There aren’t many on my list of musts. But, this past weekend, Pappy’s Smokehouse in St. Louis earned a line on it.
Gerard Craft, chef-owner of niche (and the attendant Taste and Brasserie), had commended Mike Emerson’s barbecue too many times to be ignored. So, to the smokehouse we went for lunch.
We arrived to a familiar scene there, a line snaking through the dining room, around the corner, and down a long hall. I’m sure if it weren’t below freezing outside, it would have gone out the door too. But, here is the benefit of eating with a local celebrity chef and a friend of the owner: not two seconds at its tail, we were plucked out of line by Emerson, sat at a table, and fed generously.*
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Let me tell you about the baby back ribs here. They are delicious; glazed magazines of juicy pork so succulent that we shot off two slabs without trying, discharging the bones like cartridge shells, left and right. These stubby, taut packets of fatty meat are firmer and pinker than the meat on the beef ribs that I’m used to eating in Kansas City. Emerson rubs his ribs with spices and leaves you to sauce it yourself at table.
He also sent out a sample of smoked meats: turkey, pulled pork and brisket. All of them were moist and tender, especially the brisket, which had a tighter grain than the brisket I’m used to having in Kansas City. Emerson’s brisket was rosy on the interior, almost like sliced steak.
On the side, we had baked beans and slaw, which I particularly liked. Emerson’s cabbage is chipped (as opposed to shredded/sliced) and tossed in a vinegary sauce flecked with celery seed. I prefer this lighter type of coleslaw to the thicker, creamier type. And we had a stack of sweet potato fries, seasoned with salt and sugar, if I’m not mistaken.
There were three sauces at the table. Pappy’s Original is thick, dark and tangy. Sweet Baby Jane is just as thick and dark, but sweeter. And there’s Holly’s Hot Sauce, which is thinner than the other two, high in vinegar with a mild heat; my favorite one.
I barely looked at the menu, but I did notice there was chicken on it. I’ll have to return for it. And Frito pie too!
After our lunch, Emerson took us back to his tiny kitchen, where he said his staff had smoked over a million pounds of meat last year to meet the demands of catering, take-out, and walk-in orders. Damn.
The attention this places is getting is not undeserved. If you’re in St. Louis, you must to Pappy’s.
3106 Olive Street
Saint Louis, Missouri 63103
* A special thanks to Mike Emerson, for your hospitality, and to Gerard Craft and Jeff Lehman, for introducing me to Pappy’s.