Savor the Show-Me State: What to Eat in Missouri

Dive into gooey butter cake, burnt ribs and more of Missouri's most-iconic dishes.

Photo By: zkruger

Photo By: Spencer Pernikoff

Photo By: Spencer Pernikoff

Photo By: Spencer Pernikoff

Photo By: Spencer Pernikoff

Photo By: Spencer Pernikoff

Photo By: Spencer Pernikoff

Photo By: Spencer Pernikoff

Photo By: Spencer Pernikoff

Photo By: Spencer Pernikoff

Photo By: Spencer Pernikoff

Photo By: Spencer Pernikoff

Take a Slice of Missouri

Missouri may be known for toasted ravioli, provel cheese, and BBQ, but the Show Me State is much more than that. Nearly 200 years of German, French, and Italian influence combined with incredible local meat and produce means award winning charcuterie, beer, and pastries.

Hot Salami Sandwich

There are plenty of pork dishes throughout the state, but few have the longevity and outspoken popularity of the Hot Salami Sandwich. In 1918, Gioia’s Deli opened in the heart of The Hill, St. Louis’ Italian neighborhood, and with it came their salam de testa — now known as hot salami. A mixture of pig shoulder and head meats, the result is more like a terrine than your typical salami. Sliced thick and served warm (hence the ‘hot’), it’s impossible to resist, especially when you get it on their garlic-cheese bread with a hearty helping of giardiniera. There’s a reason it’s been named best sandwich in St. Louis year after year.

Burnt Ends

Burnt Ends are golden nuggets of brisket that are a Kansas City rite of passage. Typically, the fattier part of the brisket point takes longer, so is returned to the smoker once the rest of the meat is done, which allows it to cook into a caramelized, extra-smoky hunk of meat. The resulting burnt ends are then chopped into cubes and served over buttered toast or plain white bread. Everyone does their burnt ends differently, but Arthur Bryant’s has this Kansas City specialty nailed.

Go to: Arthur Bryant's

Gooey Butter Cake

Few food fans visit St. Louis without trying gooey butter cake. But what is it? A flakey-yet-cakey crust with a rich, slightly chewy cream cheese and vanilla topping. Some are gooier than others, some are cloyingly sweet, but Kaldi’s in Kirkwood is just right. A little goes a long way, and the pros know that a corner piece is the way to go. Pair it with Kaldi’s coffee, or a nap will be in order.

St. Louis-Style Pizza

St. Louis-style pizza is kind of like the opposite of Neapolitan pizza: it’s got a cracker-thin, unleavened crust and it’s topped with Provel, a processed cheese. The pizza is almost always cut into squares, rather than slices, hence the slogan for Imo’s Pizza: The Square Beyond Compare. You simply cannot visit St. Louis without trying it, though. Pop into any Imo’s and go for the eight-inch lunch special. If you like it, you can always get more.

Go to: Imo’s Pizza

Deep-Dish Apple Pie

No single state can lay claim to all-American apple pie, but there are some great renditions in Missouri. Of the options, no one is doing it quite like The Smokehouse Market in Chesterfield, where tender, sweet apples are tucked into a golden, flaky crust speckled with cinnamon sugar. Pair it with their cinnamon ice cream for the perfect dessert.

Provel

Provel cheese is easily St. Louis’ most controversial food. The processed cheese became famous thanks to local St. Louis-style pizza chain Imo’s, and is often loved by locals and shunned by visitors. The chefs at Byrd & Barrel see it as more than just a pizza cheese, though: they make a classic bechamel, add in a mountain of provel, then use an iSi whipper to create Provel whiz! The whiz tops their signature Mother Clucker sandwich, composed of a massive fried chicken thigh, caramelized onions, red pepper jelly and Red Hot Riplets, a spicy local potato chip.

Cheese Curds

Perhaps the best part of the rapidly increasing number of creameries in Missouri is the influx of cheese curds you can find at restaurants. Taste Bar — a speakeasy-styled bar in St. Louis, renowned for its innovative cocktail program and chef-driven small plates — serves perfectly fried curds. Crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside, they are completely addictive. Give them a dip in the pimento aioli and you’ve got the perfect bar snack.

Go to: Taste

Heart Stopping BLT

Open since 1913, Crown Candy Kitchen is a St. Louis institution known for three things: candy, milkshakes and a BLT the size of a mountain (or seemingly close to it). The average sandwich has 14 slices of bacon on it — the kitchen goes through nearly 200 pounds a day. The crisped bacon strips are sandwiched between two slices of Wonder Bread, along with lettuce, tomato, and Miracle Whip. It’s a Midwestern-size version of the summertime classic.

Go to: Crown Candy Kitchen

Smashed Burger

Carl’s Drive In opened in 1951 and has been the king of the smashed burger ever since. The patties are so thin, so crispy, and so delicious, that there are lines out the door at this 16-seat restaurant every single day, rain or shine. Don’t feel bad about ordering a double or triple cheeseburger: each patty is only about one-sixth of a pound. Complete the full Carl’s experience by getting a big, frosted mug full of their housemade root beer.

