Saint Louis is a northern south. Right on the border of Illinois – which cannot in any way be called a southern state – sits a clearly invisible dividing line. On the Illinois side, I was a little surprised to find large belt buckles with the unmistakable embossing of the Confederate flag on them, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me for two reasons: First of all, I was technically seeing this in Illinois. It was the Saint Louis metro area, granted, but a state line is a state line and there are no actual cities which cross state lines. Second, while sympathetic to the Confederacy, Missouri never actually went through with secession.
I understand that the former Confederacy sees its famous ensign as a piece of its history and a symbol of regional pride and don’t-boss-me-around rebelliousness. Then again, I also understand that Indian Hindus keep the swastika as a symbol of good luck.
The southern accent dominates the region, and I’ve been subjected to a few y’alls and other forms of regional dialect. I did know a few southerners in the north, only a next-door neighbor still had a think layer of her deep accent to go with a husky drawl. The other southern natives had accents which were faded at best, and they had adopted the Chicagoan slang of their northern friends and neighbors.
What surprised me most, however, was a recent stop in a small Belleville restaurant. I wanted a light meal, and looked at a breakfast menu which featured biscuits with gravy. Not as a side dish, but as a standalone item which allowed the option of having one or two biscuits with it. My hosts, Kevin and Christi, had both been regulars to southern culture at some point in their lives. Christi’s parents, who had dropped in unexpectedly for a quick visit, were both ornery southerners. All were shocked when I asked just what to expect with the biscuits.
Now, I had always loved biscuits, but we don’t glorify them in the north the way they do in the south. Biscuits in the north are strictly a side dish which is to be served with butter instead of bread with butter, and only on occasion. It took about ten minutes – during which Christi and her parents all expressed disbelief that I had never had biscuits and gravy before – before I decided to expand my horizons and try this southern comfort delicacy. The food came quickly, and I was given two normal-sized biscuits and a large bowl of white gravy with chunks of sausage. The proper way of eating them, I was told, was to cut the biscuits in half and just dump the gravy all over them.
After doing that, I was a little perplexed as to whether or not I eat them the traditional way or with a fork. I took the traditional method, grabbing them by hand and eating them between my fingers. The density of the gravy was greater than the density of the biscuits, and that sadly resulted in the biscuits slowly falling apart. Even so, I think I discovered a new favorite breakfast dish.