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classic Missouri comfort dish

  • j

what would you say is the quintessential missouri comfort food/dish?

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  1. Should be fried chicken at Stroud's.


    1. Dining out:
      St. Louis - Imo's Pizza
      KC - Gate's BBQ
      Springfield - Cashew Chicken (So say my cousins.) I say, Pizza House

      1. Missouri bottom land sweet corn, eaten the day it is picked. Salt, pepper and butter.

        1. Are you talking restaurant food or home food?

          1 Reply
          1. Ham-n-beans, fried catfish & hushpuppies, or BBQ pork.

            1. Fried chicken, a dying dish in the home kitchen. Potato salad. Blackberry cobbler, the kind with pie crust, not the hybrid cake monsters now being called that in restaurants. Iced tea.

              2 Replies
              1. re: lemons

                Whatever it is, you can bet it's fried in bacon grease.

                1. re: lemons

                  For my grandma...green beans cooked with ham. For my mom, cornbread baked in a cast-iron skillet, and then mushed up in a tall glass with cold buttermilk. For me, Imo's bacon pizza with a glass of milk (I know, I know...pizza was a big treat when I was a kid, but Mom made us drink our milk with it).

                2. not to be a kill joy, but that's an almost impossible question to answer. MO has always been such a cross roads (Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, the wagon trains, the people that came up from KY and over from Indiana, Rte. 66, the later interstates the massive influx of European immigrants in the 19thc. the mid-century industrialization that brought all sorts from all over the larger region) just too many people passing through and bringing their faves, and too many relatively distinct regions: are we talking the plains of Northern MO? the near-South of the bootheel? the hills of the Ozarks? river culture, large farm type communities, urban centers, backwood hardscrabble?

                  37 Replies
                  1. re: hill food

                    agreed - a friend is compiling a list of comfort recipes by state. i guess i'll go more locally here or st. louis. the fried chicken, green beans, etc is basically "american" comfort food not really specific to this area. i guess st louis style pizza is a good one - though i don't like it. also, pork tenderloin sandwiches seem to be fairly regional - having lived in the northeast, southeast and southwest, i can't recall seeing too many of those. thoughts?

                    1. re: jdl98

                      I have to agree with hillfood, that Missouri is too divided. The pork tenderloin sandwich is really an Indiana thing or at least most closely associated with them. If you look at it by the largest Cities it would be:
                      KC- BBQ there may be others but I haven't spent much time in KC
                      Springfield- Cashew Chicken but it has to be their unique Cashew Chicken
                      St. Louis- Gooey Butter Cake, Toasted Raviolis, St. Louis Cracker Crust Pizza with provel and according to one of the food shows I saw awhile back pig snoots. I had to include this one because I have lived here all of my life and never met anyone who has eaten a snoot.
                      Columbia- Greasy burgers(Booches) and burnt crust pizza (Shakespeares) I'm not complaining about Booches because sometimes a greasy burger is a good thing but I'm not sold on Shakespeares.

                      I'm not saying that any of these are comfort foods per se but they are the foods I think about when talking about food in Missouri.

                      1. re: jdl98

                        I think if you consider home cooking it would be hard to isolate a "Missouri " dish. I have seen pork tenderloin especially in Iowa and Illinois and somewhat in Mo. In Iowa, it definitely gets more attention. In St. Louis you could consider pork steaks either smoked or grilled and sauced. They are found almost exclusively at home. A few restaurants in the last year or two are starting to have them. Another thing from St. Louis that people make at home would be a gooey butter cake. These are widely found in bakeries too.
                        You might consider something with black walnuts to be "Missouri". Maybe a bundt cake or cookies.

                        1. re: wekick

                          What about brain sandwiches? Are they considered a Missouri food? I could never bring myself to try one but I know people who love them!

                          1. re: marymac

                            Very St. Louis-y, the brain sandwich, which has practically disappeared. Part of it is that it faded in popularity over the last few decades, and then when bovine spongiform encephalopathy, aka mad cow disease, popped up, brains became suspect and apparently were much harder to come by.I believe there are one or two places in south St. Louis that may still have them on the menu, but couldn't swear to it.

                            Those old Germans, they knew how to eat. (?)

