April 23, 2012

St. Louis Part 2 - The Food

If you've read my blog for a while, you know that when we take a trip we search out the food specialties in that area.  We will often look on Urbanspoon, or Yelp, or TripAdvisor for suggestions and ratings.  We have also followed the advice from Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, sometimes with varied success, to be perfectly honest!  Our first stop, literally, was for a couple of plates of soul food.  Definitely not something you can find just anywhere, so we didn't want to miss it!

Luckily for us, this suggestion from Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives was right on the money!  Sweetie Pies Restaurant has been featured on other shows as well, and there were plenty of people like us who were snapping photos!  The fried chicken, mac and cheese, greens, cornbread, black-eyed peas, and the friendly service were every bit as good as the hype promised.  Our soul food quest was very rewarding!

We ended the first day's food quest with a visit to this well-known candy shop.  Crown Candy Kitchen has been around since 1913 and makes all their own chocolate candy.  Not wanting to miss anything good, we chose 4 kinds to "sample"!  Very good, and the ice cream choices at the nostalgic soda fountain looked terrific too.

There are a number of distinct neighborhoods in St. Louis, and "The Hill" provided our most extensive food adventure.  This area is packed with Italian restaurants, delis, and grocers. There are several places online that give details of a walking tour of this area, but as it was raining that day, we hopped in and out of the car more than we wanted to.

 We stopped first at one of several well-known coffee shops on The Hill.  Shaws roasts their own beans on site, and that proved to be a delicious reason to go. Great coffee, but service and friendliness - not so much.  Can't win 'em all!

This was our next stop, and my favorite of all our stops on The Hill.  Viviano & Sons was a wonderland of Italian specialties!

 Pasta anyone?

Pasta sauce anyone?!

Or, how about a little something from the deli? They had a few choices here!  Notice the sign in the corner that says "no talking on cell phones while ordering"!! There were several of these posted around the store. I love the fact that they will insist on good manners if you want to do business with them!  There is a cheese called Provel on the board, and it's popular in St. Louis delis for sandwiches and pizzas.  It tastes like a cross between Provolone and American Cheese to me. We had never seen it anywhere else and I liked how "melty" it got.

And then the perfect after-dinner accompaniment - gourmet antacid!  Placed right in the middle of the shelves with all the sauces - ha!

This place on The Hill held the promise of some amazing handmade raviolis.  The smell of their sauce was intoxicating when we came in the door.  We had a tip that they sell frozen ravioli ends - imperfects that they won't serve the customers.  These are said to be perfect for soups for example.  We purchased some on impulse, but had a major fail in our efforts to keep them frozen until we got home.  NOT appetizing when thawed!

Three more stops on The Hill - Volpi meats is a well-known supplier of all kinds of salamis, prosciutto and other Italian cured meats. "Salumeria" means Italian delicatessen by the way.  Di Gregorio's was another Italian market and we chose some locally popular Italian wines at this shop.  And finally, our lunch came from Gioia's.  And yes, one of the sandwiches we ordered was another St. Louis favorite - the hot salami!  Not spicy hot, but an ample, baked sandwich with thickly sliced salami - yum!  Oh, and they just happened to have some gelato in the little freezer near the checkout - pistachio for me!

This was a little break from the Italian scene!  Just down the block from the conference center was one of several Irish pubs in St. Louis, The Dubliner.  The place was packed and we were in a hurry, but we still managed to have an absolutely delicious plate of bangers and mash, which is sausages on mashed potatoes with a gravy/sauce on top.  It's classic pub grub!

Rooster was one fabulous place for breakfast!  It took a while to get in, but so worth the wait.  It's one of those unexpected places in the middle of a big city.  They serve local, organic, family farm-raised, and fair trade foods.  They also bake all their own breads.  We chose French toast with caramelized bananas and nuts, and an asparagus crepe - and did what we normally do, which is eat half and swap plates.  I'm sure it's totally bad etiquette, but it works for us!  I know it's an odd thing to photograph, but I was so excited about this huge glass of fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice that I couldn't help myself!  I'm used to seeing fresh-squeezed orange juice, but this was a great treat for me!

Some of our deli bounty. The lupini beans in the foreground are native to Italy, popular with the Romans of old, and often served pickled.  Apparently you eat them most often as a snack, by popping the inner bean out of the skin.  I think I may have gotten myself into a more complicated prep than I bargained for!

And finally, here's our selection of Volpi meats, which we have been enjoying with some great cheese we bought in St. Louis as well.  It feels like we extracted every drop out of the food scene while we were there, but I'm sure there is still more to explore.  I can't say this was one of my favorite cities to visit, as it was a little rough around the edges, but we certainly never went hungry, and we obviously enjoyed the rich culinary culture!

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