Dear St. Louis,
We beat you in football. We beat you in baseball. I don’t know if we’ll beat you in hockey; it’s been 49 long years since the Bruins and the Blues last faced off for the Stanley Cup. But there is one thing I am sure of this 2019 season: We definitely beat you in food.
Let us start with the low-hanging fruit, and by fruit I mean pizza.
It’s hard to define Boston-style pizza, because there are so many excellent examples. There are classic places like Regina in the North End and Santarpio’s in East Boston, both serving pretty perfect pies for decades. Galleria Umberto was the recipient of a 2018 James Beard “America’s Classics” award for its Sicilian-style rectangles. Wood-fired ovens have colonized the city like spores, with dozens of places vying for the best charred crust, the most authentically Neapolitan pie. Then there is the bar pizza of the nearby South Shore, its own distinct genre. But unless otherwise specified, pizza here consists of leavened dough topped with tomato sauce and melted mozzarella cheese, then sliced into triangles.
When people say “St. Louis-style pizza,” on the other hand, it is instantly clear what they mean, so points for that. It has a yeast-free, cracker-thin crust. The “cheese” in question is a processed type called Provel, which sounds like a medication for treating male-pattern baldness but is actually a blend of cheddar, Swiss, and provolone. It gets gooey when it melts, but it doesn’t stretch. People from St. Louis love it, crave it. For people from everywhere else, it’s a little like biting into a vinyl shower curtain. It’s not so much an acquired taste as an inherited one.
What kind of twisted mind would look at a round pizza and think: “I’m going to cut this into squares”? A twisted mind from St. Louis. Brownies in a square pan get cut in a crosshatched pattern. Chocolate cake in a round pan does not. When we go out for pizza in Boston, we go out for a slice. That is as it should be. “Hey, wanna go grab a square?,” said no one ever.
St. Louis, I’d hate to see what you’d do to other Italian specialties, like ravioli.
Oh, dear God, you deep-fry them. The legend is that, decades ago, a cook at a local restaurant accidentally dropped some ravioli in the fryer. Like any good cook would, he served them anyway. The so-called toasted ravioli — affectionately known as T-ravs — were a hit.
Please come visit for some of our famous toasted clams. At North Shore spots like the Clam Box in Ipswich and J.T. Farnham’s in Essex, the juicy, battered whole-bellies will make you forget your glorified bar snack. One crunch releases the kiss of the sea. Just remember: Our accents are wicked crazy, and we pronounce “toasted” as “fried.” Bahstonians!
If it’s ravioli you want, we boil them — and sometimes they’re even filled with lobster. Score!
Lobster is big in these parts. That’s because Massachusetts lobster is the best. (Shh, Maine.) Nobody eats clam chowder much besides the tourists, but locals do love a lobster roll. Snag a spot at the crowded Neptune Oyster and it’s easy to understand why. The roll here can be ordered hot with melted butter or cold with mayo. Either way, it is piled high with sweet lobster meat, a masterpiece. There are also great versions at Belle Isle Seafood, B&G Oysters, James Hook & Co., Alive & Kicking (more of a lobster sandwich, really), and many more.
If we’ve got the advantage on seafood, you dominate when it comes to barbecue. St. Louis’s scene has flourished over the last decade, with places like Pappy’s Smokehouse, Sugarfire, and Salt + Smoke (burnt end T-ravs!) leading the way. Before that, St. Louis barbecue mostly referred to grilled meat slathered in sauce. And that meat was often pork steak, sliced from the shoulder — a.k.a. Boston butt. Does that count for something?
We’ve got salted caramel ice cream from Toscanini’s, you’ve got frozen custard from Ted Drewes. We’ve got frappes, you’ve got concretes. Nobody’s crying.
Things get a little hinky with baked goods. I’m referring here to your gooey butter cake, which is as it sounds: a cake-y layer topped with a gooey layer (yeah, it’s cut into squares), very, very buttery and very, very sweet. It’s no wonder Paula Deen tried to lay claim to it, calling it ooey gooey butter cake, like that would fool anyone. In truth, its invention was a mistake: In the 1930s, according to lore, a baker was trying to make a regular cake but mixed up the measurements of butter and flour. Many of your regional specialties seem to be created by accident, St. Louis. Maybe that means something?
Yeah yeah, Boston cream pie isn’t even a pie. It’s a cake, and not that widely available. Many of our “things” aren’t really things. Boston baked beans? You could go years without spotting them on a menu. Clambakes, Yankee pot roast, broiled schrod — when Durgin-Park closed, it took half our dishes out with it. Whereas you, St. Louis, stand by your signature foods. There’s a lot to celebrate there. (Not that TD Garden concessions are doing so with their Stanley Cup specials — things like doughnut burgers and mac ’n’ cheese waffle bowls filled with pulled pork. Where are the lobster T-ravs?)
So credit where credit is due. But, St. Louis, we saw your true colors back in March, when one Alek Krautmann, a program coordination officer at NOAA, tweeted: “Today I introduced my coworkers to the St Louis secret of ordering bagels bread sliced. It was a hit!” His photo showed two boxes of bagels from Panera (née the St. Louis Bread Company), each cut vertically into multiple thin slices, like loaves of bread. And with this perversion, we were reminded just how mockable St. Louis-style food truly is. People began posting their own pictures: of St. Louis-style Kit Kats (with a bite taken across the segments), St. Louis-style PB&Js (condiments spread on the outside of the bread), St. Louis-style hot dogs (frank inserted through the middle of the bun).
Your cutting skills lack the most basic grasp of geometry and your culinary triumphs are born from mistakes, but you sure know your way around the ice. So best of luck in the Stanley Cup Final. Now get out there and play some St. Louis-style hockey!
Devra First can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.