3153 S Kingshighway
St. Louis, MO 63139
As you may have gathered by now, I am not a fan of most traditional St. Louis foods. Toasted ravioli is a gummy mess that's not even toasted. Gooey butter cake is a gummy mess that does wonders for the whole "Most Obese Nation" stat. But there's one St. Louis food institution that truly holds a place in my heart. The Slinger.
I had my first Slinger sometime in elementary school. No, I wasn't drinking back then, but Courtesy was a regular destination for my grandfather and I. I wasn't incredibly daring at the time, but after reading the list of ingredients, I figured it was something I could handle. To this day, the mere appearance of the Slinger is a shot of comfort straight to my amygdala (nostalgia part of the brain, I asked a scientist).
Tell a non-native about the Slinger and you'll almost always be met with an expression of revulsion. And really, you can't blame them. Even among lifelong St. Louisans, the Slinger is a sort of litmus test for just how local you're willing to be. I never ask the high school question (seriously, people, did you peak that long ago?), but I'm usually down for a 3am meal.
The origin of the Slinger is disputed, with Courtesy, Tiffany's, Eat Rite, and (for some reason) O.T. Hodges commonly cited as the inventor. I'm not so much concerned with the patent rights, but due to distance, convenience, and greasy spoon-ishness, I choose Courtesy on Kingshighway.
Courtesy's Slinger has the above base ingredients: meat, hash browns, eggs, chili, cheese, and onions. There are variations, but my preference is as follows...
Meat - Hamburger is the standard, though sausage can be substituted. I'm not a fan of on-the-siders, so for me, it's two hamburger patties slapped on the plate.
Hash Browns - One of the reasons I prefer the Kingshighway Courtesy (aside from the fact that Hampton is just too clean) is because their hash browns are usually well-done. This is especially helpful when it comes to Slingers, as there are enough tricky textures to deal with, already.
Eggs - Over-easy is about the only way to go. If you're getting a Slinger, you want a certain level of silken, gooey protein to marry everything together.
Chili - Slopped over the meat and eggs, and enough to cover the entire plate.
Cheese - Regular ol' shredded cheddar is the default at Courtesy. Thrown on top of the chili, it's almost mesmerizing to watch it melt into the plate (give me a break, I don't order Slingers when I'm sober).
Onions - Meh. I'm not a fan of onions in the wee hours of the morning, but I'd never dispute their place on Slinger plates. If you'd rather not have them, speak up. It's a bitch to fish the fine dice out of the mess.Slingers automatically come with toast. You might think "as if I need more carbs," but depending on your level of inebriation, you're probably going to want something dry alongside your Slinger. I prefer a soft drink or iced tea to coffee, and again, it's to help with digestion.
Getting a Slinger placed in front of you is a lot like getting a Death By Chocolate. You know you want it, but you're a little bit anxious of exactly how it works. My advice is to immediately take your fork and stab everything. Break up the hamburger, puncture those yolks, and mingle everything around into a melty, tasty, artery-clogging adventure.
Now take that first bite.
For all the warnings and legends surrounding the Slinger, you'll be surprised to find that it's actually delicious. The hamburger is nothing to write home about, but we're talking about diner-version patties. If anything, it's the texture that anchors the Slinger's sloppiness. The hash browns are crispy, starchy, and excellent for retaining chili. The eggs are runny and smooth. The chili is not at all spicy, but smoky and tomato-y enough to be something you could totally eat a bowl of under other, less intoxicated circumstances. The mouthfeel starts out weird but winds up being exactly what your drink-addled tongue needs.
It's scary. It's strange. It's so freaking good.
Eating a Slinger isn't especially conducive to polite conversation, so just play like the other Courtesy patrons and tuck into it. Enjoy the Elvis on the jukebox. Pick up a ratty RFT if you'd like. Don't try to finish the whole thing. This is no time for heroic measures.
Once finished with this no-longer-terrifying St. Louis diner staple, pick up the check for your designated driver and stumble back to the car....sated, sleepy, and gosh-darned impressed with yourself.