Metro-East Living

Award-winning St. Louis deli is worth the wait in line

Spicy Asian Shrimp Lettuce Cups
Spicy Asian Shrimp Lettuce Cups

The James Beard Foundation announced last week that among the five recipients of its 2017 America’s Classics award was Gioia’s Deli on the Hill in St. Louis. The honorees join the ranks of nearly 100 restaurants that have received the award since the category was first introduced in 1998.

The award is given to “restaurants that have timeless appeal and are cherished for quality food that reflects the character of their community,” said the foundation. To qualify, establishments must have been in existence at least 10 years and be locally owned. That wasn’t a problem for Gioia’s Deli. It’s been around since 1918, a fixture at 1934 Macklind Ave. (corner of Macklind and Daggett), the heart of St. Louis’ Italian-American community. In 2016, the deli opened a second location in downtown St. Louis at 903 Pine.

First it served the community as a grocery store — the building built from brick and wood from the 1904 World’s Fair. It has been a lunch restaurant since the 1980s.

What I know about the place is that you’ll always stand in line, no matter what day it is. It’s worth it. Order the hot salami (temperature, not spiciness) with Provel cheese. There are lots of other choices, too. And, if you know the word of the day, you get a buck off your sandwich.

Recipe requests

Lucille Trentman, of Mascoutah asked for a recipe for tortellini soup. That’s a lot like asking for a recipe for chicken noodle soup; there are so many variations! Tortellini soup has as its base store-bought, cheese-filled dry tortellini pasta, chicken or vegetable broth, carrots, garlic and Parmesan cheese. From there, recipes can go in many directions. Some call for adding Italian sausage, others for chicken. It can be made with cream, or not, and include spinach, or not. The Food Network’s recipe, as well as several others with the word “Tuscan” or “Rustic” in the title, calls for stewed tomatoes.

I went with a simple recipe from Betty Crocker; it’s a good place to start.

The second request was from Tim Heldon, of Fairview Heights. He called to say he knew he was past the deadline for me to get anything in the paper before the Chinese New Year (of the Rooster) began Saturday. Still, he hoped I could find an Asian-inspired dinner recipe for him and his sweetheart. Both have promised each other to do more healthy home cooking. The recipe I sent him is for Spicy Asian Shrimp Lettuce Cups. It’s a pretty simple meal to prepare: sear some shrimp, sautee a few veggies, boil some noodles and prepare the lettuce cups.

Contact me at, 618-239-2664 and follow me on Twitter @BoyleSuzanne. Write to 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427.

Tortellini Soup

3 tablespoons butter or margarine

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 medium celery stalks, chopped (1 cup)

1 medium carrot, chopped (1/2 cup)

1 small onion, chopped (1/4 cup)

8 cups chicken broth

4 cups water

2 packages (9 ounces each) dried cheese-filled tortellini

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon nutmeg

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Melt butter in 6-quart Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Cover and cook garlic, celery, carrot and onion in butter 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Stir in broth and water. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Stir in tortellini. Cover and simmer about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tortellini are tender.

3. Stir in parsley, pepper and nutmeg. Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Top each serving with cheese.

Spicy Asian Shrimp Lettuce Cups

1 pound shrimp

2 tablespoon Sriracha sauce

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 head butter or Boston lettuce, leaves separated

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 carrot, julienne

3 scallions, thinly sliced

1/4 cup cilantro

1/4 cup soy sauce for drizzling

1 pinch coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

3 ounces thin rice noodles

In a sealable plastic bag, combine the shrimp, 2 tablespoons oil, sriracha sauce and garlic. Seal and toss bag to coat the shrimp. Marinate at least 1 hour in the fridge.

Heat a non-stick pan over medium-high. Arrange the shrimp in a single layer and sear on one side for 2 minutes; flip and sear 30 more seconds. Remove from pan and set aside.

To the pan, add the last tablespoon oil and add the diced red bell pepper. Season with salt and pepper and saute for 2 minutes, until crisp-tender. Remove from heat.

Bring 3 cups water to a boil in a sauce pan and cook the rice noodles until soft, 3 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water.

In each lettuce cup, start with the rice noodles. Then add the red pepper, followed by the carrots. Add 3 or 4 shrimp per cup and garnish with scallions and cilantro.

Drizzle a little bit of soy sauce into each one. Have napkins handy.

Yield: 10.