Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours in St Louis: The Hill edition. I first heard thought of spending 24 hours in St Louis, Missouri in the musical classic Meet Me in St Louis. As a child, I thrilled to each classic song, from The Trolley Song to Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Then of course came the moment when the entire family freaks out that they are supposed to move to New York City.
As a New Yorker, I did not understand this at all! New York City is the greatest city in the world, and St Louis just looked like a 1940s movie set. Of course, now that I’ve been there, I know that St Louis has its own charms. Spend 24 hours in St Louis with me, and I guarantee you will be my tootsie-wootsie by the end.
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in St. Louis. If you have another 24 hours in St. Louis, try this itinerary!
24 Hours in St Louis: The Hill
Where to Stay?
St Louis is an incredibly spread-out city, so no matter where you stay, you’ll need a car or a rideshare to get around to places like the Delmar Loop. But it’s still nice to stay in Downtown St Louis where you will be within walking distance of the famous Gateway Arch.
I really enjoyed my 24 hours in St Louis at the Missouri Athletic Club. It had a charming old-school vibe, comfortable rooms, and a friendly staff. Plus staying at an athletic club made me feel like Phileas Fogg from Around the World in 80 Days, which is very appropriate considering he helped inspire my blog. Breakfast is not included, but there’s free coffee in the room. And considering how many food tours we are taking in St Louis, you won’t want breakfast anyway.
24 Hours in St Louis: The Hill
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
If the weather is rainy or snowy, which happens quite often in NYC, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them out without feeling like some gauche tourist with gross feet.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
24 Hours in St Louis: The Hill
Morning: Taste of the Hill Food Tour
Because of the influx of Italian immigrants into the United States in the early 20th century, thanks to various causes like war, famine, and that meanie who kills young Don Corleone’s parents in The Godfather II, many American cities have an Italian neighborhood. In New York City, we call it Little Italy. In Boston, they call it the North End. But in St Louis, it is simply called The Hill.
And what better way to experience an Italian neighborhood than on a food tour? Fortunately for our 24 hours in St Louis, Eat Saint Louis has a food tour that runs through The Hill on weekends. I almost never call my guides by their real name, so I’ll just dub him Leon, after the actor who played the dad in Meet Me in Saint Louis. Leon can share with us…
approximately top 5: st louis italian food
1) St Louis Pizza
Before coming to St Louis, I thought I knew all the pizzas. I’ve had New York pizza, California Pizza Kitchen, and Chicago pizza soup. But I had no idea that there was any such thing as St Louis style pizza. I always love making doughy new friends, so I was excited to experience these wonders. We sampled our St Louis pizza pie at Guido’s on the Hill.
Guido’s was founded by a Spanish immigrant named Segundo Carretero. He and his family still run the restaurant, serving Spanish and Italian cuisine to the locals. Just in case you don’t believe that they are a real family, the restaurant is coated in adorable black and white photos.
There! Now you have proof this is an authentic family run restaurant. Don’t you feel guilty for doubting them, Internet Stranger?
But enough about family. On to the important stuff: pizza! There are three things that set St Louis pizza apart. The first is that it’s served on a cracker crust so it breaks apart in your mouth. No floppy NYC slices here! Then it is cut “party” style, which I gather means that you cut it up in little pieces so the maximum number of people can have a taste. How considerate! I hope Saint Louis invites me to all their parties.
The last, and most important part of St Louis pizza is that you make it with Provel cheese. Provel is a mixture of cheddar, Swiss, and provolone cheese. I have literally never seen it outside the St Louis city limits. I believe there may be a magic spell on St Louis preventing Provel from leaving the city. Of course Provel is quite processed, but it is smooth and very easy to eat, like a baby.
2) Italian Stallion Sandwich
Now we go from an adorable Spanish immigrant family to an adorable Italian immigrant family. J Viviano & Sons is a food store, specializing in Italian comestibles of course. It started in the 1920s as a grocery store, but it wasn’t very popular. So they got people to move their business here by offering free bleach to customers. Times sure have changed since the 1920s. If someone offered me free bleach, I’d assume they were a murderer trying to remove blood stains.
