Pappy’s Smokehouse is the highest-rated barbecue place in St. Louis on Yelp and Trip Advisor and most other “Best” lists. Pappy’s is especially known for their ribs, which some consider the best in the US. That made it a must-stop on our last day in St. Louis.
The approach to Pappy’s is beautiful. There are five big Ole Hickory cookers outside, each one of which has been given a name. Cookers, not brick pits, but, hey. I’m flexible.
Even better, as we walked up, one of the pit guys, Mike, was pulling some ribs from Uncle Bud.
We entered and ordered from the menu behind the counter.
I wanted to try the ribs, but didn’t want a full half rack (at $17). Serendipitously, Pappy’s offered a $4.79 Special — a pulled rib sandwich with one side. I chose potato salad, and decided to add a quarter pound of burnt ends to test the beef.
First, to avoid confusion, I should repeat that what I ordered was a pulled rib sandwich, as per above, rather than a proper rib sandwich, as below, at Dreamland:
(You can’t see the bread, but it comes with two pieces, top and bottom.)
Back to Pappy’s. I took a bite of the generous portion of rib meat. The meat had been tossed with a heavy dose of sauce. Be warned: Pappy’s has a thick sauce that acted on the flavor much as a pillow held tight over someone’s face acts on that person’s ability to breathe (or so I’m told). I had no idea if the meat had any smoke flavor, or any flavor other than that of Pappy’s sauce smoke. It was really bad. And heartbreaking: a pig had given its life in vain.
I turned for relief to the burnt ends. They were not really proper burnt ends, but rather chunks of brisket, most with no outside char at all. Like the rib meat, they had been bathed — drowned — in Pappys’ cloying sauce. For the first time in my life, I actually could not taste any difference in the flavor of the pork and the beef. Imagine. It reminded me of Pierce’s, where they cook pork shoulders the way god intended, in a brick pit over hickory, and then insist on dousing it in a terrible sauce.
On the bright side, the potato salad was unobjectionable.
Nancy fared somewhat better with her order of a smoked turkey sandwich with a baked potato and applesauce.
Better, but not very well. Nancy discarded the bun, as per usual, and tasted the turkey. She asked if it had been smoked. Honest. She couldn’t tell. I cleared my palate and tasted it. Yes. I could barely detect a slight smoke flavor, and subsequently have googled and verified that they do smoke their turkeys. Now, turkey soaks up smoke flavor better than any other meat. Pappy’s smoked turkey has less smoke flavor than any I’ve ever tasted. Perhaps they use the Vermouth System for really dry martinis: wave the vermouth over the gin, then add an olive to the gin.
Pappy’s offers additional sauces on the tables.
The Pappy’s Original, which I assume was the sauce that spoiled their meat, does not have a peppery kick. The Hoodoo Sauce is a bit hot and more sweet than hot. The Carolina Vinegar Sauce is above average for a Carolina sauce offered outside North Carolina. Nancy put the vinegar sauce on her baked potato, and liked that.
Why is Pappy’s the favorite barbecue place among residents of St. Louis? The answer escapes me. There may be a link with the fact that St. Louis has the highest murder rate of any city in the United States, but I can’t connect those dots. I like St. Louis. I like it a lot. St. Louis has great, great Italian food. The evening before we’d had a wonderful meal at Charlie Gitto’s on the Hill after our AVA 10k walk in the state capital of Missouri (which 93 percent of Americans cannot name). I was in St. Louis for several cases in my federal prosecutor days, and was pleased with every one of my many Italian meals. The St. Louis Cathedral Basilica — the newer one — is sensational, covered with beautiful mosaics, both Italian and Byzantine, that took 72 years to install. For my money it’s the most impressive cathedral in the USA, a must-see worth the trip to St. Louis by itself.
Most remarkable, during the first National League championship, the St. Louis fans actually applauded Nats pitcher Anibal Sanchez’s bravura performance as he was relieved in the eight inning after giving up his first hit. That’s true sportsmanship, true class. I had noticed while watching games in St. Louis years ago that the fans only cheered good plays, not errors by their opponents. How can you not love a city like that?
So go to St. Louis. Go up in the arch. Have a meal at Charlie Gitto’s on the Hill. Definitely go to the Cathedral Basilica, and take in a baseball game, perhaps with a meal before or after nearby at the downtown branch of Sugarfire Smokehouse. And absolutely positively drive across the river to BEAST Craft BBQ in Belleville for some really good barbecue.
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