St. Louis ‘stinks,’ but still a joy

“St. Louis stinks,” my daughter observed as we stepped onto the sidewalk in front of our hotel. I had to admit that she was right, at least for the moment. The evening air was made heavy with a combination of humidity, car exhaust and the fishy, muddy smell of river water.

I wasn’t surprised. Hadn’t the television’s meteorologist warned that the summer heat was creating a problem with the ozone layer and that the city was under a pollution alert?

But the Jost family was on vacation and we had no time to la-de-da inside a hotel room when there was uncharted territory just outside the front door. Pollution alert or not.

“Take a Claritin, Alex,” I had said to my allergy-suffering son. “We’re going out tonight.”

And so we trooped out of the Embassy Suites and followed the sidewalk into the heart of Laclede’s Landing, a historic riverfront district lined with 19th-century buildings and cobblestoned streets.

St. Louis is an old city, by Midwest standards, and the buildings we passed, now turned into restaurants and nightclubs, once stored furs, tobacco, cotton and other commodities brought in on barges and paddle wheelers that traveled the mighty Mississippi.

After a nice dinner of shrimp and steak, we headed toward the river front and watched some barges steam down the muddy water. The riverboat casinos were resplendent in flashing red, yellow and blue lights and seemed to be doing a brisk business even though the weekend was still days away.

“Let’s get back to the hotel,” Alex said as he turned from the waterfront and started walking up the hill that led back to the Landing.

“Do you have a problem, son?” asked his father.

“I think I saw a mosquito. I don’t want to get the West Nile Virus.”

Earlier in the evening we had heard a report on the news that a horse in the area had been found to be ill with the disease. Now my son was a man on a mission-get back to the safety of the hotel as soon as possible. He led the way-walking a good six feet in front of the rest of us-all the way back to the hotel.

Early the next morning, we walked the short distance to St. Louis’ famous Gateway Arch. At 630 feet, the steel arch is this country’s tallest monument. As we passed through security, it did cross my mind that terrorists might find the Arch to be a suitable target.

Inside, or should I say below the monument, is an underground complex that houses two movie theaters and the Museum of Western Expansion along with a tram ride that takes visitors to the Arch’s observation deck.

The Omnimax movie presentation of Lewis and Clark’s adventures into the West, produced by National Geographic, was one of the best dramatized documentaries I have ever seen. And the film showing how the Arch came to be was interesting.

But I guess the highlight of the arch is to be seated in-well, it really looks like the inside of a dryer-a tram car that seats five and gets hoisted 630 feet into the air.

The trip up the arch lasts about four minutes and, to say the least, the quarters are close. I was so glad my family had all taken showers that morning and that nobody had eaten anything that was going to give them…. You get my drift.

After the visit to the Arch, we toured Union Station and spent some time at the pool before we got dressed to participate in a murder-mystery dinner theater that night at the historic-and reportedly haunted-Lemp Mansion.

At one time, Life Magazine named Lemp Mansion one of the top 10 most haunted places in America. But we were there not to hunt ghosts, but to become characters in a Wild West Whodunit.

Alex would portray Cool Hand Luke, a crooked ex-sidekick of Jesse James. Meghan was the sweet and lovely heroine, Nell Frillard, while Keith became Sheriff Beauford T. Justice. I was Sweet Sioux, “the West’s most beautiful attorney from the law firm of Dewey, Skinnem and Sioux.”

Between courses of toasted ravioli, Caesar salad, prime rib and turtle cheesecake, we traded secrets with our fellow dinner guests/actors and, at the end of the evening, Meg and I had successfully figured out “whodunit.”

Keith and Alex weren’t so fortunate, but I think that’s because they kept trying to figure out why the chandelier above our table kept swinging. Ghosts, perhaps?

On our last morning in St. Louis, we toured Anheuser-Busch Brewery and learned all about beer making, prohibition and the Clydesdales. The tour was quite interesting, the grounds beautiful, the horses pampered and the “hospitality” refreshing.

As we left the cool environs of the brewery, we were once again met with the stifling heat and humidity of a St. Louis summer.

“Now I know why so many pioneers were anxious to leave St. Louis,” I said as we piled into our car to return to Kansas. “They weren’t looking for fame or fortune, they just wanted to find a cool breeze.”

And with that, we headed west.

* * *

Oops. An error slipped by the proofreader last week. The gooey butter cake should be baked at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

* * *

The St. Louis style of preparing ravioli is rather unique. We found this delicious appetizer on many menus throughout the city.

2 tbs. whole milk

1 egg

3/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 (25 oz.) package frozen cheese ravioli, thawed

3 cups vegetable oil for frying

Grated Parmesan cheese

1 (16 oz.) jar spaghetti sauce, heated

Combine milk and egg in a small bowl. Mix breadcrumbs and salt together in a shallow dish. Dip ravioli in egg wash and then dredge in crumb mixture. In a large heavy pan, pour oil to a depth of two inches. Heat oil over medium heat until a small amount of breading sizzles and turns brown. Fry ravioli, a few at a time, one minute on each side or until golden. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve immediately with hot marinara sauce.

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