Tuesday, June 06, 2006

eating in Saint Lou-ie, Lou-ie

Mr. Tart and I traveled to St. Louis recently to see my brother ("Life without bacon is not worth contemplating") graduate with a doctorate in Occupational Therapy. While we didn't go there for the food, we enjoyed what we ate anyway!

We asked Matt what his adopted home was known for, and he grimaced and said, "Very thin crust pizza and provel cheese." Oh? Is that like provelone? Dear readers, it is not. It's like a gummy, processed mozzarella that stays stuck to your teeth for hours. Dreadful! The one typical St. Louis dish that everyone in the family seemed to like was the toasted ravioli: ground beef and cheese inside what seemed like a deep-fried ravioli wrapping, served with marinara. This was on the menu of every restaurant we ate at, even the Drunken Fish, the sushi restaurant where the eight of us celebrated Matt's big day. Notice how my dipping bowls look like a semicolon! Way to appeal to us punctuation nerds. I shocked my midwestern family by ordering what was in effect a platter of raw tuna fillets (Tekka Don). But even more surprising was the result of Dad's trip to the upstairs bar. Now, my father loves his martinis. He has exactly one a day and even travels with the fixings so he can make them at, say, hotels without restaurants and my teetotalling grandmother's house. But Dad also doesn't like to spend money when he can avoid it, so when he saw that the Drunken Fish's martinis were half price at Happy Hour only at the bar on the second floor, he left the table to go upstairs and fetch one rather than ordering it from the server. Unfortunately, the only ones that were half price were the froufrou ones made with juices and such, the ones that aren't truly martinis. But he picked the one that--he says--sounded like it would most resemble his traditional martini. He was glum--even disgusted--by the time he made it back to the table: his "Flirtini" was pink and didn't taste like a martini at all. I never thought I'd see this distinguished 67-year-old retired English professor drinking something off of Sex and the City.

Other meals were less fancy, like an order-at-the-counter creperie where Mr. Tart and I shared one crepe with creamed spinach and one buckwheat crepe with chicken and pesto and regular spinach and for dessert, a nutella crepe with strawberries. Luscious. That's Matt and his girlfriend, Andrea, in the picture; brave woman, spending the whole weekend with our extended family!

But it was great to have a Saint Louis native show us all her haunts: the World Fair donut shop, capitalizing on the city's history; the brewery that makes half a dozen homemade sodas (I loved their ginger ale, while Mr. Tart was partial to the root beer); a downtown street lined with funky shops and eateries; and most impressive, Ted Drewe's custard stand. Turns out that frozen custard is a big deal in St. Louis (bigger than toasted ravioli, even). Andrea has been eating custard at Ted Drewe's since she was a little girl--and apparently so has half of St. Louis! The lines were insanely long, and since it's a stand, not a restaurant, there are no tables or chairs, so people just hang out in the parking lot, block the sidewalk, sit on cars, and stroll around with their concretes and sundaes. A "concrete" is like a Dairy Queen Blizzard (with items mixed in), so called because it's thick like concrete and you can turn it upside down and the spoon won't fall out. The cashiers even do this when they hand it to you to prove it! I was amused by the menus detailing dozens of combinations of add-ins and sauces for the various concoctions, supplemented by a hand-lettered sign announcing "Vanilla custard only!" So, The Walrus or the Lyons Soda Fountain it ain't, but my Fox Treat sundae of vanilla custard, hot fudge, fresh raspberries, and macadamia nuts proved to me why several hundred St. Louis residents were milling around this parking lot--yum. I hope Matt stays in St. Louis so we can go back and visit him and Ted Drewe's again!

The most remarkable cuisine-related discovery in St. Louis, though, wasn't actually something we could eat. Guess who has a star on the sidewalk of one of the main drags along with other celebrated St. Louis actors, musicians, writers, and political figures: Irma Rombecker, author of The Joy of Cooking. Any city that cherishes the woman who gave birth to such a seminal book is a city worth eating joyously in! And we did. Happy graduation, Matt. Irma and I are proud of you.

(Author's note: Blogger is being particularly intractable lately and won't let me upload any of my photos of these eating establishments, the infamous flirtini, or Irma's star. Why the semicolon made it while the rest of them didn't I don't know. I'll try again in a day or two.)


Anonymous Tania said...

Frozen custard? Is that just a local term for ice cream, or is it something completely different? I'm intrigued!

Love the "Flirtini" story ... (snicker) ... very cute!

1:46 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Tania--frozen custard resembles soft-serve ice cream a la Dairy Queen, but better. It's very popular in Wisconsin, and I never encountered it in North Carolina (where I grew up), so I'm assuming it's more of a midwestern delicacy. My Wisconsin-born mom once told me that it's not literally custard that's been frozen, but similar.

9:18 PM  

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