The St. Louis Slinger looks strangely similar to the Cincinnati Threeway.
We like to proclaim that our Cincinnati Threeway cannot be found in any form anywhere else in the world. We’re so damn innovative in the Queen City. Well, that’s not entirely true. In Greece, the Threeway’s Cro-magnan ancestor is the dish called macaronia mi kima. The biggest difference is that the ancestral dish doesn’t have a heaping helping of American or cheddar cheese.
In the broadest sense of the word, a Threeway is a meat on top of a starch, covered with cheese or dairy. Our building blocks are spaghetti, chili and cheese. Sure we add onions or beans to make a Four and Fiveway, or we add jalapeno caps to make a Sixway. We have a vegetarian version too, and even a crazier version that uses chopped garlic.
Other regions in the U.S. have their version of the Threeway. Minnesota has this formula in the form of their Hot Dish (see my blog on 1/5/2016) . Rochester, New York, has this in their Garbage Plate (stay tuned). And Quebec has its Poutine. Our Midwest neighbors to the north, St. Louis, too have their Threeway, and that they call Slinger. I recently saw reference to it in Andrew Zimmern’s tour of St. Louis in his Weird Foods TV series.
Of all these Threeway mashups, I’m proud to say, our Cincinnati Threeway is probably the healthiest of all of them. I never thought I’d find myself saying “healthier in Cincinnati.”
The Slinger is similar to our Threeway in its origin. It’s a diner food, born of the necessity of late night hunger. It usually consists of two eggs, hashbrowns and a hamburger, topped with chili sauce, cheddar cheese and onions. It’s as beloved in St. Louis as is our chili threeway. It’s also a right-of-passage for college students, who have the off-the-charts metabolism to digest this hearty dish. A comfort food, just like our Threeway, Slinger eaters span the dining demographic from lawyers to day laborers. But St. Louis seems to have more appetite to modify their Slingers, than we do our Threeways.
As with the Threeway, there are variations on the Slinger, served at numerous diners in and around St. Louis. There’s a vegetarian version. There’s a version with white sausage gravy instead of chili, and one with half white gravy and half chili. Another version serves a tamale on top. The standard looks remarkably like a Cincinnati Threeway, and the chili sauce looks very much like our Cincinnati-style chili, but without the sophistication of our 14 spice Baharat-based blend, if I can be a bit of a regional food snob!
The Powers family of Eat Rite Diners claim the Slinger originated in their Fenton store in the 1970s. Supposedly an unnamed trucker asked for eggs topped with chili. He said, “Sling me up somethin’ with eggs,” and the name stuck. Lewis Powers opened his first restaurant in 1957 in downtown St. Louis called Rock Hill Diner.
The Courtesy Diner serves the “Hoosier”, which substitutes white gravy for the chili. The “Hangover” features chicken-fried steak covered in white sausage gravy in lieu of the hamburger and “The Devil’s Delight” includes everything but the hamburger patty. Adventurous eaters can go one step further and try Courtesy’s Super Slinger, the diner’s slinger made with either a soft tamale or fried burrito under the chili. One has to have an incredible appetite to be able to handle the Super Slinger.
Tiffany’s Original Diner has been serving its versions of the St. Louis Slinger since 1960. They serve the “Toby,” with white sausage gravy instead of chili, and the “Yin Yang,” with half chili and half gravy.
The White Knight Diner takes it up a notch and serves their version of the Super Slinger. All of the signature slinger components are in play – a bed of shredded hash browns topped with a hamburger patty, two eggs cooked to order and two slices of American cheese all doused in chili and served with toast. The White Knight amps up its Super Slinger by adding button mushrooms, strips of red and green bell peppers and onion.
Mud House Diner serves a vegetarian slinger with black bean chili and the Southwest Diner serves their Slinger “Christmas style”, with red and green chili sauces. Many other variations exist, and for the road food aficionado, a food tour to St. Louis to eat through their many Slingers may be a delightful summer trip.