You Want Monkey Brains? They Got Monkey Brains!

Well almost. You may not find ingredients that extreme, but if your recipe requires anything approaching the exotic, then one of the many international food specialty shops in St. Louis could procure it for you. For most, the utterance of Southeast Asian delicacy and Midwest in the same sentence seems as likely as Elvis reappearing on Earth in a spaceship from Mars (for those of you who believe - I’m rooting for you). I have news for you skeptics, St. Louis has a plethora of stores that could easily service almost every nation represented at the UN.

For incredible Greek edibles, we have the Athenian Greek Importing Company located on the corner of Big Bend and Clayton Roads. They have incredible imported feta cheeses made from various types of milk, including the traditional goat. It is the best feta you can find anywhere in the city, and if you’re going to make that Greek Salad - they have the best Kalamata Olives I have tasted in this country. You can also get home made dolmades, spanikopita and incredibly delectable baklava that simultaneously crunches and melts in your mouth. Athenian Greek Importing Company also boasts an impressive selection of specialty items from around the world including chocolates imported from Austria, Switzerland and my personal favorite, Vahlrona from France. The proprietor, Rebecca, is as accommodating as can be and is always eager to let you sample the delicacies in her charcuterie. Athenian Greek Importing Company, 7006 Clayton Road.

From Greece we head east to Italy, where The Hill in St. Louis is home to an abundance of shops and markets (not to mention restaurants) that carry practically every Italian delicacy known to man - except Sophia Loren. At my favorite haunt, DiGregorio’s Italian Foods at 5200 Daggett Street, you can find the most wonderful Parmesan Reggiano imported from you know where, homemade ravioli in numerous shapes with a variety of fillings, and just about every Marinara sauce produced in this country and abroad. You can also purchase DiGregorio’s sauce which is homemade and divine - not too sweet and not too spicy - just perfect. They also sell wonderful homemade pastas - both dried and frozen. Be sure to check out the pre-cooked lasagna noodles that not only taste delicious but turn the process of lasagna making from an all day, knife hurling endeavor to a simple, yet authentic, undertaking. At DiGregorio's there is always someone in the back kitchen cooking up fragrant salsicca (sausage) or some other delicacy guaranteed to make your mouth water and wallet fly open.

Volpi Italian Foods, which is also located on The Hill at 5250-58 Daggett Street must also be recognized. I heard about Volpi’s from an Italian friend of mine (who is an authentic gourmand) when I was living in Savannah, GA. He told me that this little store in St. Louis carried some of the best proscioutto in this country and friends of his from all over the country religiously ordered this smoked meat delicacy directly from Missouri. Tasting is believing: Volpi’s proscioutto is otherworldly. It’s not too salty or too smoky - it really tastes like a slice of ham heaven, especially wrapped around a juicy slice of cantaloupe or a fresh fig. Bon Apetito!

Let’s head to the ocean. For the absolute best fresh fish in the city of St. Louis it's unequivocally Bob’s Seafood 6655 Delmar Avenue in University City. The fact that they supply some of the finest restaurants in the city may tip you off to the quality of their seafood. I have been faithfully buying their Salmon, Tuna, Tilapia, Sea Bass and Shrimp for the past two years and I have never been disappointed. Their inventory reflects what is freshest in the marketplace and I am always amazed by the constantly new and exotic additions to their repertoire, including fresh sardines, fist size prawns (shrimp) from Southeast Asia and mussels and oysters of all varieties. The smile that most often will greet you at the Delmar store belongs to Barbara, who would definitely walk away with the Ms. Congeniality award in the food service arena. She is always beyond pleasant, and makes sure you are expeditiously taken care of - even in the area of special requests which they will dutifully honor if the fish is available.

Every city needs a bakery, and while there are quite a few that are very good, the golden baguette goes to Companion Baking Company whose delectables are sold in all fine markets and served in the best restaurants in St. Louis. I’m classifying Companion as international because they employ a serious European regard for the art of baking bread. A trip to their headquarters will really give you a sense of their operation. Housed in a warehouse at 4555 Gustine Avenue, they’ve partitioned the front area off to function as a "retail" outlet on Monday - Saturday from 7 am - 12 pm and Sunday 7 am - 10 am. As you walk in the front door the smell of nirvana whips up into your nostrils. It is true what they say about the smell of baking bread - its the best reason in the world to have a nose. At Companion they use top of the line ingredients - no artificial flavors or preservatives, including a large proportion of organic items, and you can smell and taste the quality of their product. At the warehouse, they have huge bins of breads, muffins, and breakfast items freshly baked that morning - and you can have a sample of any bread you’d like. I highly recommend their Pumpkin Seed/Cranberry bread and anything they have with raisins, especially their Brioche which is phenomenal. This place has class, it has ethics, not to mention the best buns in town.

I will conclude this week's installment with the Big Kahuna of all specialty shops in St. Louis: Global Foods Market located at 421 North Kirkwood Avenue. This place is like having an international airline ticket everyday. They specialize in everything ethnic - including some very exotic "American Foods". Global carries a plethora of items from fresh produce (both of the regular variety all the way to exotic), fresh cheeses and fresh poultry and fish to a staggering amount of imported jams, jellies, cookies, spices, fruit juices, beans, nuts, flours, candy bars and things that don’t even have a category. Did I mention it’s immaculately maintained, the size of a supermarket and everyone inside is friendly and helpful? You can find things there that you never thought could be found in this country, let alone the Midwest - flour made from chickpeas, tamarind candy spiced with sugar and hot peppers, galangal root, Vegemite - you name it - or imagine it - they will have it. I recommend you visit Global when you have at least thirty minutes reserved for gawking and oohing and aahing. This is a mecca of gastronomic indulgence.

This just scratches the surface of St. Louis’ international food sources. There are also some local specialties that deserve an article of their own. However, for now, whether you live in St. Louis or are just passing through you now know you can get any ingredient you desire to make you feel at home - or away in a foreign land . The food world of St. Louis opens its arms to all and satisfies the cravings of everyone.