It’s summer and the grills and smokers in the backyards across the country are firing up. But local grill masters have lots of competition from award-winning BBQ joints like Pappy’s, Bogart’s, Vernon’s, the Capitalist Pig, Hendrick’s, Salt and Smoke and The Shaved Duck. St. Louis ranks up there with Memphis, the Carolinas, Kansas City and Austin, when it comes to finger lickin’ barbecue.
Duck into The Shaved Duck for BBQ
I had lunch recently at one of the city’s premier porcine parlors: The Shaved Duck. The name reminded me of a place I ate in Beijing more than thirty years ago. They served duck parts exclusively, from feet to feathers. Well, maybe not the feathers, but nothing much was wasted. It was located near a hospital and called The Sick Duck, which showed a sense of humor even during those bleak times in China.
While this St. Louis BBQ joint at the corner of Virginia and Pestalozzi may have a ducky name, their menu is mainstream American rustic. Though I noticed, that true to their name, they had several duck items on the menu: a duck confit with Mozzarella and a sweet bourbon drizzle. Another was poached in duck fat and served over greens in cider molasses.
Tall Orders, Big Flavor
Our server was unusually enthusiastic about the offerings and suggested we try the smothered fries.
“Smothered in what?” I asked.
She licked her lips and began. “Well, there’s pulled pork, cheese sauce, green onions, peppers, smoked tomatoes and jalapenos. It’s really wonderful! One of our signature dishes.”
We were convinced. For an entree, my friend, Laura, got the Baby Back Ribs, house rubbed and smoked with cherry wood (for color) and glazed. I went with the much-touted meatloaf with root beer glaze, though the Shrimp and Grits was calling my name. As it turned out, the smothered fries could have been a meal by itself. With little hope of cleaning our plates, we agreed to take home any leftovers. We soldiered on, happily engaged in culinary research.
As we watched the place fill up, we felt fortunate to be there for lunch on a weekday rather than a Friday or Saturday, when it’s best to make a reservation. Outside seating is available now, but indoors there’s only 15 tables, holding around 50 diners, plus the bar waiting area.
National Recognition Comes Early
Alastair “Ally” Nisbet, owner of the Scottish Arms, refurbished the one-time Tower Grove grocery store back in 2008. Since then he’s gained both area and national acclaim. In 2012 Guy Fieri of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives showed up to film the kitchen in action. A couple years late the place was featured in Johnny Friggit’s 100 Best BBQ Restaurants in America and gained top award for their Burnt Ends.
On The Shaved Duck website Nisbet writes, “We cut no corners and we love what we do.” Then he leaves us with with this mission statement: “Good Folk, Fresh BBQ and Honest, Soulful Food.” In keeping with that goal, the kitchen cooks from scratch, even making their own bacon. And they fire their ovens with cherry and hickory woods for just the right color and unique smoky flavor. With so many dishes yet to try, I foresee several more visits in the immediate future.
The Shaved Duck, 2900 Virginia at the Corner of Virginia and Pestalozzi in Tower Grove. Open: Mon 11a-9p; Tues-Fri 11a-10p; Sat 11a-10p; Closed Sunday. Best to make reservations for Fridays and Saturdays.