple pizzas for dinner tonight!)

                  1. re: lrstl

                    Just to chime in on the St. Louis style pizza thing, hubby is from St. Louis . . .I'm from further south . . .I grew up and worked my high school years learning to make thin crust pizza with only mozzarella cheese . . .so when he spoke so passionately about his cracker thin crust pizza from St. Louis, I was more than game.

                    He forgot to mention Provel cheese. Big mistake. I choked down a few pieces that first time and declared the cheese to be "a little off" not wanting to offend. So, it is not my cup of tea simply because I was not raised with it . . .or eating it.

                    I am always amazed at the people who stumble into a St. Louis style pizza joint and HATE it because of the "horrible American processed cheese" they use on it.

                    St. Louis style pizza might be the most misunderstood to all the "regional" pies. Does anyone know the history behind the use of Provel?

                    Just curious.

                    1. re: jvergara

                      Oh Gawd!!! St Louis pizza with provelone cheese has got to be the worst. I just moved here to the St. Louis area and had always heard you have to have a St. Louis style pizza, they are the best. I can agree with the previous comment of, "having to choke down a few pieces." Then I had to deal with the after-taste til I got home and brushed my teeth. Can anyone tell me where to get a "good pizza" in St. Louis?

                      1. re: pizza_guy1

                        Dewey's on Kirkwood.
                        Racanellis. I am partial to the one in U-City because it is the original but others are fine and the traffic on Delmar is ridiculous at times. New York Style.

                        I think you are SOL for Chicago Stle, outside of the Uno chain just north of Chesterfield Mall.

                        1. re: Phaedrus

                          There's a Dewey's at the edge of Clayton in U-City on North & South also. Technically Dewey's is a chain, but I agree that it's good pizza. It tastes super fresh, and isn't greasy like a lot of pies.

                          My pick is always La Pizza on Delmar. I love theirs, but only when I manage to not order a meatball sub or Italian.

                          1. re: Phaedrus

                            Pizzeria Della Piazza on the Hill does a good version of Chicago style. A'mi's on Manchester in Rock Hill looks like they have good pizza, but I have never actually ordered it there. They do NY style, StL style, and Chicago, according to their signage.

                            1. re: sheriffblalock

                              Ami's is a lot less objectionabler than Imo's for St. Louis style. It used to be a Talayna's. I think their NY style is acceptable. Never had their Chicago.

                              1. re: sheriffblalock

                                Ami's has the most amazing house salad (they call it the "combo" salad), but pizza is eh, so so. Their cheese garlic bread is also super yummy (much better than the crud you get at Imo's or Cecils- why so many restaurants still use Fazio's bread I have no idea). I guess you just have to grow up here to love St. Louis style pizza- I'm surprised that so many people seem to dislike it here. I waited tables at Cecils all during college, so I guess thin crust and provel cheese will always have a special spot in my heart.

                                1. re: Stldine

                                  I really hate to admit this, but on Thanksgiving of all days, we swung by a friends house as he lives near my sister (who held our Thanksgiving Dinner).

                                  A quick stop to say hello, turned into a night of poker, and out from the fridge came cold pizza...Cecil Whitaker's cold pizza. Hungry as I was, I ate it, and I have to say, it's significantly better than any Imo's I've ever had--even cold.

                                  So I guess I'll have to let Cecil's pass as I don't think it was just the alcohol speaking.

                              2. re: Phaedrus

                                Tonite, my brother took me to a place on the corner of Spring and Wyoming, it was called Blackthorn. (Wyoming address) We had a Chicage Stuffed Pizza, it was very good. First time I had been there of course and some guy sitting at the bar greeted us and asked if it was our first time. Since it was mine I said, it was but my brother had been there before. He said, place orders over there at the bar. We ordered and were informed there was a 2 hour wait. While we waited, had a couple of beers, played shuffle board, and listened to juke box. Small seating area but I heard someone say that there was a room upstairs and saw plenty of people disappearing throw a door. Busy and steady, I would suggest calling orders in before you head there. I definantly will return! Now to try A'mis.....

