Thursday, September 29, 2011

Saint Louis versus Chicago #1: Pizza

While on a recent trip to Chicago, and stopping off at a Chicago style pizza place, Giordano's, they had a new item on their menu.  They called it Chicago thin crust style pizza and claimed to be famous for that as well.  They described it as being a thin, cracker like crust, that was generally cut into squares or a pattern called "party cut".

Well, there is an issue with that above statement.  The issue is that I thought that Saint Louis invented the cracker thin crust pizza that was cut into squares called "party cut".  So, Chicago, let's take a look at what the internet can find for us.

I think if we look at where pizzas originated, it would take forever but the pizza that we are familiar with didn't come about, even in Italy, until after 1540 or so.  Tomatoes are native to the Americas and so it could not have gotten to Europe until the Spanish or another country brought it there.  The Italians, Greeks and other cultures had flat bread foods with different toppings, but the tomato or tomato sauce could not have shown up until after the 1500's.  This is the pizza that is important to us and in this search.

The best example of what I can call thin-crust pizza was invented in a restaurant called Aurelio's Pizza in 1959, in Chicago.  It was a thin, cracker-like crust, and had cheese and toppings go all the way to the edges and was cut into squares instead of the normal triangular cuts.

While I still can't find any evidence of the first thin-crust pizza in st. louis or when it was first made, I do know that it has a signature ingredient which was invented solely for the use on st. louis thin crust style pizza.  That ingredient is called Provel.  Provel cheese is a mixture of Chedder, Swiss and Provolone and was trademarked in 1947.  Since it was trademarked in 1947, almost 12 years before the first instance of thin-crust pizza showed up in Chicago, it could be said that St. Louis had the thin crust pizza first.

Some of the pizza chains still around in Saint Louis are Cecil Whittaker's (which was founded in 1983), Imo's (which opened in 1964), Faracis's (which opened in 1968) and Rigazzi's (which opened in 1957).  If restaurants are serving Saint Louis style or thin crust pizza, at least 2 years before Chicago claims to have invented it, then I do believe, that Saint Louis wins this one.

So, Chicago, when you list your thin crust pizza, that has a cracker-like crust, and is cut into squares, please list it as being Saint Louis style.  Thank you.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Monster Disaster

Not too long ago, I did a fun review contest of some energy drinks, or at least those which did not use High Fructose Corn Syrup as their main form of concentrated energy.  I tend to like or grew accustomed to the flavoring selection of the Monster brand energy drinks.  Soon I was drinking them every day.  A 24 pack from Costco, set me back $28 and I was happy as a clam.  I use energy drinks as the pick me up as I don't drink coffee.

So, everything was going fine at work.  I bought a 4 pack of regular Monster drinks and then was enjoying one of them one morning at work.  As I was finishing a can around 10am, I felt something solid hot my lips.  I went from okay, normal dull day at work, to "oh my god what was that?"  I took the can and what drink was left inside to our kitchen at work and poured it into a glass and noticed a brown circular object at the bottom of my glass.  I was shocked as it was brown, wrinkly and looked like something that I did NOT want in my drink or near me at all.  I poured it into the sink and with a carefully placed butter knife, I sliced the object in two to discover that it was nothing more than a raisin.

I was curious and sent an email to Monster asking if raisins are used in the manufacturing process at all.  Now, I wasn't trying to find the secret recipe but try to figure out if raisins went in Monster somewhere or if it was because some random worker on the line dropped it into a can.  After some back and forth emails, Monster sent me some coupons for some free Monster drinks.

Now, I'm not going to get any more Monster drinks, so why did they bother to send me these?  I compare this whole experience to one that you are enjoying a box of cracker-like snacks only to discover that they are made of dead people: and called Soylent Green.  You are disgusted and you don't want any more of those things and want to keep them away from you as far as you can.  Then you know what happens?  The manufacturer gives you a free box of Soylent Green.  You know that it is made from people, and you expressed your dislike for wanting to consume any more, so why do they give you some more?  Some people would take it, I would not.  Thanks Monster, but I take back all of the nice things I have said about you or your drinks. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The loss of good food places in Union Station....

I thought of writing this while looking at Chris's blog and photos of Union Station:

When I was young, during the 1980's, I remember that Union Station was the place to be.  A few years after they had closed St. Louis Centre, people started to flock to Union Station for the hotel and for the large number of shops and restaurants.  When it was renovated around 1985, it had over 40 shops and restaurants: including the famous O.T. Hodges Chili Parlor.  It was a yearly ritual for our family as my younger brother or myself would almost always pick to celebrate our birthday at Hodges, in Union Station.

