Food nostalgia is almost guaranteed when Ruth & I return to St. Louis, our hometown. Like any other big city, St. Louis has some strictly local dishes and, of course, some old establishments still selling them. We live in fear of what happened to my brother Jim recently. He learned that Don’s Ruston Market, his Tacoma source for old-fashioned chocolate sodas, has permanently closed. St Louis’ Federhofer’s Bakery will permanently close some day, and our provider of delectable sweets will become only a fond memory.
So will historic Soulard Market but probably not anytime soon. In the working-class neighborhood where I grew up in South St. Louis, going to Soulard was a regular Saturday morning family activity. The oldest continuously operating farmer’s market west of the Mississippi River, Soulard looks its age. It’s at Lafayette and Seventh Streets near downtown and a tourist attraction mentioned in most travel guides. It’s a great source of seasonal fruits and vegetables, spices, dried soup mixes, and specialty items found nowhere else.
Ted Drewes is another local institution. Seller of the best frozen custard in the world, Ted Drewes still has 2 locations in South St. Louis. There always seems to be a line to wait in on Chippewa Street. The location on Grand Avenue is only opened in the summer. Their custard treats are so thick they’re known as concretes, and the Ted Drewes taste makers create a new one each year. Its latest creation is called Muddy Mississippi. When we lived near Ted Drewes, it was guaranteed to delight all out-of-town visitors who could not thank us enough for taking them there. Ted Drewes has been on the scene since 1929.
So, what are strictly St. Louis foods? In my opinion, there are basically 4–gooey butter cake, pork steaks, St. Louis-style pizza, and toasted ravioli. The first Gooey Butter Cake was an undercooked mistake in a German bakery. Many German immigrants found their way to South St. Louis. Thick and juicy pork steaks are a local tradition found nowhere else in the United States that I know about. St. Louis-style pizza always contains Provel cheese. Ah, Luigi’s! The signature St. Louis dish is toasted ravioli, a wonderful appetizer that sprang forth from the Italians on The Hill. Luckily, many of these immigrants became restaurant owners.
The Nathaniel Reid Bakery is this city’s best newish one, and Federhofers is its best really old bakery. It’s at 9005 Gravois. Locals pronounce this street gravoy, which rhymes with Savoy. Federhofers has been at this location since 1966, and there was reportedly a bakery here before the Federhofer’s arrived. And yes, you can buy a gooey butter cake there. The evidence is above in a green container.