Eat Like a Local: Distinctive St. Louis Foods

Photo of people approaching a brightly-lit Ted Drewes in evening.

Get a frozen custard (The Concrete) at St. Louis’s landmark Ted Drewes on Route 66. Photo © Philip Leara, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Spend enough time in St. Louis—and by “enough time” we mean “really just a couple days”—and you will find certain foods listed on practically every restaurant’s menu, from hot spots to corner dives. A few foods are so distinctively St. Louis that you’d be remiss not to try them at least once. Read the list, and understand why Tums were invented in St. Louis, too.

St. Louis-Style Pizza

Politics. Religion. Pizza. If you’re looking for a good argument in St. Louis, bring up one of the aforementioned topics. St. Louisans take their pizza very, very seriously—even when outsiders consider it strange (or, even worse, mediocre). True St. Louis-style pizza starts with a cracker-thin crust topped with Provel cheese. It’s the Provel that really incites debate. Delicious, melty pizza topping or inferior “cheese food”? Decide for yourself by visiting any outpost of the beloved local chain Imo’s Pizza. Just don’t out yourself as a tourist by asking for a “slice”—St. Louis-style pizza is served by the square.

Toasted Ravioli

The origin story of the toasted ravioli varies from teller to teller. Some claim that toasted ravioli is the result of a happy accident, when a St. Louis chef mistakenly dropped stuffed pasta into the deep fryer. Others say that toasted ravioli got its (intentional) start at Oldani’s restaurant on the Hill, now known as Mama’s on the Hill. No matter where they came from, T-ravs (as the locals say) are a super-popular appetizer. You can order meat-filled or cheese-filled T-ravs (meat-filled are more traditional). The deep-fried delights have a structural integrity similar to that of a fried mozzarella stick, and are also served with marinara sauce.

Pork Steaks

The pork steak is an absolute must-have at any St. Louis summertime barbecue—and plenty of local restaurants serve this popular cut, too. The pork steak comes from a pig’s shoulder. While it isn’t necessarily the best cut of meat, the pork steak is made fork-tender by simmering for hours in barbecue sauce.

St. Paul Sandwich

Yes, it’s a little strange that something called a “St. Paul sandwich” originated in St. Louis. And, in all honesty, the St. Paul sandwich itself is a little strange: Take an egg foo yong patty, apply a liberal amount of mayonnaise and a handful of dill pickles, and fold the whole shebang between two slices of Wonder bread. The St. Paul sandwich is getting harder and harder to find, but it can still be ordered at most chop suey places in the city.

Gooey Butter Cake

Don’t call it a baked good—call it a baked great. So delicious that some sweet-toothed tourists have carried it back on the plane with them (or have it overnighted to their home), the gooey butter cake is a true St. Louis original. Recipes vary from bakeshop to bakeshop, but all start with a solid foundation of butter and yellow cake, topped with a cream-cheese mixture and sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar. Saint Louis Bread Co., a café empire based here in town (it’s called Panera elsewhere), serves gooey butter danishes. Park Avenue Coffee (1919 Park Ave.) offers gooey butter cake in 76 glorious flavors. There’s even a shop on the south side devoted solely to the GBC (Gooey Louie, 6483 Chippewa St.).

The Concrete

For more than 80 years, St. Louisans have flocked to Ted Drewes Frozen Custard shops. The legendary frozen custard, served out of two southside locations (one at 6726 Chippewa St., the other at 4224 S. Grand Blvd.), is unparalleled. The most popular Ted Drewes treat is The Concrete: thick custard blended with any number of ingredients and served in an iconic yellow cup. Before your server hands you The Concrete, she’ll probably turn it upside down. Don’t panic—that’s just to prove that the custard’s so thick that the spoon won’t fall out. Try the Fox Treat, a Concrete with hot fudge, raspberries, and macadamia nuts.


Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon St. Louis.

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