                                1. re: pizza_guy1

                                  I think it's only fair to warn people that Blackthorn is about the dirtiest restaurant around. I've been there one time, and we immediately left because I couldn't deal with the smoke, and I have an issue waiting 1:30-2:00 hours for any food. Maybe I'm just not that cool.

                                  I have, though, had the pizza at a birthday party where they ordered it, and went and got it. I'm not sure if they have different variations of pizza, but what I had was not Chicago style. It was incredibly thick for sure, but it wasn't cooked in a pan the way Chicago style is to get the crisp pie-like sides. It seemed to just be a very thick layer of dough cooked on a pan.

                                  I didn't care for it. They seemed undercooked and a bit doughy, and the amount of cheese overwhelmed every variety I tried. Maybe they really were undercooked because they were in a hurry with all those people upset about waiting 2 hours? I really don't know.

                                  Has anyone else had this impression? Maybe I should stick it out again.

                                  1. re: bobzemuda

                                    Yes it is a smoking restaurant, but I am a smoker and did not bother me. Kitchen area was open and appeared to be clean. The "stuffed pizza" I had, aside from having some toppings in top as well as inside was pretty much what I had when I was selling frozen stuffed pizzas patterned after, Nancy's. I expected tons of cheese inside the pizza, how else are you going to get a 8 pound pizza from a 12 inch pie?

                                    1. re: pizza_guy1

                                      I wasn't implying they shouldn't have had that much cheese. I just didn't care for it.

                                      When I've had Chicago style pizza it has always been different then what I had there, and even though it too has a ton of cheese, somehow I didn't find it as overwhelming. It complimented the other flavors and crust.

                                      do they have more then one kind of pizza at Blackthorn, because what I had looked nothing like this:

                                      It was just a really thick crust rim on the outside, not the kind where they put it in a pan like the Nancy's.

                                      I'll suck it up and go again I guess.

                                      1. re: bobzemuda

                                        Replying to myself I see they do. I'd never found a site online for them till now:


                                        They have thin, pan and Chicago. I'm sure they got the pan.

                                        1. re: bobzemuda

                                          Bob, I see you answered your question. I worked with a guy who grew up as a kid working at Nancy's and I ate his pizza. So I shall admit I have not dined at Nancy's. We had our frozen version made by Chesdan's (which at the time was located near 47th & Archer) and when I went there to pick up product they always had me try anything but pizza. Though they did make me, Stuffed Spinach, Sausage, and Mushroom pies, which brings me to the only thing I was not happy about Blackthorn, they did not offer Spinach.
                                          Thanks for the discussion about pizza, I am always looking for different places to go and seems there is decent pizza in the area...

                                    2. re: bobzemuda

                                      I completely agree with you. Blackthorn pizza is leaden and has no finesse. It certainly isn't chicago style, which has a lighter, more airy crust, perhaps from oil or shortening. The pizza place on the corner on the hill-can't think of the name-makes a similar style pie they inappropriately call chicago style. It sounds like a lot of people like blackthorn, but that doesn't mean much since the food preferences of your typ. st. louisan can be bizzare. If you like NY style, try Ferraros in Soulard-probably one of the best pies I've had in this town.

                                2. re: pizza_guy1

                                  NOT "provelone," but provel. Don't confuse provel with provolone. The former is a bizarre St. Louis concoction. The latter is an honest-to-god cheese. See the earlier post with the Wikipedia entry. There are those who vouch for Pizza a Go Go as the best St. Louis style pizza. It doesn't use provel. See the September 27th post by marymac.

                                  6703 Scanlan Ave, Saint Louis, MO 63139

                                  1. re: pizza_guy1

                                    I think the best pizza I have had in St. Louis, at least in recent memory, was at Lemons. I'm not sure of the address, I think it is on Gravois a little west of the Christy. It is Chicago style with a sweet-tangy sauce. A word of warning though... it takes like 2 hours to make, so be sure to call ahead. That being said, I happen to be a fan of St. Louis style pizza, but I am probably a little biased as I have grown up here... and some places do make it better than others.

