The Cheesy, Open-Faced Gerber Sandwich Is A St. Louis Specialty

Mostly known for its Mississippi River location, the Gateway Arch, and hometown sports, St. Louis also has a few food specialties to brag about. Gooey butter cake in all its variations is the sweet favorite of St. Louisans, toasted ravioli is a favorite to munch on at taverns around town, and the local pizza specialty is flat, crunchy, and covered in gooey provel cheese. That stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth cheese is also featured in the famous Gerber sandwich popularized by a local deli in the early 1970s.

Resident historians say that Ruma's Deli put the sandwich on its menu and named it after a customer who came up with the formulation. Provel cheese and thinly sliced ham are served open-faced on toasted garlic bread, hot and melty from the oven. It's nothing revolutionary, certainly, but it's simply delicious. Other sandwich shops picked up the idea, and you'll find the Gerber sandwich on many local menus throughout St. Louis. However, this is not without controversy — Ruma's owner sued for the right to use the name exclusively.

A ham sandwich by any other name

According to the local St. Louis publication Riverfront Times, the issue came to a head back in 2003 when another sandwich purveyor in St. Louis won a local award for the Best Use of the Worst Cheese for its version of the Gerber. Did we mention that provel is a controversial cheese, even in The Lou? The Ruma's threatened lawsuit apparently had restaurants around town changing their menus as fast as melty cheese slides off hot ham.

Today, you'll still find the disputed open-faced ham and provel concoction at sandwich joints around St. Louis, though mostly under other monikers, such as The Berber, The Hammer, or Mangia Bene. Hometown grocer Schnuck's lists the sandwich by the original name on their recipe site, apparently willing to risk Ruma's wrath. It's worth noting that the Riverfront Times bestowed the same award again in 2008 to the Gerber sandwich, this time at one of the Ruma's locations. No matter what you call it, it's hard to beat hometown comfort!