A St. Paul sandwich (which has nothing to do with the city in Minnesota) is a St. Louis Chinese food specialty. It's an egg foo young patty between two slices of white bread, topped with dill pickle slices, mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato. They don't serve it at fancy restaurants, and you can't get it in all parts of the metropolitan area. It's only available at carryout joints, and until recently nowhere in my neighborhood.
I remember the first time I had a St. Paul sandwich almost 30 years ago. When we got married, we lived in a house in North County. The closest food place was a counter-only Chinese establishment. The fried rice there was good and cheap, but something called a "St. Paul" didn't cost much more. One day when I wanted something different I gave it a try, and from then on the sandwich was one of my regular orders. I haven't had one since we moved from that house almost 25 years ago. Every once in a while I'd try to find a place that served them, but never had any luck. Last month I got a menu in the mail for a new Chinese restaurant in Valley Park (the city directly to the south of my house) and saw that they had what they called a St. P Sanwich. I was excited, and filed the menu for future reference, planning to go there some day. I'm on vacation this week, so I decided that today was the day to put my plan into action..
The distance from my house to this restaurant was less than four miles, but I passed by three other Chinese places on the way there...my "regular" a half-mile from the house, and two others in strip malls along the way. They're all tiny family run type places that cater to the people who live within a couple of miles. The place I was going was in a mostly-vacant plaza right off Route 141. There were quite a few cars in that part of the parking lot, so I was surprised to see I was the only one in the restaurant. Since they weren't busy, I got quick service from the woman behind the counter. My Vegetable St. Paul only cost three dollars, so I added an egg roll to my order. The whole thing came to less than five dollars.
After she took my money, the woman shouted something in Chinese back to the kitchen, and I heard pots start to bang around. Ten minutes later the cashier handed me a small brown paper bag and I got in the car to drive home. I hadn't even left the parking lot before the wonderful smells got the better of me. I pulled out the egg roll and opened it up at a stoplight. It was obviously freshly-cooked, crisp, not a bit greasy, and long gone by time I pulled into the garage.
The restaurant had tucked a fortune cookie into my bag of food. When I broke it open, I read, "Plan for many pleasures ahead". I wonder if that includes more St. Paul sandwiches?