St. Louis, Missouri
An Adventure in Eating
By Toni Dabbs
The 1904 St. Louis World's Fair turned the
international spotlight on Missouri.
For the first time, electricity was a key element of a
world's fair, and buildings throughout the grounds were illuminated at
night. One exhibit demonstrated how to cook using this new form of energy.
Food was another important aspect of the fair, which introduced several
American culinary institutions: cotton candy, hot dogs, ice cream and iced
tea. It also saw the popularization of a "health food" called peanut butter
and a "health drink" named Dr Pepper.
Perhaps the St. Louis World's Fair marked the beginning
of the city's fascination with food. Whatever the reason, quirky treats and
local delicacies still abound, and I discovered a number of them during a
My "adventure in eating" began at breakfast, when my
hostess served what she called a "St. Louie Ooey Gooey." Gooey butter cake
is said to have originated when a baker mistakenly doubled the amount of
butter specified in a coffee cake recipe. The resulting rich confection now
is sold at virtually every St. Louis area bakery.
We started our sightseeing at the site where the
world’s fair was held, the 1,371-acre Forest Park west of downtown. It
comprises one of the few remaining structures built for the fair, the St.
Louis Art Museum, as well as a history museum, science center, zoo, outdoor
theater, and a conservatory surrounded by formal gardens. The park is being
improved, with new roads, bridges, paths, lakes, golf facilities and a
visitor center, in anticipation of the 1904 World's Fair centennial next
From the park, we made a detour south to a section of
old Route 66 for some mid-morning refreshment. Ted Drewes Frozen Custard has
been dispensing cones, sundaes and "concretes" (shakes so thick you can turn
them upside down and they don't fall out of the cup) from its location at
6726 Chippewa since 1941. The temptations seemed endless: Crater Copernicus,
devil's food cake topped with vanilla custard, hot fudge and whipped cream;
Hawaiian Delight, vanilla custard with pineapple, banana, coconut and
macadamia nuts; Southern Delight, vanilla custard with praline pecans and
butterscotch. We each chose something different and shared.
Our next stop was the Missouri Botanical Garden, a
79-acre urban oasis that features Chinese, English, German and Japanese
style gardens, indoor desert and rain forest gardens, plus a maze, a scented
garden, a rose garden and more. Opened to the public in 1859, Missouri
Botanical Garden was the first of its kind established in the United States.
Its Linnean House is the oldest continually operating display greenhouse in
Having managed to work up
an appetite, we headed for lunch at Charlie Gitto’s in the old Italian
neighborhood known as the Hill. Charlie invited us into the kitchen to show
us how he makes toasted ravioli, a St. Louis specialty invented in 1947 when
the cook at another restaurant on the Hill accidentally dropped some ravioli
into hot oil. When the deep fried dish was done, Charlie sprinkled it with
grated Parmesan cheese and served tomato sauce on the side. With a salad and
a glass of wine, it made a filling lunch.
Our first call that
afternoon was to the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, located at the
intersection of Lindell Boulevard and Newstead Avenue. The Romanesque
exterior of the 1907 church appears impressive, but it pales in comparison
to the richly decorated
Byzantine interior containing the largest mosaic
collection in the world. Tiny jewel toned tiles form patterns and pictures
on the walls, archways and ceilings, illustrating the history of the
Catholic faith in 83,000 square feet of art.
We had skipped dessert at lunch, so we decided to visit
the Bissinger chocolate shop on McPherson Street, just around the corner
from the church. The Bissinger family began handcrafting chocolates in 17th
century France, and Karl Bissinger brought some centuries-old recipes when
he opened this store in 1927. Once again we faced a difficult decision:
cream, caramel, fruit or nut centers; milk or dark chocolate coatings;
round, square, leaf or shell shapes? We selected a handful to enjoy on the
spot, and I bought a one-pound assortment to take home.
Shiny steel Gateway Arch , the tallest
man-made monument in the United States at 630 feet. We rode the tram to the
top for panoramic views of downtown St. Louis to the west and Illinois
across the Mississippi River to the east. Back at the base, we wandered
through galleries interpreting 100 years of westward expansion.
Just off the lobby, we discovered the Levee Mercantile,
an 1870s’ style general store. The store sells old fashioned items that
still are used today, such as stoneware dishes, wire closure jars, wooden
toys and quilting kits. It also carries traditional foods, such as fruit
preserves, kettle corn, stick candy and sassafras tea. We bought some
hand-twisted bread-style pretzels from Gus’s Pretzels, another favorite of
St. Louis residents, to tide us over until dinner.
It seems that, instead of “Meet Me in St. Louis,” my
hostess had decided to “Feed Me in St. Louis.” My visit was delicious!
IF YOU GO
Westin St. Louis (811 Spruce Street, phone
1-314-621-2000) occupies renovated late 19th century and early 20th century
freight warehouses. The hotel provides easy access to Busch Stadium (home of
the St. Louis Cardinals), Savvis Center (home of the St. Louis Blues) and
the MetroLink light rail system.
The Saint Louis Brewery and Tap Room (2100 Locust
Street, phone 1-314-241-2337) is a relaxed setting for lunch or dinner.
Schlafly beers are microbrewed on site. The Goat Cheese Rarebit is a good
starter, and the Sticky Toffee Pudding is a must for dessert.
Tony’s Restaurant (410 Market Street, phone
1-314-231-7007) is ideal for an elegant evening out. Dishes such as Risotto
with White Truffles and Veal with Lemon and Capers have earned the downtown
establishment AAA Four Diamond and Mobil Four Star ratings. The wine list is
Historic Soulard Farmers’ Market (Seventh and Lafayette
Streets, phone 1-314-622-4180) is the oldest farmers’ market in the United
States. Farmers and other vendors sell their products from outdoor and
indoor stalls Wednesday through Saturday.
BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups (700 South Broadway, phone
1-314-436-5222) has a tiny stage, but it’s hosted the likes of Earl “Fatha”
Hines, Roosevelt Sykes and Oliver Sain. Although BB’s features live music
every night until 2 a.m., it gets its doors open again by 6 a.m. weekdays,
when locals start dropping by for a breakfast of Beignets (lightly fried
pastries) and Café au Lait. Sunday brunch is served from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.,
accompanied by live gospel music.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission
One Metropolitan Square, Suite 1100
St. Louis MO 63102
Ph: 1-800-916-0092 / 1-314-421-1023
by Toni Dabbs
Copyright 2003 by Toni Dabbs. This work, including
photographs, is protected by copyright and may be used only for personal
non-commercial purposes. All other rights are reserved, and commercial use
is prohibited without permission of the author.