Charcuterie

Some of the finest heritage hogs in the U.S. come from Missouri, leading to excellent pork across the state. Meat shop Salume Beddu takes advantage of that local bounty to create European-inspired cured meats. Their Veneto salami has the Old World flavors of cardamom, ginger and cinnamon; their spreadable ’nduja packs a punch thanks to smoky, spicy peppers. Whole muscle cures, like their buttery lonza and almost-famous culatello, are particularly excellent tributes to the quality of the pigs.

Go to: Salume Beddu

The Darkness Croissant

Considering the French origins of the name St. Louis, the city owes it to its people to have some better-than-average pastries. The Darkness Croissant at La Patisserie Chouquette is the perfect balance of butter and chocolate, good and evil. The bakery starts by making a chocolate butter — yes, that exists — then creating a labor-intensive chocolate laminated dough. The dough is filled with two dark-chocolate batons (one is never enough), then, once baked, laden with ribbons of melted dark chocolate and a sprinkling of pink Himalayan sea salt. Consider your chocolate cravings satisfied with this cacao grenade.

Bacon Fat-Fried Cornbread

There’s no way around it: pork is king in Missouri. Combine that with decades of Southern influence, and you end up with bacon fat-fried cornbread. Yes, you heard that right. Reeds American Table takes their light and fluffy cornbread and crisps it in a screaming-hot skillet full of bacon fat. From there, it’s drizzled with local honey, then finished off with a pad of a thyme butter. It’s a decadent, must-try Missouri treat.

Cinnamon Rolls

Stroud’s is known for two things: pan-fried chicken and the cinnamon rolls that come with them. These aren’t your normal cinnamon rolls, either. These are somewhere between biscuits and a dinner roll, rolled in a mix of cinnamon and sugar just as they come out of the oven, piping hot. With the sweet cinnamon topping, yeasty bread in the middle, and buttery bottom, the rolls are practically guaranteed to disappear in no time. Those in the know order a dozen to-go, knowing they’re going to want more.

Bucatini All’ Amatriciana

The Hill in St. Louis was once known as a Midwestern mecca for Italian-American food. Times have changed and the city has moved on from red and white sauce, but the Italian heritage still remains, as does a love for pasta. Pastaria’s bucatini all’amatriciana is a modern classic: house-made bucatini noodles are tossed in a sauce made with San Marzano tomatoes, red onion, some chile for heat, and subtly smoky guanciale. Grana Padano finishes it off.

Go to: Pastaria

Toasted Ravioli

Toasted ravioli — which are, in fact, fried — are exactly what they sound like: crispy, breaded ravioli. They’re typically filled with seasoned ground meat and served with marinara sauce, but not so at upscale barbcue joint Salt + Smoke. No, sir! They fill their ravioli with chopped oak-smoked burnt ends, topped with a sprinkle of garlic and herbs and served with an Alabama-style white barbecue dipping sauce. Resistance is futile.

Go to: Salt + Smoke

Ribs

What makes the ribs at Bogart’s Smokehouse so good? It’s probably their top-secret rub. Or maybe it’s the four hours they spend sitting in the cherry wood-fueled smoker. If not those, perhaps it’s the post-smoking apricot glaze that’s brushed on, then caramelized using an industrial blowtorch. Whatever it is, it’s working. The ribs are a beautiful mix of heat and sweet, pepper and sugar. Don’t even bother with a half slab: You’ll want the whole thing.

Go to: Bogart’s Smokehouse

Red Hot Riplets

Red Hot Riplets are quite possibly the greatest potato chip ever created, but they can’t be found anywhere outside of St. Louis. Think of your favorite barbecue-flavored chips, then your favorite spicy chips. Now combine them and make them even spicier. Now you’ve got Riplets. They’re made with “real St. Louis-Style Hot Sauce,” something no one in St. Louis besides their creator, Old Vienna, seems to know about. Pro move: Crush them up and throw them on popcorn or a sandwich.

Doughnuts

If you’re looking for a handmade, yeast-raised donut with all sorts of wildly inventive (and delicious) variations, look no further than Vincent Van Doughnuts. Each square, puffy donut is nearly big enough to be used as a pillow. Local favorites include the French Toast, a maple and cinnamon glaze topped with pecans and walnuts, and the Chocolate Salted Caramel, a chocolate glazed doughnut finished off with caramel, sea salt and ganache.

St. Paul Sandwich

The St. Paul sandwich, which can only be found in St. Louis and not St. Paul, Minnesota, allegedly came from local Chinese restaurants looking to appeal to their American diners back in the 1940a. The sandwich tops a fried egg foo young patty with lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayo, all sandwiched between two pieces of white bread. Mai Lee’s “Special” St. Paul has a mix of proteins in the patty for an added dimension of flavor.