I remember that we would always go to Union Station when it was cold outside and we would go straight to the chili parlor and eat. When we were finished with dinner, we would walk around and visit the shops and then stand and watch the show at the Fudgery, before heading out to the parking lot and then to home.  The Fudgery, was closed last time I was there, around April of this year.  It was a great spot where a group of workers would sing, dance and even shout out some rhymes all about chocolate, while mixing, tempering and making fudge.  If you were one of the hundreds of people that would stand by their open air and open access tempering station, you would get a free sample of the delicious and melt-in-your-mouth fudge.

The Chili Parlor was in the corner, on the second floor, by the food court.  I remember that they had a small diner set-up including a silver and red bar with bar stools and booths.  I remember it being really cool because they were one of the first restaurants, I remembered, which still sold soda in the glass bottles.  Now, O.T. Hodge started to sell his chili at a booth at the 1904 World's Fair.  By 1930 there were 17 locations between the river and Jefferson Avenue.  It then split into two companies: one that is the restaurants and one that makes the chili for those restaurants.  Today, although both arms of the company are still around, I don't believe there to be a single restaurant in the whole of the Saint Louis area. (

The Fudgery company was invented in 1980 and was nicknamed "fudge theatre".  When A.C. Marshall made fudge using the traditional copper pots and marble slabs, he would whistle, sing and even dance while he worked, all in a shop with no walls.  This allowed people to view the whole process, from start to finish and even ask questions of the workers.  The Fudgery still is located downtown in the Union Station, as their website suggests, and it may have only been closed for repairs when I went in April.

There was also a small McDonalds, a Hooters, a Greek place, a few Chinese fast-food locations, a deli and a bunch of other fast food and food court worthy retailers.  I remember a bunch of stores like a Discovery store which had nature items.  It was like an Eddie Bauer and a Brookstone had a baby store together.  I remember a store which sold puppets and stuffed animals, including some fake mounted animals, like pandas, which had a front and rear end of this stuffed panda.  I also remember seeing one of those old school KB Toys, back when seeing a 16 foot long stuffed snake was always for sale, giant and usable crayons were for sale and the ideas that filled a young child's imagination about using and playing with those toys would fill the largest ravine when written down.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

As tasty as Ireland...

Ireland is green.  I know, because I have been there. The land is perfectly green and the food is filled with robust flavors.  The weather is sometimes rainy but most of the time nice and sunny.  I miss certain aspects of the country like the feeling of a hearty soup or stew with it being cool and rainy outside, or the alcohol content of a freshly poured Guinness.  As fall starts, I think about things like this and wonder what I can do.

I made a very good vegetable and barley soup. It was really simple.  You chop up some beef off of the bone and then place the bones and some chopped onions in a pot with water and make your own lamb broth.  Then you remove the bones and fat and other stock stuff and get just the broth.  Then fill it with the rest of the good chopped lamb, some chopped onions, leeks, celery, turnips and carrots as well as 1/4th cup of barley.  You let it come to a boil and then simmer for an hour or so.  What do you get?

The original recipe called for using beef bones and making your own beef stock and while that would have moved the flavor to a strong and robust one instead of the soft and delicate lamb flavor, I think it fits in better. I do have to say that the only change I made was adding a bay leaf in as it was finishing.  Very tasty and if you are looking for something like this, a bit more authentic barley soup recipe, let me know and I'll post or email the recipe.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Arugula spaghetti: molecular cuisine number 2

I was bored on Sunday so this is the next recipe from the Molecular Cuisine set I purchased on  The idea for arugula spaghetti is a simple one:

You start by placing 2 cups of arugula and some water in a blender to make an arugula shake.  Yummy.
Then you boil that mixture with some agar-agar for a few minutes and then you have the start of what you need.  The agar-agar, activates when it comes to a boil, just like corn starch, and will start to gel and thicken once it starts to cool down.  So, you take your tubing and your giant syringe and start going to work.
You fill the syringe with some of the hot mixture, then attach the tubing onto the syringe and then squeeze out into the tubes.  When they are filled, you carefully place them into a bowl of cold water, to 'cook'.
You have them 'cook' for about 3 minutes and then you take them out of the water.  I took a smaller syringe, not included, and stuck it right in one side of the tubing to push air through and push out the spaghetti into a white bowl.
I was a bit shocked on how easily it worked, or I just have a knack for these things.  The spaghetti tasted like raw arugula and while not a huge fan of the green, the procedure lends itself to other applications and use of other ingredients.  What about a citrus spaghetti or perhaps some fruit juice noodles?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Happy Birthday to Catherine Neville

Catherine Neville is the editor of Feast magazine, which is that cool new foodie magazine in Saint Louis.  It is also her birthday today.  So, let's see what I have that looks birthday worthy...

