Smoke Signals

Touring area 'cue joints proves to be a saucy experience

Beef-jerky fans should definitely pick up one or more of the 2-ounce bags for sale at the carryout window. Total time for a walk-in carryout order was less than five minutes.

Sweet Jo Mama's (2800 Olive St., 314-531-4111. Half slab: $6.50. Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri.): If it looks like a retirement-apartment cafeteria -- well, it is. But it's also an outlet to sample the wares of Larry Gerstein, whose eponymous Larry G's retro diner graced the streets of Creve Coeur several years ago.

Recently one of Larry's claims to fame has been as a training-table provider for the Rams, and the restaurant itself (on the ground floor of the Heritage House high-rise) is lined with celebrity shots, as well as the clever shtick of a display of ties for sale near the cashier for those who succumb to the inherent messiness of a barbecue lunch.

Smoki O's: The Walker family purveys delicately sauced ribs in a white-glove spick-and-span establishment.
Jennifer Silverberg
Smoki O's: The Walker family purveys delicately sauced ribs in a white-glove spick-and-span establishment.

Location Info


Barney's Sports Pub

6027 Chippewa St.
St. Louis, MO 63109

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: St. Louis - St. Louis Hills

Gerstein certainly doesn't pull any punches in deference to the older palates who form a big part of his inherent constituency. The sauce is both tangy and spicy, with only a hint of sweetness, and the meat requires some vigorous chewing. In addition to ribs, here we also tried the chicken, which featured a pronouncedly herby rub in addition to the barbecue sauce. Best case on the ribs is that they've recently been pulled from the grill, as were the ones we got; they're served from a steam-table tray, which could result in some additional poaching in the sauce if they've been out there for any period of time.

Total time for a walk-in carryout was less than five minutes, but it does require you to go through the same cafeteria line as any sit-down patrons, so spur-of-the-moment carryout could end up taking a little while during the busy time.

Charlotte's Rib BBQ (14908 Manchester Rd. (Ballwin), 636-394-3332. Whole slab: $16.49. Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5-9 p.m. Tue.-Thu.; 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5-10 p.m. Fri.; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sat.; noon-8 p.m. Sun.): The talented, popular and gregarious Charlotte Peters, a pioneer of St. Louis television, has been gone more than a decade now, but she's certainly left a lasting legacy. One offspring, Pat Schwarz, along with husband Herb, runs this longtime West County barbecue roadhouse; another is Mike Peters, the gifted editorial and funny-page cartoonist (Mother Goose and Grimm) whose political commentaries have been a fixture in the RFT for many years.

The grills are visible behind a window at the carryout counter, and it appeared that Charlotte's Rib ranges toward the higher end of cooking temperatures, with the result darker and crisper outer coatings on the meat and a rich, almost-charred flavoring. The meat itself is also a little drier than most, but this concentrates its flavor all the more. The sauce is more of a condiment than a separate flavor element, not spicy at all and very neutral in terms of sweetness and tang.

Total time for a walk-in carryout was about 20 minutes, but this went by quickly because of the chattiness of several staff members who wandered in and out of the waiting area and made conversation.

McCrary's Original Hickory Bar-B-Q House (2719 Parnell St., 314-241-3530. Whole slab: $12. Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Sat.): This place no longer holds regular convocations of aldermen and other community leaders as it did in the days when its namesake, former state Rep. Roscoe McCrary, was still alive. And it's pretty frayed at the edges, with lots of yellowing old posters and documents on the walls (numerous pictures of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; a Cardinals calendar from 1986; an Anheuser-Busch salute to the queens of Africa, circa 1995; and even an open/closed sign carrying the long-forgotten logo of the St. Louis Sun) and various remnants of its additional role as a spice shop.

Nonetheless, spice is the key word here, as McCrary's "holy hot" sauce remains one of the best local alternatives for barbecue fire-o-philes. The one caveat here is that it can be hit-or-miss as to how recently the ribs have come off the fire; several times I've gone in and had them retrieve a slab from a holding container in front and then finish them with sauce in the back, which ends up diminishing the juiciness of the meat.

Parnell Street, by the way, is what Jefferson Avenue branches into as it connects to Salisbury Street and the McKinley Bridge when heading north from around the A.G. Edwards complex; it's therefore easy to make a lunch-gathering circuit to McCrary's for the main course and Crown Candy for dessert.

Total time for a walk-in carryout was between 10 and 15 minutes, and the guy behind the counter loves to talk baseball (which is appropriate, given that ol' Roscoe was such a fixture in the Busch press box that he once listed its phone number as his contact point).

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