10 Tasty Foods You Didn't Know Were Invented in St. Louis
St. Louis has a reputation as a tourist-friendly destination filled with plenty of entertainment and attractions. One popular activity for locals and guests is exploring the city's distinctive cuisine that includes favorites that remain virtually unknown outside the city limits to treats now popular in restaurants throughout the country. These tasty foods invented in St. Louis give the city its own culinary legacy.
In 1930, Ted Drewes opened a frozen custard shop in St. Louis where he sold an assortment of sundaes, shakes, and other treats. The company's iconic concrete, a frozen custard milkshake thick enough to support a spoon and turn upside down without spilling, appeared on the menu in 1959 in response to a neighborhood boy who always wanted the thickest possible chocolate milkshake. Ted Drewes' concretes remain popular with locals and tourists who enjoy customizing the treat with their favorite ingredients and flavors.
Although cotton candy dates back to as early as the 15th century, only wealthy people had the means to buy the confection until a dentist and his partner invented the cotton candy machine. In 1897, William Morrison and John Wharton created a machine that melted sugar and used forced air to spin it into fine threads of cotton candy. They introduced the machine at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, where they sold more than 68,000 boxes of their machine-produced cotton candy.
Gooey Butter Cake
With a layer of yellow butter cake topped with a mixture of cream cheese, eggs, and confectioner's sugar, Gooey Butter Cake is a traditional St. Louis treat. The cake first appeared in St. Louis during the Great Depression when a newly hired employee in a local bakery used the wrong type of butter in a batch of cakes. Instead of throwing away perfectly good ingredients, the owner sold the cakes to customers who, surprisingly, liked the new recipe and helped create a local culinary legend.
In St. Louis, barbecue means grilling cuts of meat and drowning them in sauce. In addition to St. Louis-style ribs cuts into neatly shaped rectangles and fried snoots piled between slices of white bread, pork steak reigns as the most popular type of barbecue meat in the region. In the late 1950's Schnucks Market started advertising the cut sliced from the pork shoulder as an inexpensive meat perfect for grilling. Word quickly spread, making pork steaks synonymous with St. Louis barbecue.
Widely used in St. Louis cuisine for everything from pizza to soups and pasta sauces, Provel cheese is a processed blend of provolone, cheddar, and Swiss cheeses. This buttery, smoky-flavored cheese first appeared on the scene in the 1940s and developed a cult-like following in 1964 when St. Louis' Imo's Pizza decided to use it on their pizzas. Imo's Pizza, along with other local distributors, ship the cheese to fans outside the immediate area.
The slinger, a well-known diner staple made with layers of hash-browns, eggs, chopped meat, and cheese, debuted in St. Louis diners where the cooks top the concoction with chili and often add a side of hot sauce. Although no one knows exactly when the diner fare first appeared on menus, a slinger is a St. Louis tradition served at 24 hours a day at establishments throughout the city.
St. Louis Style Pizza
Like the more well-known pizza styles from New York and Chicago, the defining characteristic of St. Louis style pizza is its crust. The wafer-like cracker crust supports a variety of coarsely-chopped toppings stacked so high that pizza chefs must cut the pie into squares instead of wedges. Other notable differences include the use of Provel cheese instead of mozzarella and a strong oregano flavor in the sauce. Both Farotto's and Imo's claim credit for creating this pizza style in the mid-20th century, but its origins remain unknown.
St. Paul Sandwich
Local legend asserts that Steven Yuen created the St. Paul sandwich in the mid-20th century at Park Chop Suey. Named in honor of Yuen's hometown, the sandwich features an egg foo young patty, dill pickle slices, onion, mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato served between slices of white bread. The sandwich remains popular at St. Louis' Chinese restaurants and offers a quick meal for those on the run.
In the 1940s at a restaurant in St. Louis predominately Italian neighborhood called "The Hill," a cook accidentally dropped ravioli in hot oil. The tasty mistake soon made it way to restaurants throughout St. Louis where diners enjoy the toasted ravioli with marinara dipping sauce and parmesan cheese. Although toasted ravioli now appears on menus across the country, this mid-west favorite originated in St. Louis.
Waffle Ice Cream Cones
While working at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, traveling salesman Abe Doumar decided to buy a waffle from a local vendor. He rolled it into a cone shape and filled the cone with ice cream at the next booth. Abe spent the rest of his time at the fair selling ice cream in freshly made waffle cones. Doumar later invented a four-iron waffle maker to use for his handmade waffle cones and started his own chain of shops around the country based on the idea he discovered in St. Louis.