I was born in St. Louis and lived until I was 7 in a suburb not far from the muddy Mississippi, spending many happy, humid summer nights catching fireflies on its banks. Missouri is not just my own birthplace, though, it’s also the birthplace of the modern brewing industry — a fact that ensured it a sweet spot in my heart decades after my family left for Texas.
A friend recently told me of a map showing all of the country’s breweries, both macro and micro – a few under 3,000 coast to coast. What’s most interesting, she said, was that the U.S. is only now approaching the number of breweries that called our country home before Prohibition. Up until 20 years ago, you’d be hard pressed to find a cold one not sporting a big name label. And even now, considering our recent craft beer boom, about 90 percent of the world’s beer is produced by just two corporations — SABMiller Coors and Missouri’s own AB In-Bev.
Yep, those determined, shaggy-footed Clydesdales have long been at the forefront of the brewing industry, rushing through the country after Prohibition’s repeal, snatching up failing regional breweries, dominating shelf space and wowing consumers with modern refrigeration and shipping techniques. And yet, small brewers resisted and persisted, as they continue to do today. Despite Anheuser Busch’s Goliath-like presence, Missouri is no stranger to the craft resurgence, and a growing number of excellent microbreweries are thriving in big beer’s backyard.
One of my favorite small breweries vying for St. Louis shelf space is Perennial Artisan Ales, was co-founded in 2011 by native Chicagoan Phil Wymore and his wife Emily Wymore. He brewed ales to tickle the taste buds of the most adventurous drinker, forgoing common standbys like malty lagers and hopped-up IPAs for funky Belgian-style ales, wild saisons aged on locally harvested wine grapes in French oak barrels and tart kettle sours brewed with whole peaches.
Perennial’s ingredients are always fresh, each new batch inspired by Missouri’s diverse agricultural landscape. And, despite the creative flair, each beer brewed at the Michigan Avenue brewhouse and taproom is remarkably well balanced, making any member of the lineup a great choice for a successful beer and food pairing.
Two standout examples are the Hommel Bier, a dry-hopped Belgian pale ale that seamlessly merges American and European flavors into one amber-hued pint (available on draft only), and Peace Offering, a seasonally appropriate take on an American Brown Ale brewed with cinnamon, cloves and Missouri-grown maple-roasted squash (also available only on draft). Hommel Bier is a light-bodied, refreshing palate pleaser with a little something for everyone, its bright grassy, citrusy aroma giving way to the familiar spicy sweetness of the Belgian yeast. Peace Offering, a more flavorful option perfect for hearty Autumn dinners, showcases a complex, earthy nose and a velvety, food-friendly body.
Missouri cuisine is widely celebrated, from Kansas City’s spicy-sweet barbecue to St. Louis’ creamy frozen custard, a treat recently thrust into the national spotlight by Danny Meyer’s supremely trendy Shake Shack chain.
But my best food memories center on one of St. Louis’ most original culinary creations: toasted ravioli. Puffy pillows of crispy, deep-fried pasta bubbling over with hot, melted cheese, this signature finger food was developed in the 1940s on The Hill, the city’s Italian district. Toasted ravioli is served piping hot with a side of marinara sauce — a perfect mix of salty and sweet that complements both the Hommel Bier and the Peace Offering like a match made in Midwestern heaven.
Toasted ravioli is the secret handshake of St. Louis folks everywhere (along with gooey butter cake.) Legend has it that these crunchy treats originated when a German worker in an Italian restaurant dropped the ravioli into hot oil instead of boiling water|http://www.americanfoodroots.com/50-states/about-missouri/]. Traditionally they are filled with beef, but this recipe, adapted from "Mississippi Current Cookbook" by Regina Charboneau (Lyons Press, 2014), offers a lighter version with ground turkey.
- 1 (1-pound) package egg roll wrappers (24 count)
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 cup milk
- 2 cups Italian-style bread crumbs
- 1 recipe Turkey-Pesto Filling
- All-purpose flour
- Oil for frying, preferably canola
- Prepared marinara sauce, for dipping
- Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, optional
Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil.
Using a 2-inch cookie cutter, cut 3 rounds from each egg roll wrapper. Transfer the cut wrappers to the baking sheet and cover with a damp towel to prevent the edges from drying out while you work.
In a shallow bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. Place the bread crumbs in a second shallow bowl.
Spoon 1 tablespoon of filling into the center of each of 12 rounds. With your finger, moisten the edge around the filling with the egg wash. Place a second wrapper on top and press the edges until they stick together. Crimp the edges with a fork to seal. Lay the assembled ravioli on the foil-covered baking sheet and cover with a damp towel while assembling the remaining ravioli. Repeat with remaining ingredients.*
One at a time, dip the ravioli into the egg wash and then into the bread crumbs to coat completely. Lightly dust with flour and place on the second baking sheet. Repeat with remaining ravioli.
Clip a candy or deep-frying thermometer to the side of a large cast-iron skillet or dutch oven. Add oil to a depth of 3 inches and heat to 350 degrees over medium heat. Using a slotted spoon, add 5 ravioli at a time and cook, turning once until they float to the top and are golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels and repeat with the remaining ravioli.
Warm the marinara sauce and place in a serving bowl. Serve the ravioli hot alongside the sauce and sprinkle the tops with the cheese, if desired.
*The ravioli can be made ahead up to this point and frozen on the baking sheet. Once frozen, transfer them to a heavy plastic freezer bag and keep in the freezer for up to 6 weeks. Thaw, covered, before using.