Abraxas Beer

St. Louis has a long history with beer — it is the birthplace of Anheuser-Busch, after all. The last decade has seen the rise of local microbreweries, with no beer gaining more acclaim than Perennial’s Abraxas, an imperial stout brewed with ancho chiles, cacao nibs, vanilla beans, and cinnamon. Dark and chocolatey, the stout tastes almost like a Mexican mole. Ideal with chili or hearty braises, it makes for a perfect companion for cold winter nights.

Pork Steak

Pork steaks have been a St. Louis staple since the 1950’s, when a local grocery chain began selling pork shoulder, thinly sliced, to rival beef steaks. What once was commonly an overcooked, over-sauced barbecue item has reemerged as something much tastier, especially at Bolyard’s Meat & Provisions. Their inch-thick steaks are brined overnight, rubbed with blend of paprika, garlic, brown sugar and assorted other spices, then smoked over cherry wood for five hours. Bring them to your friend’s next barbecue and claim you made them.

Slinger

The Slinger is not for the weak: This breakfast mountain typically consists of hashbrowns topped with a hamburger patty that topped with eggs that are topped with chili, cheese and onions. The Mud House does things a little differently, using roasted potatoes and vegetarian black bean chili to class it up a bit, but that doesn’t make their Slinger any less delicious. Make sure to add a side of bacon to compensate for the lack of hamburger. This is the breakfast of champions. Or the hungover.

Go to: The Mud House

Trout

Local seafood is limited, to say the least, when you live in the middle of the United States. Thank goodness for local trout! One of the favorite local preparations of the fresh-water fish is in a trout salad sandwich. The chefs at Union Loafers Cafe smoke the trout over apple wood, then break it up and mix it with their housemade mayo, lemon, capers and fennel. The mix is generously spread over their freshly baked ciabatta bread, resulting in one of the best sandwiches in St. Louis.

Frozen Custard

Open in St. Louis since 1930, Ted Drewes Frozen Custard is a local institution. The frozen custard is a smooth as silk, and with the myriad of topping options, customizations are nearly limitless. The blended-up concoctions, called concretes, are so thick, they’re handed to customers upside down as proof. Ted Drewes even inspired St. Louis native and Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer to include concretes on his menu. You’re welcome, world.

Go to: Ted Drewes Frozen Custard

Hen of the Woods Mushrooms

For a few weeks every fall, Missouri is covered with wild mushrooms, with none more sought after than the Hen of the Woods. Publico’s wood-fired hearth transforms them into something even more special than they already are: they’re grilled over an open flame until slightly charred and crispy, imparting a wonderfully smoky flavor, then paired with creamy tortilla grits and a spicy red chimichurri. It’s truly a can’t-miss dish.

Campfire S'€™mores Ice Cream

If Willy Wonka had an ice cream shop, it would be Ices Plain & Fancy. Diners gawk while Chef-Owner Max Crask uses liquid nitrogen, Kitchenaid mixers and a blowtorch to make ice cream to order. Their seasonal specials (which are available in one size: gigantic) like the Campfire S’mores are impossible to resist. Ices takes toasted marshmallow ice cream and tops it with Hershey squares, hot fudge and graham crackers. To create the full campfire experience, they fill the plastic top with hickory smoke.

Fitz's Root Beer

Fitz’s Root Beer made its debut in 1947 and was an instant smash hit. The root beer, a sublime mix of cane sugar, roots, spices and barks, has a smooth, vanilla-forward smell and flavor that you won’t find in other bottles. It’s perfect for a summertime party, paired with a fresh-off-the-grill burger, but even better as a root beer float. There’s no better combo than a frosted mug of Fitz’s root beer with a sizeable scoop of vanilla ice cream plopped in.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

When your dessert comes out on a dinner plate and not only looks like a brick, but nearly weighs as much as one, you know you’ve ordered correctly. Schlafly’s sticky toffee pudding — STP for short — has been on the menu since day one. The cake, made with a hefty amount of dates, is topped with a caramel toffee sauce and served with a dollop of freshly whipped cream. Pair it with a coffee stout for the full Schlafly experience.

Vess Soda

Vess Soda celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2016, a milestone for a brand known for creating some of the most unusual sodas on the market. Sure, they have classic flavors like cola and cream soda (though theirs is pink), but it’s their unique flavors you want to try. Whistle Orange is a classic. Others include pineapple, peach, fruit punch and black cherry. Stop by any grocery store in Missouri to pick up a case or two.

Goat Cheese

Sainte Genevieve is the oldest town west of the Mississippi; it’s also home to Baetje Farms. Since they began making cheese in 2006, they have won more than 60 awards. All of their cheeses are made in an old-fashioned European style, keeping with the traditions that have been in place for thousands of years. Their fresh cheese, Coeur de la Creme, comes in a variety of flavors, but the aged Bloomsdale is their flagship. Grab some crackers and go wild.

Rabbit

Hunting and eating game has long been part of Midwestern living. The James Beard Foundation Award-nominated Sidney Street Cafe takes local rabbit and conjures new ways for it to be prepared. Rabbit and Waffles appears on the menu from time to time, with the star being fried croquettes of confit rabbit. More recently, they’ve featured a rabbit porchetta filled with rabbit merguez and braised red cabbage.