The number-one best thing to do after an all-nighter in St. Louis is to head to the nearest diner for one of the city’s quintessential late night / early morning meals—the St. Louis Slinger. The darling of all-night diners, the Slinger is a concoction of meat, starch, and cheese. The origins of the Slinger are obscure, but there are a few pioneers who have some claim to the development of this plated feast. As meals go, it pairs deliciously with a nightcap but it’s also delightfully curative for those first hangover pangs.
Although the Slinger is a St. Louis special, it appears to be related to New York’s Garbage Plate —a chili sauce-topped plate full of potatoes, onions, hot dogs, and onions. While similar, the Slinger has a charm all its own. The typical Slinger features two eggs, a hamburger patty, and hash browns topped by chili con carne sauce, cheese, and onions as well as a slice of toast to help you mop up the plate. Diners can enjoy their eggs anyway they prefer, but over easy tends to be most popular. Sometimes the hamburger patty is substituted by sausage patties, a slice of ham, or even a t-bone steak.
Not surprisingly, there are many different versions of the Slinger and different diners often feature their own specialties. For instance, if early-morning chili is a bit much for your beer-soaked tummy, order a Hoosier—a well-known version of the Slinger that features a white sauce instead of chile, and if you can’t decide, there’s always the Yin-Yang Slinger that’s covered by half white sauce and half chile. For something special, opt for a tamale-topped Slinger or a Chicago-style Slinger that comes with cheeseburger patties and grilled onions. If you’re not a meat eater, you’ll find veggie Slingers too.
As the Slinger escalated in popularity, it began to appear on menus outside of St. Louis as far north as Chicago. However, it hasn’t quite managed to leave the Midwest yet. Recently, some restaurants have updated their menus with upscale versions of the Slinger like a version that features biscuits and andouille sausage instead of hamburger patties and hash browns. And, of course, if you’re planning to make this dish at home, you can include your own choices. However, there’s nothing quite like entertaining this dish at an all-night diner along with a couple cups of black coffee to wash it all down.
The earliest restaurants in St. Louis to feature this dish are the Eat-Rite Diner and O.T. Hodge Chile Parlor, but there are others who have claimed ownership. While it’s been impossible to prove who featured this dish first, the Slinger seems to owe its inspiration to both the Garbage Plate and Tex-Mex inspired-meals like chili mac.
The next time you’re visiting St. Louis, give the Slinger a try—even if you haven’t been up all night. Zesty and filling, the Slinger is featured all over the city, but the most popular diners that serve it are: Eat-Rite Diner, Courtesy Diner, City Diner, White Night Diner, and Tiffany’s Original Diner.