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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Is St. Louis in your travel plans? If so, read this!

Please welcome my Potluck with Judy guest, Holly Gilliatt. A self-confessed music, movie and accessories junkie, Holly's passion has always been writing. Give her an algebra quiz and she'll curl up in the fetal position. But throw a test requiring all essay answers her way and she's in heaven. Between the day job, husband, three kids, two dogs and cat—it’s not easy to find time to write. So she sacrifices the laundry pile to spin her tales of laughter, friendship and love. She's proud to call the St. Louis area her home.

I’m especially proud to welcome Holly because I have edited both her books in print, Til St. Patrick’s Day and Love in Sight, as well as the forthcoming Dreams, Interrupted. Holly nails it for the generation of thirty-to forty year olds, from music to attitude. She’s an incurable romantic, and sometimes I try to rein her in, but not too much. Her enthusiastic attitude toward love and life is infectious. Read her books for a good, warm feeling.

Tonight she introduces us to some foods unique to her beloved home town of St. Louis. I think I’d like to try Provel cheese…but I’m not sure.

Judy—thank you so much for having me on your blog! Anyone that knows me knows that food is near and dear to me. If my boss at the day job wants to guarantee my participation in a meeting, all it takes is the mere mention of free food. I’m there.

So in my writing, it’s no surprise that many scenes revolve around cooking or dinners out or other meals. Eating is something that we all do, something that we all have in common. But one thing that’s so great about food is that different cultures, different parts of the world, or even different regions or towns in our country have such diverse culinary delights.

I live in St. Louis, Missouri and my hometown certainly has its share of dishes or cooking styles unique to this river town. You may be familiar with some of them like St. Louis-style bar-b-q, St. Louis-style pizza and we’re even credited with creating cotton candy—thanks to the 1904 World’s Fair. But there are also some food items originating from the Gateway city that you may not be familiar with, even though anyone hailing from St. Louis has certainly tasted them.

The first one that comes to mind is toasted ravioli. Ever heard of it? This delicious deep fried
St. Louis staple was once exclusive to the Midwest, but has made its way across the country (though I don’t think it’s very common elsewhere).

It’s widely accepted that toasted ravioli originated in St. Louis, but there are disputes as to who actually created it. Apparently it was by accident, when a ravioli was inadvertently dropped into a deep fryer sometime in the 1940s. Who knew it would start a St. Louis food sensation? It’s been delighting palates in this city ever since. You’d be hard pressed to find a buffet of appetizers in this town without crispy ravioli sprinkled with parmesan cheese with a side of marinara sauce. Whether they’re made fresh or you buy them frozen at the local grocery store to heat up at home, they make a great main dish when paired with a crisp salad topped with Italian dressing.

Another unique-to-St. Louis concoction is Gooey Butter Cake. Like toasted ravioli, it is believed to have been created by mistake, during the Great Depression. Since money was tight, it was decided that the flawed batter be baked instead of thrown away. Thus St. Louis’ love affair with Gooey Butter Cake was born. It’s not a typical type of cake; it’s more of a coffee cake since it is fairly flat and dense, usually only about an inch tall. It’s made with flour, butter, sugar and eggs, and covered on top with copious amounts of powdered sugar. Some versions add cream cheese, you know, to make it healthier. Like a brownie, it’s served cut into square pieces but not too big—it’s very rich and sweet. And don’t even think about looking at the fat or calorie content.

Here in St. Louis it’s common to see Gooey Butter Cake on the dessert table of potluck dinners or at a brunch, and I’m pretty sure on any given day you can walk into a local grocery chain in town and they’ll have several fresh and packaged up, ready for sale. In the last ten years or so, this sweet delight has worked its way into other parts of the country. But make no mistake…it started here where we like our food decadent and full of flavor. Here’s a link to a recipe you really ought to try:

I’m sure there are many other food stuffs indigenous to this town, but the last one I’ll talk about is Provel Cheese. I’m used to Provel cheese, but unlike toasted ravioli and gooey butter cake, I can’t say that you’ll love it. In fact, many people—St. Louisans included—differ on whether or not they like Provel cheese. It may be an acquired taste.

The most famous use of Provel cheese is on St. Louis style pizza, popularized by the Imo’s Pizza chain. Everyone here knows their pizza, and most locals like it, but again—not all. Provel cheese has a distinct flavor and is known for sticking to your teeth. Cheese that could double as glue isn’t everyone’s idea of tasty. One of our famous exports, Jon Hamm (television and movie actor best known for portraying Don Draper on Mad Men), had to defend Imo’s Pizza to Jimmy Kimmel during an interview last year. It’s pretty comical, and he stays true to his hometown. You can see a clip here. They start talking Imo’s at 1:46 into the interview.

This controversial cheese is a unique combination of Swiss, cheddar and provolone cheese. Its low melting point makes it a very gooey cheese, even just at room temperature before it is melted. It is often used in pasta dishes, on cheese garlic bread, salads and of course pizza. Like toasted ravioli, it is generally believed to have been created in The Hill neighborhood—St. Louis’ section of town that was settled by Italian immigrants and still boasts Italian bakeries, stores and restaurants on nearly every street. It’s also responsible for raising baseball greats Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola.

I don’t believe Provel cheese has migrated past St. Louis…I think this is one delicacy that most people are fine with St. Louis keeping to itself.

I hope you enjoyed this culinary trip through my hometown. Does it make you think of some dishes or treats unique to where you live?

If you’d like to connect with Holly (she loves hearing from her readers!) or just find out more about her books, you can find her here:

 Her latest release is a women’s fiction e-book boxed set—a great collection of 4 full-length novels for less than a dollar! Or if you like your books made of paper, she has two novels available in paperback with another due out in July. Here’s info on the boxed set:

Buy it for only $.99 for a limited time:



  1. Hi Holly (and Judy), I'm a transplanted Missourian, so your post brought back fond memories for me. Thanks!

  2. I'm already a toasted ravioli fan, but I do believe I need some gooey butter cake. You had me at gooey. (Do you think that might have been the first draft of "You had me at hello"?)