                            1. re: lemons

                              We're all on board with the fact that "Missouri' is going to be hard to pin down...stuck in the middle with you, baby. Most of the rural areas still have a real Southern feel to them, food-wise. Kansas City is the land of 'que, St. Louis retains a lot of French & German influences, and later the Italian immigration had a big influence on the city.
                              I have never been anywhere near a brain sandwich, although everybody seems to have a grandpa that " loved 'em".
                              I will say that wekick hit the nail on the head for me with pork steaks. I was appalled to discover that they don't seem to exist anywhere else in the world...it really isn't a backyard bbq without pork steaks. Grilled slow with salt, pepper, maybe some garlic or onion salt, and finished up with a dunk in a pan full of sauce.
                              You know, Missouri never even made up it's mind during the Civil War. The cities leaned north, the rural areas leaned south...and that may still be kind of true in other aspects of our lives.

                              1. re: tonifi

                                It is tough to pick out food unique to a state. While there are regional foods, they don't always follow state lines. I want to try a chili bun in eastern Ky and Mississippi delta tamales(along with a koolickle).

                                1. re: wekick

                                  I recently visited friends in Alabama and asked about southern tamales. They seemed to know about the Tex-Mex tamales that I can find any number of places. Please elaborate on Mississipi delta tamales.

                                  1. re: powillie

                                    and then there are Ark-Mex Tamales as well (pretty much all the same)

                                    1. re: hill food

                                      So a tamale is a tamale? What about Jim's Tamales in Kansas City? Similar but really not the same. Please explain. I would really like to know to know about Ark-Mex tamales.

                                      1. re: powillie

                                        served with more of a gravy than a salsa and rotel may be observed. only had it once and the premier location is sadly closed.

                                    2. re: powillie

                                      This is a website about them.


                                      In joplin, Mo. Fred and Red's has a smaller "hot tamale" and I wonder if they are from this type of tamale.

                                  2. re: tonifi

                                    I live just east of Branson (SW corner of Mo.) and the county seat switched sides 3 times during the civil war. My folks have been here since 1835, and came from Kentucky. This was a very poor area for a long time and people were substinance farmers and, hunters. Later, there were railroads and tomato canning factories moved in. They were big buyers of tomatoes and the women worked in the canneries. Strawberries and Hereford cattle became big business too.
                                    Now Branson has boomed and you can't make a living on the land so easy as working in town. Land prices have skyrocketed.
                                    Still though, our traditional comfort foods are those learned from our folks and are those foods that they grew themselves and/or were very cheap:

                                    Beans and ham hocks on cornbread (NO SUGAR!)
                                    Cornbread crumbled in milk
                                    Fried squirrel
                                    Chicken and (homemade) noodles or dumplings (drop, not rolled, dumplings)
                                    Fried perch or catfish (rolled in cornmeal),
                                    Pie, pie, pie
                                    Wilted lettuce (hot bacon grease tossed on fresh garden letteuce)
                                    Biscuits and gravy
                                    Fried morel or beefsteak mushrooms (rolled in cornmeal again!)
                                    Hickory smoked pork - all cuts
                                    Deer meat (city people eat venison!)
                                    Bacon grease used to be kept on the table in a bowl for seasoning and I don't do that, but I cook with it an awful lot!

                                    This area has lost it's unique local culture to a great degree and is now quite homogenized due to the heavy influx of people who have come for work and brought their ways in.
                                    I graduated the 8th grade in a class of 5 and my son in the same school graduated 8th grade in a class of 42!

                                    1. re: weewah

                                      wow that sounds like how our neighbor Jenny cooked (I'm in Maries County up I-44 and 63 at the moment) fresh morels sauteed in butter? THAT is the godhead of food. no sugar in the cornbread? well to each their own.

                                        1. re: weewah

                                          feeling a bit self-referential weewah? (heh)

                                          I'll eat it either way.

                                    2. re: tonifi

                                      I grew up in Illinois eating pork steaks - Mom fried'em with some horseradish spread on during the browning process. Out here in L.A. County there's a butcher at the Farmer's Market that sells inch-thick ones, cut from the shoulder of course, that just beg to be either grilled slowly or roasted. Of course Los Angeles is where a few million Midwesterners went, starting in the 1870s, and we brought a lot of our habits with us.

                                      1. re: Will Owen

                                        oh try and prove the dust bowl happened (heh)

                              2. re: jdl98

                                this why I sort of had an issue with the mods lumping MO in with the Great Plains, that IS an aspect, but sort of glosses over all the other influences, KC has more in common with San Antonio or Denver than STL and STL is where Planter's Punch and Southern Comfort are credited with invention. I tried (weakly) to argue with them that above the MO river is a different place than South and while I like/love both KC and STL they are 2 VERY different places with very different attitudes and foods.

                                maybe we shouldn't try to narrow down one thing and instead pat ourselves on the back that despite being landlocked can find somewhat varied foods. an identity based on a lack of a specific identity if you will.

