Gut Check: Ian dishes out tips to visitors on St. Louis food traditions

A postscript to my open letter to those visiting St. Louis for the Major League Baseball All-Star Game:

So I told you where I think you should eat while you're here. However, I have lived here for only six years, and my palate hasn't entirely adapted to the native cuisine. In other words, if you ask a lifelong St. Louisan what you should eat here, you might hear an answer very different from my own. Thus, from one outsider to another, I offer a cheat sheet on some of the local traditions:

Provel is a processed cheese made from Swiss, provolone and cheddar cheeses. Sounds harmless, no? Sadly, it is considerably less than the sum of its parts. In its solid form, as you will sometimes encounter it on sandwiches or salads, it is innocuous enough, with a flavor (if you can imagine this) like a blander American cheese.

However, you are most likely to experience Provel melted atop St. Louis-style pizza. This is served on a very thin crust and cut into squares instead of wedges, but it's the Provel that sets it apart. Melted, Provel takes on a consistency like Alfredo sauce. It's difficult to explain how, um, unique this texture is unless you yourself have tried it. Do so at your own risk.

Pizza aside, St. Louis has a proud tradition of Italian restaurants, most of which fall into the classic red-sauce/white-sauce template. One dish especially beloved here is toasted ravioli (or T-ravs). These are fairly self-explanatory: ravioli stuffed with meat (usually), breaded and toasted or deep fried. They are served as an appetizer, with marinara sauce for dipping.

As I mentioned in this week's review, St. Louis doesn't have its own barbecue tradition. However, local grillers love one cut more than any other: the pork steak. The pork steak is cut from the shoulder blade. In my experience, you are more likely to encounter this at a backyard barbecue than at a restaurant, though some of the older barbecue joints around town proudly serve them.

Like any good meal, a guide to St. Louis foods must end with dessert: frozen custard. The frozen custard mecca is Ted Drewes (6726 Chippewa Avenue and 4224 South Grand Boulevard), where clerks show off how thick the aptly named concretes are by turning them upside-down before handing them to you.

Are you opening a new restaurant? Know of a place that has closed? Something else for Ian to chew on? E-mail [email protected]. And check out this column's virtual doppelganger here.