                                    1. re: geochic

                                      I am pretty sure, Lemons serves "Black Thorn Pub" pizza...


                                3. re: lrstl

                                  Along the same lines of not all Imo's being the same, I personally think that while I am ok with Provel Cheese, mozzerella on an Imos is much better. The Imo's in the county for the most part will do that. I know at least some in the city will not. I like to order mixed cheese.


                      2. re: alan

                        Thanks Alan! I had seen that Feasting on Asphalt show . . .an woke up this morning with a hankering for donuts, and according to handy Mapquest they all seem to be in the same area, so I am off this morning to start my foodie day at World's Fair Donuts. Wish me luck!

                        1. re: jvergara

                          World's Fair doughnuts are absolutely the best. I used to drive by there every morning before heading off to class at SLU. I live in Illinois now and I miss my doughnuts - although my hips are quite thankful. I too saw that episode and to my delight they drove all over my old stomping ground. I hope you liked your day with the doughnuts.

                      3. One theme you could find at A Taste Of St Louis is how the city has expanded its outlook. Nepalese food from Everest Cafe. Off-the-wall Mexican from El Scorcho. Italian done right from LoRusso's. British boarding school food made tasty from Schlafly. Turkish food from Sophia.

                        This would be an inside-out version of your theme...

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: Doug

                          Doug, you really hit my personal foodie interest with the ethnic food angle. Most American cities have some melting pot of ethnic restaurants, and it is nice to know the ones that are really considered stand-outs. I will also check out your ethnic recommendations above . . .happily making notes for my own private use in the future. Many thanks!

                          1. re: jvergara

                            If ethnic is what you want on future visits, you have to eat at some Vietnamese restaurants. My experience is that they are not as common in other cities as they are in St. louis. My favorite is Pho Grand, people say that it is more geared to St. Louis palates, which is probably why I prefer it. Mai Lee and Lemongrass are other frequented spots.

                              1. re: bobzemuda

                                Noted for next trip to St. Louis . . .did you guys see the Reader's Choice restaurant winners in the Sauce . . .good list, good recommendations overall . . .or not so much? I would be curious of your opinion. I was shocked at the number of ethnic restaurants you have in St. Louis looking over the list.

                                1. re: jvergara

                                  Here I sit in your city, and I have to say, I'd never thought about how much ethnic food we have in St. Louis, until I've been driving around KC today.

                                  I felt, the RFT picks were good, but the actual reader's picks were as terrible as always.

                                  Tony's always gets a big nod somewhere each year, and I have to wonder how many people have actually eaten there.

                                  And McDonald's for best fries. Come on?

                                  1. re: bobzemuda

                                    I really like Micky's fries. You are correct that St. Louis has a plethera of ethnic restaurants; however, I went to Asheville North Carolina this summer and I swear there were more ethnic restaurants than American restaurants. It was very hard for my meat and potatoes husband to find a good place to eat.

                                    1. re: kprange

                                      I really like them too, but they are not the "best fries" in St. Louis.

                                      1. re: bobzemuda

                                        Where are the best fries in St. Louis?

                                        1. re: kprange

                                          My personal preference are the fries at Atlas.

                        2. The original comment has been removed
                          1. No nods to Joanie's pizza? It's in Soulard and is some of the best pizza I've had, the muffaleta was decent too!

                            Check out Sauce for food finds.

                            My fiance and his roomies love Fortel's Pizza Den for their weekend pizza pick - it's always been good when I've had it.

                            I think as long as you have provel in some form, thin crust pizza, and t-rav you'll get the St. Louis experience.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: drgnflychic

                              Fortel's doesn't use provel. To my knowledge they use a 2:1 ratio of provolone to mozzarella (which I really like).

                              1. re: bobzemuda

                                That's why I haven't lost my lunch when I had Fortels!!! I like the pizzas but I still prefer more substantial pizzas.