                                1. re: hill food

                                  hill food, I agree about Missouri. For some time I have said that east of Columbia, MO belongs to the east coast, west to the west coast. South of the Missouri river and, even to the western stateline, belongs to the southeast ,while north, belongs to Big Ten country. STL is the westernmost eastern city while KC is the easternmost western city. IMO Missouri is the country's dividing point.

                                  1. re: powillie

                                    wow I've always said that STL is the last Eastern City and KC the first Western. it's more or less evident in the street layout/urban design and the architecture. and while I grew up in STL , I can't help but feel the folks of KC are generally more optomistic. we're a grumpy lot over here. and no I'm not NOT going to get into the who has better the BBQ debate, because we all know what THAT answer is.

                                    1. re: hill food

                                      Came thisclose to taking a job in KC a number of years ago, and was taken around to meet various folks at dinners, meetings, etc. One thing that struck me was that Kansas Citians really, really like their city (or metro area, if you prefer that phrase). St. Louisans lack that. We have trouble convincing ourselves that it's a really worthwhile place - even for food, which just ain't true.

                                      1. re: lemons

                                        yeah self-hate is a powerful thing. but it's not even really that, I think it's more of a protective, possessive thing. KC just seems less, well, abashed to declare its possibilities, but oddly I feel STL is more progressive in some ways.

                                        1. re: hill food

                                          Oddly I feel KC is way more progressive then STL in food and about everything else, having lived in both cities for a numbers of years.

                                          1. re: Irishbeer4me

                                            KC is definitely more willing to embrace new ideas, but it also answers to a more conservative base. maybe it's more pragmatic than STL, STL seems to only be able to get behind "big" ideas that don't pan out in the long run. (seen Ballpark Village lately) hey we ARE the characters in The Glass Menagerie (and a lot of Williams' plays for that matter).

                                            and the food shows it, holding on to a few tried and true recipes and raising them up to iconic status even though nobody but us really likes them.

                                            1. re: hill food

                                              I have always loved STL, a great place to visit, we must do it again soon. Greater KC is a great place to be. The people seem to be more open to casual social interaction, say somethng to a stranger and you will probably get a civil response, if not, it is their problem. Kansas City is a great place to be and getting better.

                                                1. re: hill food

                                                  I believe that you are probably right.

                                                  1. re: powillie

                                                    Lived in Columbia for four years and haven't a clue as to what qualifies as the quintessential Missouri homecooked dish. I do know, however, that Columbia was a great restaurant town. The best all-around steakhouse I've ever experienced is CC's City Broiler. Dang I miss that joint!

                                                2. re: powillie

                                                  Powillie: just looking back over this and saw your item regarding Kc-ers "The people seem to be more open to casual social interaction, say something to a stranger and you will probably get a civil response" HA! a friend and I were talking the other day about various cities, speculating that if you ask directions in STL, they'll either be incomprehensible to a non-local or purposefully messed up just to yank your chain! hey I've matured a lot since those days.

                                                  1. re: hill food

                                                    STL is still a good place toe be, the Hill, the Zoo, the Cards, Mardi Gras, among so much more. Right I am watching Mizzou/Illinois, too bad one has to win.

                                                    1. re: powillie

                                                      Really good game, too bad mizzou won. Hey wait, Illinois lost. Eh.

                                          2. re: lemons

                                            Au contraire! I LOVE the St. Louis area!! And we were just having a conversation at work about how many people leave St. Louis...but end up coming back! I just spent Saturday night's Cards game touting wonderful St. Louis to folks from New Jersey (rooting for the Cards) as well as Reds fans, wonderfully welcomed tourists to St. Louis. We have decent cost of living, central area for travel, city attractions as well as woodsy hiking,250 years of history, a National Monument, friendly people,good foods,decent place to raise kids, easy driving around...shall I continue? The only thing I miss is an ocean or gulf beach-but on the flip side at least we don't have to deal with hurricanes. We also don't have to deal with forest fires, mud slides, and although we are on a major earthquake fault, earthquakes are not (yet) part of our routine life. Yes, there are tornadoes, but luckily on can take shelter from them, and the damage is not as wide-spread when they do hit.
                                            I also had a hard time coming up with a traditional 'comfort food' for the area, vs. just food that's unique to the area. We do eat a lot of ice cream/frozen custard-even in winter. That's certainly comforting! And what about all the ITALIAN food we St. Louisans eat,regardless of our own family ethnicities-at home as well as restaurants and at weddings! Basics are Lasagna, spaghetti, mostaciolli, pasta alfredo con broccoli-all eaten more often than our unique and tasty toasted ravioli. Good comfort foods.