Our snack here was an Italian Stallion sandwich, made with beef, olive salad, lots of mumbling, and muffuletta bread. (Muffuletta bread is a flat loaf sprinkled with sesame seeds. It’s very popular in New Orleans, so I was surprised to find it in St Louis.) Of course, it’s not a St Louis sandwich without Provel cheese.
I have another theory about Provel. Maybe there’s no such thing as Provel, but the Men in Black have hypnotized everyone in the city into thinking it’s real. OR MAYBE PROVEL IS REALLY SOYLENT GREEN????
3) Pasta Puttanesca
We went a little classy next with some whore’s pasta at Anthonino’s Taverna. (Pasta Puttanesca literally means prostitute’s pasta in Italian.) No one is 100 percent sure why it got this name. Many think it’s because the pasta sauce is easy to make and most prostitutes…apparently don’t have much time to spend cooking.
That’s not really a stereotype I have ever heard about prostitutes. However, it makes more sense as an explanation than the idea that this pasta sauce accepts money for sexual favors. That seems like it would be a really difficult thing for a pasta sauce to do.
4) Mama Toscano’s Ravioli
Ah, now we get to the piece de la resistance, which may be the first time anyone has ever used French to describe fried balls of pasta dough filled with meat. This is the St. Louis special, the toasted ravioli. Leon said that legend has it the toasted ravioli was created by a drunk chef who put the ravioli in boiling oil instead of water. Anything is better if you put it in boiling oil, except a baby. Now they bread the exterior before frying it. If there’s anything pasta needed, it was definitely more carbs, say I!
No one agrees exactly on which Italian restaurant invented the toasted ravioli. But everyone agrees that it wasn’t invented at Mama Toscano’s, where we got our T-rav. I don’t care if Mama Toscano’s wasn’t the first because our guide insisted that it was the best. The ravioli was surprisingly light and fluffy considering that it had been breaded and deep-fried in a pot of boiling oil. Our servings were just tastings of three, but I think I could have put away a baker’s dozen of these suckers.
5) Amighetti’s Bakery and Cafe
Amighetti’s dates back to the 1920s, when so many Italian immigrants were settling on the Hill. It is most famous for their Amighetti Special Sandwich, but I guess this tour is for real connoisseurs who don’t want to settle for the “best sandwich is Saint Louis”. So we had cute little cannoli instead.
Cannoli purists will scoff at the fact that the cannoli is rolled in powdered sugar and tipped with chocolate sprinkles and candied cherries. I say purist is just another word for puritan, and puritans are people with funny hats who get mad if anyone is having fun! Enjoy life and the weirdly delicious cannolis you meet along the way!
6) Gelato Di Riso
Our final stop was at Gelato di Riso. Given that we got cannoli at the sandwich place, I was expecting to get sandwiches here, but no. Happily only gelato was on offer. Leon told us that gelato has less air than American ice cream, which makes it richer. Also the gelato is made with milk, so it’s not as heavy. More flavor and fewer calories? Is there anything Italians can’t do with food?
It’s one of my many missions in life to always try a flavor I’ve never heard of before. So when I saw salted peanut on the menu, I knew it had to be mine. Nothing salts my peanuts more than the combination of sweet and salty. I appreciate that the tour let us pick our own flavor. That way I got to freak out on salted peanut and Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Boring got to have their vanilla.
I was already stuffed and the 24 hours in St Louis weren’t even half done. But I know the perfect place to walk off the calories…
24 Hours in St Louis: The Hill
Afternoon: Missouri Botanical Garden
“Oh to be in St Louis, now that April’s there,” is probably not something that anyone has ever said. And yet perhaps they should start saying it. For April in St Louis is when the azaleas and tulips bloom in the Missouri Botanical Garden. If you only have 24 hours in St Louis, I strongly recommending having those hours in April. Interested in going deeper into botanicals than merely hearing that tulips bloom in spring? Allow me to share:
three fun facts: missouri botanical garden
1) Climb on the Climatron
The Climatron 2000 is the first geodesic dome that has ever been used as a conservatory. I’m sure this makes me naive, but what else have people been using geodesic domes for? They don’t seem like they’d make good doghouses, and they’re too big to be a golf ball. Anyway, the climate inside the geodesic dome is perfect for creating a fake rainforest for real children to play in.
