Pappy’s Smokehouse has been around St. Louis since 2008. But each time I’ve gone there to eat, there’s been a line down the hall, out the door, and around the corner. I finally gave up. Then this week my friend Laura and I were on a lark. She mentioned not having been to Pappy’s for a spell. When she heard I’d never been there, well, our lunch destination was determined, even though it meant a 20 minute drive.
The Taste of Barbecue
First, let me say, I’m not an authority on barbecue. I think barbecue is a matter of individual taste and geography. Some like Memphis-style, or Texas or Kansas City-style. Each area has a subset of followers like Kansas City has fans of Bryants, Gates, Jack Stack or Joe’s. But the polls tells us that there’s agreement on one thing: Tennessee, Texas and Missouri (in that order) are the titans of American barbecue.
Only a Short Line!
It was Wednesday and past the lunch hour, so we drove over to Pappy’s. As luck would have it, there was a parking spot just outside the back door and the line of some 30 people didn’t form until well inside the building.
I viewed the overhead sign that reminded me that I was in an award-winning establishment; the aroma was an even better indicator. A server handed out menus as we neared another sign. The message from Pappy read: “You Should Know What You Want to Order by Now. It’s All Good!” Yep, the place definitely had some experience in crowd management.
At the register, I selected the pulled pork platter with two sides, though you only get one side dish if you go with the baked potato—and I did. Laura got the half slab of dry-rubbed ribs with potato salad and the tangy, vinegar-based coleslaw.
I gave my name to the checker and sat down in one of the wooden booths. The music was upbeat, but not overly loud. As I looked around, I was surprised that about 90% of the people having lunch were men: blue collar, white collar, no collar guys of all ages. Laura and I concluded that barbecue with all the trimmings might not be the lunch of choice for most women.
Within minutes, a server showed up with our order. How she knew I was “Jean,” I’ll never know. Maybe they wrote down, “Old woman in lavender fleece,” or it could’ve been the ratio of men to women that made it easy to pick us out.
The pulled pork was undressed—or as they say in the trade, served dry—leaving you the option of choosing from a quartet of house-made sauces. There was Pappy’s Original, tangy with a peppery kick; Jane’s Kansas City-style, sweet and tangy; Holly’s Texas-style hot; and one called Hoodoo that’s muy caliente. I tried the first three and liked them all.
The baked potato was perfectly cooked, though the butter was hard to get out of the tiny, dime-size packets. As is typical in barbecue joints, everything comes in disposable wrappers: salt, pepper, butter, sour cream, sugar. But barbecue aficionados could care less. They’re looking for the bark on that brisket or the pink smoke ring on those ribs.
A Heap of Awards
In the world of competitive barbecue, Pappy’s has “smoked” their rivals in the porcine playoffs. The Travel Channel included Pappy’s in its “101 Tastiest Places to Chow Down in America.” And the Smokehouse basks in reviews from St. Louis to New York. Pappy’s is good and they know it. But that doesn’t mean they rest on their laurels. Servers, and even co-owner Mike Emerson, are out there asking customers if they’re happy with the food. From the looks of faces, fingers, and plates, they are. I know we were.
Pappy’s Smokehouse, 3106 Olive Street. Open: Mon-Fri 11a-8p; Sat-Sun 11a-4p.