The 5-Spot, like all of its Chow Foods brethren, is perhaps best known for its rotating regional menu, which typically focuses on the cuisine of well-known locales like Italy and Jamaica; or stateside, Chicago and New Orleans.
But through mid-January, the 5-Spot is currently spotlighting the cuisine of...St. Louis, Missouri. As someone who lived there for four years (2002-2006), I can attest that the River City is somewhat underrated as a culinary destination, but the dishes it's known for are decidedly lowbrow--and all but one notable currently appears on the 5-Spot's menu.Saint Louis is a big Catholic town, so much so that otherwise liberal Democrats tend to be pro-lifers. Hence, church-hosted Lenten fish fries abound; and lo and behold, there's a "St. Ferdinand Fish Fry" on the 5-Spot's St. Lou menu. Also present is toasted ravioli, sort of a misnomer because the ravioli isn't actually toasted--it's fried. And my personal favorite: The Soulard Slinger.
I lived in Soulard, one of America's great drinking neighborhoods, which sits in the shadow of the enormous and gothic Anheuser-Busch brewery and hosts one of the nation's largest Mardi Gras celebrations. There's literally a bar on about every corner, and the slinger--a heart-racing mash-up of hashbrowns, eggs, chili, and hamburger--is one of America's great late-night/morning-after cures for partaking in the nectar that Soulard has to offer.
"It has all of the elements in it," says the 5-Spot's assistant manager, Jen Gleer, who was born and raised on St. Louis' south side. "You get your protein, your carbs, and your fat. And we can call the beans in the chili a vegetable. That's actually one of the top sellers off our St. Louis menu. It's unfortunate that we don't serve it at two in the morning."
Amazingly, general manager Rich Gantner also hails from St. Louis (the suburb of Florissant, to be exact). It was Gantner's idea to celebrate his hometown cuisine atop Queen Anne, but he made the curious decision to leave perhaps the Lou's most polarizing delicacy off the menu, that delicacy being Provel cheese.
"We looked at bringing it in, but I don't know that it would be received up here in the Seattle market," explains Gantner. "It's essentially processed cheese, and we try to keep things wholesome and natural."
As Gantner lets on, Provel isn't really cheese--it's a processed "food stuff" that's supposed to taste like a hybrid of swiss, provolone, and cheddar. But to me, Provel resembles a cross between Tang, Cheez Whiz, and freshly-excreted diarrhea. And unfortunately for pizza purists who don't hail from the Lou but happen to live there, it's the preferred topping for many St. Louis pie pushers, including the venerable Imo's chain.
Yet Provel has its defenders. My cousin-in-law, Bob Dillon, who lives in Seattle, refuses to return to his native Lou unless his mother promises that the first thing to enter his mouth will be a square slice of Imo's. And Gantner's right there with him. "Without question, if you go to St. Louis, you have to have Imo's," he says.
To each his own.