I was super impressed with the climate inside the Climatron because apparently it allows you to grow flowers out of glass.
2) Japanese Garden
The Japanese garden was the brain/flower child of Koichi Kawana. He was a Japanese professor in California who wanted to create an authentic reproduction of 17th and 18th century Japanese gardens. Human beings are so delightful! What other species would come up with the concept of authentic reproduction?
One thing I learned about Japanese gardens here is that they often have bridges to aid in contemplation. After all, a bridge is the perfect vantage point from which to gaze upon koi fish.
My hometown of New York City could stand to use some of the principles in Japanese gardens. I bet if we spent more time standing on bridges and staring at koi fish, you’d have fewer people screaming obscenities at each other on the subway every morning.
3) Silken Pincushion
Every time I visit a botanical garden, I like to make one new plant friend. On this trip, it was the silken pincushion cactus. I like how this cactus looks like it’s covered in a crown of little flowers. Or possibly they are pink googly eyes. In any case, I think the name is a misnomer. They said it was silken, but when I jammed my hand on top of this baby, it did not feel anything like silk. 🙁
24 Hours in St Louis: The Hill
Evening: Dinner at Sidney Street Cafe
Sidney Street Cafe sounds like an adorable neighborhood hangout spot. Perhaps you could find a beatnik here reciting spoken-word poetry whilst strumming on a bongo and wearing a beret.
But don’t let the name fool you. The chef, Kevin Nashan, is a James Beard finalist. Sidney Street Cafe bills itself as a Sophisticated Culinary Experience. I mean, I always tell myself I’m having a Sophisticated Culinary Experience when my dinner is eating Mint Milanos straight out of the bag. But Sidney Street Cafe really means it.
My experience with Sidney Street Cafe started in the most excellent of ways, with free food. I received an amuse bouche of sweetbreads with jalapeno, a combination I had never seen before. They told me it was a special amuse bouche for solo diners. All restaurants should give free things to solo diners! And not just because many of us are food writers in disguise!
24 Hour Treat: Octopus Confit
My favorite dish of my 24 hours in St Louis was this octopus confit with uni bisque and caviar. First of all, I love the surprising combination of three different types of seafood. Second, confitting octopus is a magical decision. It makes the tentacled creature tender and toothsome instead of like a tasteless piece of rubber tire. (Actually I’m not sure whether it would be worse to eat a tire that tasted like something or that tasted like nothing.)
My main course was beef cheeks so soft you didn’t need a knife to cut them. This was served with leeks and ramps, which are a perfect spring side. Nothing says spring time to me like the arrival of ramps on a menu. Somehow it gives me the impression that if I order ramps any time I see them on a menu, that spring will last forever.
After I placed my order for the octopus and beef cheeks, my waiter told me that I obviously knew good food. When I tried to say something self deprecating, he just cut me off and screamed, “JUST SAY YES!” FINE, ENCOURAGING WAITER. I KNOW GOOD FOOD! And that will teach me to not assert my superiority when talking to strangers in restaurants.
No proper 24 hours in St Louis can conclude without dessert. The dessert here was an upscale version of a Snickers bar. It was a dense chocolate cake served with peanut cream and chocolate sorbet. I am always here for upscale versions of food for the masses, and this dessert was about a million times better than the stale Snickers bars I sometimes buy from my CVS when I need a hit of chocolate and don’t care what it comes from.
But why don’t we ever do the opposite? Like, why don’t I ever walk into McDonald’s and see their take on caviar with toast points, except made with hamburger and hamburger buns?
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in St Louis: The Hill!
What would you do with 24 hours in St Louis? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in St Louis right now? Have you ever deliberately slammed your hand on a cactus? And will we ever see tasting menus at Taco Bell? Please leave your thoughts below!