The Must-Have Ribs in the Heart of St. Louis
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because this ’cue compels you to pick the bones clean.
By Daniel Malloy
When one consumes ribs, there’s a tendency to leave some meat behind. Given the high level of difficulty in tearing all the flesh off the bone, small fringed bits often remain at the end of the meal. At Pappy’s Smokehouse, this would amount to a mortal sin.
This St. Louis barbecue joint is a popular place. Even at 11:30 a.m. on a Tuesday, you’ll likely find a lengthy line of people, chatting and studying menus as smoke wafts from the kitchen. Firefighters and military service members mill about. The interior walls of the nondescript beige brick building are lined with signed menus from the famous and semi-famous — here’s looking at you, Full House star and onetime Alanis Morissette suitor Dave Coulier. The tables come equipped with four bottles of sauce and a roll of paper towels.
Several years ago, John Matthews was complaining to some pals about his day job in the real estate and construction business. After a couple of drinks they decided, hey, maybe their weekend hobby of smoking meat for judges in barbecue competitions could become a weekday thing too.
Pappy’s opened in 2008, serving Memphis-style barbecue that is smoked for up to 14 hours over sweet applewood or cherrywood. Now the competitive Matthews is considering expanding to Chicago or Denver. “We introduced something very new to the St. Louis market … the idea of selling out of food,” Matthews says, adding, “If it’s not spot-on perfect enough that we’d submit it to a judge, we won’t serve it.”
They all but demand that you suck them dry, picking at each bit of meat like some barbecue vulture.
A half slab of ribs will set you back $16.99. The accompanying sweet, vinegary slaw is above average and the well-seasoned green beans leave a pool of butter at the bottom of their Styrofoam home. (Other side options include sweet potato fries and fried corn on the cob.) And the ribs, oh my, the ribs. They are peppery and sweet, fall-off-the bone succulent. And they all but demand that you suck them dry, picking at each bit of meat like some barbecue vulture.
They really don’t need sauce — the sign of great ’cue — but the sauces rise to the challenge. The hoodoo sauce is a cranked-up spicy version of Pappy’s original sauce that hits the ideal heat check: sparking the taste buds and requiring extra glasses of water, but without overwhelming the experience with pain.
Beneath the ribs you’ll find a thick piece of white bread, perfect for sopping up the meat juices and sauce. Through some glorious clerical error, my plate also includes a quarter-pound of thinly sliced brisket. (Typically a $4.50 dual-meat upcharge.) It’s a wonderful delivery system for the sauces, but cannot match the ribs. Other available meats include pulled pork, pulled chicken, turkey breast and spicy sausage. Or you can spring for a Frito pie — the legendary corn chips topped with your choice of meat, baked beans, cheddar cheese and onions.
But it’s those mouthwatering ribs that draw Pappy’s its crowds and accolades. When you relinquish your tray, the bones will be picked clean.