Q: Can one still find brain sandwiches in the area?
L.T., of Dupo
A: I cannot forget a hilarious sign photographed by Wm. Stage, a St. Louis journalist who once published a book documenting the art of painted ads on old buildings.
Somewhere on Chouteau Avenue in South St. Louis, Stage found a huge restaurant sign on the side of Harvey’s Sandwich System hawking “Brains 25 cents.” Underneath was an arrow pointing to the parking lot and containing the words “Drive In.”
Back in the day when East St. Louis was a national meatpacking giant, brain sandwiches apparently became a probably cheap delicacy around the area. But here’s the offal truth: Although their popularity has waned, at least two St. Louis restaurants still tout themselves as the last bastions of this odd treat.
In fact, three years ago, Andrew Zimmern trekked to St. Louis to try to find one. After all, the quest was right up his alley. Since 2007, he has scoured the world for gastric curiosities to turn stomachs on his popular “Bizarre Foods” show on the Travel Channel.
“Brain sandwiches are harder to find than a Miller beer in this Budweiser town,” he quipped at the start of a four-minute segment on two unique St. Louis dishes. “Conversely, St. Louis-style pizza — thin crust, sweet tomato sauce and Provel cheese — is seemingly everywhere. Yet you go 100 miles in either direction and you’re going to find people who have no idea of what a brain sandwich is or have never heard of Provel cheese.”
Zimmern, however, struck gold at Schottzie’s, a one-room, 100-seat tavern that has been operating at 11428 Concord Village Ave. since 1947. It’s just a block or so west of Lindbergh and Tesson Ferry and easily accessed by taking the J.B. Bridge into South County. Call 314-842-1728 for more information or go to www.schottzies.com, where you can watch the “Bizarre Foods” piece.
Brain sandwiches are a tradition dating back more than a century to when the East St. Louis stockyards produced a cheap, plentiful supply of cows’ brains, said Zimmern, who also has dined on the brains of llamas and wild boars during his travels.
“Our grandparents used to eat a lot of organ meat,” he said. “But mad cow disease and the closing of the stockyards forced a switch to pork brains coated in milk, eggs and flour, shaped into patties and, sadly in this day and age, frozen.”
Thankfully, they’re still cooked to order, he quickly added as the screen showed them being deep-fried in oil. They’re then slapped onto toasted marble rye with onions, pickles and hot country mustard. At Schottzie’s, this “house specialty” is $7.29.
In an effort to keep the tradition going, Zimmern recruited the granddaughter of two customers with whom he had struck up a conversation. I don’t know whether she was truly enjoying it or just playing nice for the camera, but the young girl nodded somewhat enthusiastically and gave a slight smile as she chewed when asked if she liked it.
“They grow a special kind of kid in St. Louis, I can tell you that,” Zimmern joked. “It’s chicken-fried. You know what I mean? It’s got that crispy chicken-fried thing on the outside. It’s creamy. It’s not very gamy or organy.”
And although Zimmern said Schottzie’s was the only place he could find one, I’ve turned up one more possibility: Fergie’s Bar & Restaurant at 1699 Lemay Ferry (314-638-6387). But perhaps you’d better hurry. They have been discontinued at the Crow’s Nest in Maplewood, where a few years ago a Riverfront Times reviewer described a crisp sandwich with the “soft, slurpy insides of cooked brains.” It probably got a five-star rating from zombies everywhere.
If anyone knows of any metro-east locations still dishing them out, contact me and I’ll be glad to publicize them.
Q: Can you give me an update on Ann Curry, who I thought was treated quite shabbily by NBC?
D.A., of New Athens
A: Unfortunately, no news is not particularly good news for fans of this 59-year-old veteran journalist, who has won three Emmys and a passel of other awards and honors. I’ve checked her social media pages and none mention any recent or forthcoming projects.
You undoubtedly remember her emotional farewell on Today on June 28, 2012, a departure widely believed driven by the machinations of co-anchor Matt Lauer. She wound up signing a multiyear contract with NBC News to do reporting and producing for various news shows, but decided to leave the network entirely just after New Year’s Day last year.
She issued the obligatory “I am sincerely grateful to NBC News ... ” goodbye quote. But a network source told pagesix.com that Curry had been “unhappy for a long time because she’s basically doing nothing, while NBC is unhappy that she has been paid a lot of money (supposedly $12 million a year) to do nothing.”
Instead, Curry, who earned her journalism degree at the University of Oregon, announced that she was founding an NBCUniversal-backed media start-up that would focus on original reporting and curation of content on both a national and global scale.
“This is about reaching for the edge of the future in journalism, which we know is undergoing an irrevocable transition,” Curry said in a release at the time.
“In today’s world of fragmented media, this is the time to seize the opportunity to improve the way we distribute and even tell stories. I want to expand my drive to give voice to the voiceless to emerging platforms and produce both scripted and nonscripted matter, in addition to continuing to report on-air about stories that matter.”
However, neither her Facebook, Twitter (@anncurry) or website (www.anncurry.com) talk of any subsequent work by Curry, who has a son and daughter with her husband, Brian Ross, a software executive she met in college. One final interesting note: Her mother is Hiroe Nagase, a Japanese native whom her Navy father, Robert, met during the U.S. occupation after World War II.
Beep beep: What state’s official bird is the roadrunner?
Answer to Friday’s trivia: Nearly 70 years after his death, LeRoy Robert Ripley is still remembered the world over for gathering a seemingly endless collection of odd facts and physical feats. He called them “queeriosities,” which led to the title of his wildly popular cartoon panel, “Believe It or Not!” So when Ripley found an island near Mamaronek, N.Y., on which to build his 27-room mansion, he named it Bion — the acronym for “believe it or not.”