Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Mysterious Newport

I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and left immediately after completing college there. Back in those days (40 years ago), St. Louis was a classic example of urban blight. People fled to the suburbs, and the inner city deteriorated into a dangerous mixture of empty, decaying buildings, and poor, desperate people. I couldn’t wait to get out.

During the time I lived there, the Gateway Arch was constructed, Sportsmen’s Park was replaced by the “technologically advanced” Busch Stadium (which itself has been replaced recently), and the notorious Pruitt-Igoe housing project was built, only to be demolished 16 years later after becoming a rat-infested slum.

All of these construction projects had one thing in common: Acres of shabby, condemned buildings were bulldozed to make room for them. But it wasn’t just urban renewal that scoured entire neighborhoods from the St. Louis landscape. Gaslight Square, the well-known nightclub district vanished during my college years, a victim of crime and neglect.

It’s hard for me to believe that anything remotely historic survives in St. Louis. On my visit there last week, my sister took me to the Crown Candy Kitchen. This place opened in 1913, but despite the fact that I grew up in St. Louis, I had never heard of it.

It’s a tiny remnant of a genteel time. Part restaurant, part soda fountain, part confectionary, you can easily imagine clean-cut teenagers hanging out and playing the jukebox during the 1950’s. Today it survives in a formerly-depressed neighborhood that desperately wants to gentrify, but can’t quite get over the hump. The Crown Candy Kitchen has become something of a hipster lunchtime destination. My sister took me there because she wanted me to try the Heart Stopping BLT.


This sandwich differs from a normal BLT in that proportionally, the lettuce and tomato contribute almost nothing to the taste. Nearly a pound of bacon is crammed between two slices of white bread.


My sister and I split one, but my 88-year old father never met a meal he couldn’t finish.


The Crown Candy Kitchen is a charming old building, with hand-made booths, a pressed-tin ceiling, and hand-lettered signs. The menu over the soda fountain listed prices for Sundes, Special Sundaes, Deluxe Sundaes, and something called “Newports.” A waitress explained to us that a Newport is a normal sundae, but it’s topped with whipped cream and crushed pecans.


I’m fascinated that I’ve never heard of a Newport before. If this is a regional delicacy, you’d think I would know about it, having grown up in the region. I know about frappes and jimmies in Massachusetts, scrapple in Pennsylvania, and prairie oysters in Nebraska. Maybe the Crown Candy Kitchen is like the last of a dying species, the only place left that retains once-common cultural knowledge.


Anonymous said...

There may be a good reason you've never heard of it before......I think Crown Candy Kitchen may be the only place that calls it a Newport. Of course, they're probably not the only ones to have a "Carmel" sundae, even if most average Americans prefer a "CARAMEL" sundae. Unless you're a resident of a small California City, where Dirty Harry used to be your mayor.


Anonymous said...

CCK has always called it "carmel". And the only place I've ever seen a sundae (which in St Louis is pronounced "sunda") with whipped cream and nuts called a "Newport" is at CCK. I've been going there for over 40 years, even though I no longer live in St Louis. It's simply the best!