                                    2. re: jdl98

                                      pork tenderloin sandwiches are very common in Iowa. Pounded thin and fried and then placed on a bun.

                                      1. re: nvcook

                                        Breaded, with lettuce, tomato, and mayo, or, with mustard, onion, and dill pickle?

                                        1. re: powillie

                                          My friend with family there says breaded with mustard, onion and dill pickle.

                                      2. re: jdl98

                                        here is davydd's pork tenderloin sandwich site for your perusal. it's awesome. but as you will see, there are plenty of PT sandwiches from other states, particularly iowa, indiana, illinois, minnesota, wisconsin. . . :)


                                    3. I would say baked mostaccioli, but only if you pronounce it "musk-ah-cho-lee" and top it with provel.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: goodwinc76

                                        ahh that is required by law to be served at a wedding reception in STL, or the marriage isn't legal. it's true. look it up.

                                        1. re: hill food

                                          This is true and when my son got married, we(the brides parents and my husband and I) stopped and got some from the restaurant where they both worked and met and served it to them at the reception. We knew it wouldn't be legal without it.

                                      2. I was born in the St. Louis area and spent my childhood there. My mother was not a native Missourian and she did most of the cooking, so I think we pretty much ate what was the generic Midwestern diet during the 50's and 60's...meat/potatos, pasta, those 'newfangled" TV
                                        dinners once in a while and lots of casseroles. However - my father and his side of the family all were native to Missouri and go back the the mid 1800's at least - so I know he had a couple of favorite foods that none of the rest of us had ever heard of or eaten. The main one that comes to mind is that same wilted lettuce/hot bacon grease concoction that weewah listed in her post. (The only thing I personally consider to be a Missouri comfort dish is anything from the old Steak and Shake drive-in)

                                        4 Replies
                                          1. re: wrldsworstcook

                                            Wilted lettuce is a German thing; my mom made that often, especially whenever Grandpa Kuntz was coming for a visit. Oddly enough, when she moved to Missouri in the '70s, settling in the boonies near Ozark, everyone she served it to liked it but said they'd never heard of it before.

                                            1. re: Will Owen

                                              Old dishes dying out? I assume you mean Ozark, MO?

                                              1. re: lemons

                                                Yes. I do remember sitting in the little eatery in Sparta, which was the closest actual town, and seeing a whole lot of Midwestern/Ozark culinary history up there on the menu board. Unfortunately I can't remember just what the items were, except for the pork chop and fried chicken dinners, both of which came with potatoes, gravy and fresh yeast rolls. And this was in a place that felt more Dairy Queen than diner! When these people dropped in for a bite, they didn't just want a burger and fries …

                                          2. I was born and raised in St. Louis. I really miss some things that I have never seen outside the Missouri/Southern Illinois area:
                                            gooey butter coffeecake - I thought it was German, but have not been able to find it even here in WIsconsin
                                            grilled pork steaks - my father's signature dish oh, yum.
                                            baked mostaccioli - OMG - I learned to make it the right way when I was very young. I am always surprised at the bland mess that I am served elsewhere. hill food is right - it was served at every wedding reception I've ever attended in STL - even at my families' German and Irish receptions...
                                            On the other hand, I do not miss the omnipresent tub of bacon grease that was in every kitchen, or the dishes made from leftover animal parts - brains, blood sausage, pig snoots - even as a child I would not go near this stuff.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: mombob

                                              My grandmother was from Missouri, and yes she had that tub of bacon grease next to the stove. I remember it had a plate under the lid with lots of little holes to let the grease drip down but would catch all the crispy bits, which went into the cornbread batter...

                                            2. Really interesting topic to this lifelong Missourian. I do want to mention that the wilted lettuce salad is not limited to MO. My Oklahoman mother made it all the time, as did my DH's Indiana's mother. I do, however, love it! The pork steaks seem to be really regional, but I'm not sure they are found in KC or Springfield. And, I hate to say this, but I have always lived in the St. Louis area and I never ate a gooey butter cake until I was an adult. And I don't find them all that good, to tell the truth. Comfort food in StL might well be Italian, but it might be barbecue in KC. I am not sure there is a quintessential MO comfort food.

                                              1. Y'know, that wilted lettuce (ours was with green onions cut up) may turn out to be The One for this query. My grandmother's people were on the line between Ste. Genevieve and St. Francois County a hundred years ago, and wilted lettuce (always leaf lettuce, never iceberg; it had to come from the garden, because our stores sold nil but iceberg) was always a favored summer dish, usually for supper, not lunch. (Dinner was Sunday's noon meal. But that's another thread.)

                                                Many of those things weewah mentioned our family did, too. It sounded deeply familiar to me.