 What about a meal starting with some oven roasted chicken.  It was marinated in some Lebanese extra virgin olive oil, garlic, salt, rosemary and lemon juice.

Your vegetable comes in a different texture and form that you may be used to:

Here we have some arugula spaghetti.  This was made with some agar-agar, some plastic tubing and a giant syringe.

Finally for dessert, we have a home made chocolate chip cookie and some ice creams.

I admit that it isn't a perfect picture, but that is a milk chocolate chip cookie in the center with a scoop of bubble gum ice cream on the left and a scoop of coffee ice cream on the right.

Happy birthday Catherine!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Road trip to Chicago

Yes, it was a bit since the last blog, but a nice trip to Chicago ran Tuesday's post aground.  We started on Friday afternoon and drove our way all the way there, and it took about 5 hours on Friday.  We drove our way in and ate at what is supposed to be the best of Chicago style pizza pie.  It is also interesting to note that Chicago now serves thin crust pizza.  They still call it Chicago style, even thought it is really St. Louis style. 
It was about 9pm, we got a seat for the seven of us and we ordered.  It took about 45 minutes for our 35 minute order to come to us, which seemed to be entirely our server's fault, considering that the first pizza was pretty warm and not hot at all.

We ordered a Tropical Pizza, which is basically a Hawaiian Pizza and we ordered a veggie one.  I only had time to try the Tropical one and this is why:  I normally do like to eat a lot of food, but my body is not used nor does it like to eat food after 9pm.  I'm one of those old fashioned St. Louis natives where 6pm was dinner time and sometimes it went to 7pm, but that was it.  My wife and I normally have our dinner over by 8 and we are getting the kids to bed by 9 so we are not used to dinners after 9pm.  So, anyways, the pizza came and it was huge.
So, you have a giant pizza that is about 2 inches thick.  How thick was that?  Take a look...
So, what we have here, is a thick slice of pie, that has some pineapple and Canadian bacon on it and lots of cheese.  The crust was actually tasting more like a biscuit dough and didn't have that pizza crush flavor at all.  Call me anything you want, but I wasn't crazy about it.

Later on in the trip, besides many trips to the Hellish Golden Arches, we ate at the fantastic Weber Grill.  We saw the restaurant featured on foot network and we had to go and see for ourselves.  This is what I saw:
The cook's line had your basic setup of fries, oven and steamers for certain things and then had about 5 of these giant grills.  I watched the cook as he would check the computer screen for the next order, make a burger or two and then lift the lid and place it on the grill and close the lid quickly.  The fans over the line were always on, making it a very loud cook's line.  The rest all gathered their foods from a side of the line that was also open to the customers and one stood to expidite orders. 

So, in a grill restaurant what did I pick?  Burgers are the norm so I picked something strange to cook on a grill: meatloaf.
I have no idea how they cooked meatloaf, over a hot grill with flames and left it as juicy and moist as it was.  It was awesome as well.  I gave it a 5 out of 5 as it tasted like your best home made meatloaf but had the wonderful charred flavoring and was just perfect.

So, my thought is that if you are looking to get impressed and have time to enjoy yourself: go to the Weber Grill.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Better than chicken soup

What could be better than a giant bowl of hot chicken soup?  What about a giant bowl of hot garlic soup.  I found the recipe in an Irish cookbook. 

You will need:
12 large garlic cloves, peeled
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced or chopped
2 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp white vinegar
4 cups of chicken stock
2 egg yolks, beaten
bread croutons
4 cups of water

1. First you crush the garlic and cook it in the pan with the olive oil for about 20 minutes. 
2. Add the flour to make a roux and cook a bit more till there is no more liquid.  Then stir in the vinegar, stock and 4 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes.
3. When ready to serve or finished, whisk the beaten egg yolks quickly into the soup and do not allow the soup to come to a boil.  When you are finished, serve with the croutons.

This soup has very little calories per serving (less than 55) and doesn't have as strong of a garlic flavor that you would expect.  It is a great soup that one should prepare for the upcoming winter.