Let me get this out of the way right off the bat. I apologize to all of you (about 1.2 million of you, give or take about 1.2 million) who enjoyed the first few editions of Crowding the Plate and have been clamoring for more. It has been my intention to do one every other week but different factors have kept cropping up over the past couple of months that made it hard. Make no mistake, I’ve been eating this whole time. And I’ve had quite a few memorable meals since we last met in this space.
One of the factors, by the way, that made it tough is that your darn baseball team has been playing so well. The Rangers’ success has required too much attention, leaving less time to disgust you with my food exploits.
Don’t get me wrong, covering a winning team is more fun than covering a stinker. But the coverage stakes go way down when the team is struggling. Fewer people care and editors get lazy and don’t necessarily care if you’ve posted 16 videos of Jeff Banister answering the same question for the 100th time. But I digress.
I’m writing this on an iPad on the plane ride back from St. Louis after the Rangers’ three-game sweep. How about that?
I’ve been to St. Louis a bunch of times. My mom was born here, and my grandma was born and raised here. Her brother Russell Hart was the long time head of the St. Louis Area Council of the Boy Scouts, a position that often allowed him some very cool access to the Cardinals and some of their all-time greats such as Stan Musial, Lou Brock and Bob Gibson. We even had our 2003 family reunion in St. Louis so that my grandma and her brother could visit. Both are gone now, but their spirits remain.
OK, the food.
If I’ve ever had St. Louis’ version of Memphis-style barbecue I don't remember it.
So I made it a mission to hit one of the top joints on my trip. I didn’t waste any time either. I settled on Pappy’s Smokehouse. I was considering Bogart’s, but their website said they closed at 4 p.m. or whenever they sell out. OK, I can handle the selling out part. That happens a lot at good barbecue joints. But closing at 4 p.m.? C’mon! Some of us have jobs!
Anyway, Pappy’s, which is just a few miles west of downtown, didn’t disappoint.
I arrived around 6 p.m. Thursday and there was a substantial line already for the order-at-the-counter style place. Multiple huge steal smokers are parked on the sidewalk outside the restaurant. It’s clear this place has had to adjust for its in demand meat. It took about 20 minutes of waiting to finally get to the counter, which is cutting awfully close to my 15 minutes or “screw this!” stance on restaurant dining. The decor, people-watching and heavenly smells wafting through the place made it more than bearable. It also gave me a chance to study the menu and devise a plan as to how I was going to order as much as possible without making the bosses at the Star-Telegram raise an eyebrow at the expense.
I ordered the half rack of pork ribs, Pappy’s signature meat. They’re prepared in a hybrid style, a St. Louis’ version of Memphis-style barbecue. They were out of burnt ends, so I settled for a quarter pound of brisket, along with potato salad, coleslaw and deep fried corn, which I’d never seen.
The ribs were, simply, the best I’ve ever had. Pappy’s ribs combine a sweet and sticky rub on the outside that compliments the smokey meat flavor perfectly.
You know the meat expression, “fall off the bone”? These things epitomize that description as you can see in this food porn clip that I sneaked past the censors:
Is that beautiful or what? Go ahead, lick your screen. No one’s watching.
The brisket, which I ordered lean, had good flavor but was a little soft. Maybe that’s a St. Louis or Memphis thing, but I’m used to a little firmer brand of brisket. (Sorry, but that’s what she said.) The sides, often an overlooked item at barbecue joints, were solid. I wasn’t completely sold on the deep-fried corn on the cob. It had a nice crunch and smokey flavor but I guess I prefer my corn less chewy.
Back to the ribs. I’m not a huge fan of ultra messy food. I don’t care for having to constantly clean my fingers during a meal. I find myself in an OCD haze repeatedly reaching for the napkin despite immediately reaching for another sticky rib. These ribs, however, are so tasty that the mess didn’t bother me. I also am not big on gnawing on a bone, be it a chicken bone, steak bone or rib bone. Something about the act of chewing meat off the bone makes me feel just a tad too cro-magnon. That wasn’t an issue with these ribs, though. The meat fell off with barely a nudge.
I’ll definitely hit Pappy’s again when I’m in St. Louis, but next time I’ll order the full rack of ribs, forget the brisket and order another rack of ribs as the side.
The next day, I met Fox Sports Southwest’s John Rhadigan and photographer Christopher Fitzpatrick for lunch at The Shaved Duck, another barbecue spot visited by Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. It’s just southwest of downtown St. Louis in the Tower Grove East section of the city. I had the smoked tri-tip sandwich and fries. I wanted to order The B.O.S.S., a tri-tip sandwich “smothered in bacon Swiss sauce topped with onion rings on a brioche bun,” according to the menu, but, alas, it’s only available after 5 p.m. Tri-tip, which is something I’ve had several times in California where it gained popularity in the 1950s, comes from the bottom sirloin subprimal cut. What exactly is that? Look, I’m not a chef. Apparently, it’s located near the back of the cow. The fries tasted undercooked, but the tri-tip was top notch. I’d go back for it. But chances are if I make it back it’ll be after 5 p.m. and I’ll be getting my hands on The B.O.S.S.
After the game Saturday night, I wasn’t in the mood to go on a wild-goose chase for another landmark meal. I wanted something good and quick. I noticed a burger place called Bailey’s Range was just a few blocks from my hotel. I saddled up to the bar and noticed they offered a burger called the Texas Ranger. It came on Texas toast with grilled poblano peppers and onions with a house cheddar sauce and chipotle cream cheese. Again, the fries were less than exciting but the burger was excellent. The mild heat and poblano flavor mixed with the chipotle cream cheese really was a nice combination. I’d go back again. They have a bunch of different specialty burgers that sounded interesting.
Lastly, props to the St. Louis Cardinals for offering solid dessert options in the media dining room. Each day they had cherry, apple and pecan pie, along with an assortment of cookies. The cherry pie had a nice firm crust and gooey cherry filling.
In conclusion, if you’re in St. Louis, head to Pappy’s and order the ribs. And if you eat anywhere else, you might want to skip the fries.
Stefan Stevenson: 817-390-7760, @StevensonFWST