3-4 May 2015
One huge aspect of travelling these days for me is to have as much local food as possible, not just the top-rated places and those award-winning restaurants, but the real local grub. That involves as much research, if not more, than finding the top places, as many such places may not be online. A recent good example is Naples. When I planned a few days in St Louis I certainly looked into all this.
One hard part about doing “real” local food is also distinguishing those old school places that have earned their reputation the hard way — with hard work, proven quality and longevity — versus those hipster-centric places lauded by Eater and other “foodie media” that thinks anywhere full of bearded guys drinking craft beer with some minor twist to traditional foods is the best thing since “ramps season” was invented. I experienced both in St Louis…
My first day in town, I dropped into the famous Roper’s Ribs for some food to take after that long cemetery hike. Roper’s is an institution in St Louis, and its ribs are known across the country. It is just down the road from the worst of the civil unrest in Ferguson, just down West Florissant. Seeing those damaged businesses was unpleasant, and I did my small part to bring some extra business into the area — even if it was just a quick unnecessary fill-up or an iced tea or water. But Roper’s was gonna be a treat…
I got the very last order of their famous St Louis ribs — all those who came after me were bitterly disappointed! I was lucky…
These were fabulous! not over-sauced, but the smokiness was utterly fantastic! Excellent texture and it was just delicious. One of the best ribs I’ve ever had in my life, the best I’ve had in years I’m sure of that — over all the Memphis and Owensboro places certainly. Mmm… What a treat this was! Definitely not to be missed in St Louis!
Later that night I had the wee mediocre dinner at The Libertine. The next day, after yet another long cemetery hike (yes, I enjoy them, as a nature lover, as a historian, and as a someone who is strangely morbid!), I dropped into the infamous Schottzie’s Bar and Grill, hoping to have their most famous item — the brain burger. But I was told they were out of brains until later in the week, so I left very disappointed.
I actually was planning to head over to the Illinois side of the river so I decided to stop at another well-loved BBQ institution in the area, Big Mama’s BBQ. Now everyone knows East St Louis is not exactly a fun place to be and it’s certainly that. This small eatery sits lonely in a large parking lot with a state prison right across the road…
I was already smelling the food from that fine smoker outside. I wonder how that aroma must drive the inmates crazy across the street…seems almost cruel… I ordered one of their specials, the snoots and 1/2 rib-tips.
Yes, snoots. Fried snoots. Pig snout. You gotta love it, this method of prep (frying) makes it very much like crackling. Excellent. And the rib-tips were excellent, almost as good as yesterday’s at Roper’s — though too much unnecessary sauce. The smoking was fabulous. Actually worth a trip to East St Louis!
Later that evening, still enjoying the aroma of those ribs and snoots, I headed out to grab some chicken. I chose Old Standard Fried Chicken, a new hip place catering to hipsters that does cocktails, bourbon and fried chicken. I didn’t want to drink much so decided to take half a bird away. Waited with a cocktail and then took the stuff home.
Nice box, kept the heat in the food definitely. But the chicken was really not that impressive. It lacked a kick or a distinguishing taste in the wide world of fried chicken. Worse, I suspect the different pieces came from different birds and prepared at different times — despite the long prep time. The wing and drumstick were underdone (the wing was bleeding badly), while the breast was good but thigh was fried internally to a crisp. For what they charge, not worth it. Mediocre at best.
So the lesson for St Louis? Go to old school places like Roper’s Ribs and Big Mama’s BBQ — and take a pass from the hipster, trendy places that overcharge for mediocre products that get all that media (and Eater) attention for no reason except they have craft beers and bourbon and are filled up with dudes with craft beards.
6929 West Florissant Avenue
St Louis, Missouri
Big Mama’s BBQ
5900 St Clair Avenue
East St Louis, Ilinois
Old Standard Fried Chicken
1621 Tower Grove Avenue
St Louis, Missouri