                                                1. I would have to say barbecue for Kansas City, but honestly, with absolutely everyone I know it's running neck and neck with Mexican (okay, really Tex-Mex).

                                                  1. My side of the family - Marshall: country ham, green beans with boiled potatoes and onions, fresh tomatoes, corn, corn bread. Margaret VanDyke was well known for her country ham.
                                                    My wife's side - Lexington: Exactly as above except with a regular (city) ham. Polly Sexton grew everything in her back yard garden except the pig!
                                                    These are precious memories!

                                                    1. I'm an Ozarks girl... my Daddy LaLa (paternal grandfather) owned a country store in Huckaby, a long-gone little burg near what is now the far South end of Pomme de Terre Lake. I still have the basket my mother used to carry eggs to town in Urbana. I grew up in Lebanon and my first post-college job was as a teacher in Ozark.

                                                      I'll add my vote for wilted lettuce... made with the wonderful variety of lettuces grown in the "truck patch". Now, living in the Deep South, I haunt the local growers' markets in the cold months for good lettuces just so I can make up a batch. It is dinner. Nothing else needed!

                                                      But, I'd also nominate my Grandma Little's light bread, sliced thin and made into a bread/butter/sugar sandwich with a glass of cold milk.

                                                      Or, the first-of-the-year fresh strawberries, delivered in the crown of Grandpa Little's straw hat, to be eaten immediately, with the warm juice running down my chin.

                                                      Or, a pot of stewed rhubarb... dribbling the tart/sweet goodness over homemade vanilla ice cream that my Daddy worked hard to churn.

                                                      I lived a blessed childhood in Missouri, learning to love good food grown and prepared with great respect for the land and the animals that fed us.

                                                      5 Replies
                                                      1. re: onrushpam

                                                        Nicely written, onrushpam. My DIL is from Bolivar, and we go through Lebanon en route to her family. Ah, rhubarb. Thank goodness not everyone loves it.

                                                        1. re: onrushpam

                                                          I agree! I love that salad. You take green onions, leaf lettuces, boiled eggs, new radishes and crumbled just fried bacon. You pour over it boiled bacon fat and a little sugar and vinegar. Cover the dish with the skillet so the salad wilts. Divine eaten with cornbread!

                                                          However, this dish is found all over. My OK mom ate it as a child and brought to our home in St. Louis County. My IN MIL made it. I think it is a country dish. I don't think it is uniquely Missourian.

                                                          It is however quite, quite good.

                                                          1. re: sueatmo

                                                            It's German in origin, as I understand it, probably Mennonite, which my grandfather's people were. That would explain the stretch of it through Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. Those German farmers loved sharp dressings, bacon, and curdled milk dishes, and they dearly loved their tender summer greens as well. Still do.

                                                            1. re: Will Owen

                                                              Except that both of my families (dad's and mom's) came from NW Arkansas. Both families moved to OK in the early 20th century. However, I grant you that it might well have been German. The Germans were here very early, in Colonial times. Neither of my parents were from MO, or had roots here.

                                                          2. re: onrushpam

                                                            My first nursing job was in the ER at Lake Ozark General Hospital.
                                                            Didn't know how good I had it when I lived in MO.

                                                            It was the first time I was ever served pork chops for breakfast.

                                                          3. For me it's Leonard Willie's butterflied (breaded in cornmeal) deep fried catfish and hushpuppies.
                                                            When he didn't have catfish we had butterflied suckers and carp which we gigged. Fond memories, you bet.

                                                            3 Replies
                                                            1. re: Johnny West

                                                              Although I lived in eastern Kansas about 10 miles west of the state line, I have similiar memories. My grandparents were from south-central Missouri and I remember all of the foods that have been mentioned. However in March and April we would have fresh creamed asparagus served over buttered toast or biscuits. This is still one of my favorite meals. Has anyone else had this?

                                                              1. re: powillie

                                                                No but I wish I had, esp. creamed over biscuits. Sounds absolutely divine.

                                                                1. re: powillie

                                                                  I grew up in Iowa and the asparagus we got was wild and grew
                                                                  in road ditches. My father was a soil conservationist and gathered
                                                                  the red fruit and planted a huge bed in our garden. My mother
                                                                  would cut the asparagus in chunks and serve it in whole milk
                                                                  with a little butter on top. Good stuff - and tastes better than the
                                                                  crap that comes up from Mexico.

                                                              2. COMFORT food? (-not simply 'traditional' foods) BROWNIES!!!
                                                                I can't believe those slipped my mind.
                                                                ...(St. Louis area, anyway!..but for college kids as well, and college towns are all over Missouri.)