Banking the Coals

Getting fired up for the summer's last look at local barbecue joints

C&K Barbecue (4390 Jennings Station Rd., 314-385-8100) takes a notably different tack in its sauce, which has heavy tomato overtones in its aroma and a visible, particulate dose of black pepper and other spices.

The location we stopped in at, designated "No. 3," is housed in an old service station (a recurring motif in numerous local barbecue joints) just south of I-70, directly accessible by way of the Jennings Station Road exit or Natural Bridge from the south. (C&K No. 1 is located at 4334 N. Newstead Ave.; there is currently no No. 2, although for a while several years back they ran a strip-mall outlet in Overland).

Another amazingly long-lived veteran of the local scene, C&K has been around for almost 40 years. A slab here ($13.75) is served very wet, so most of the overall flavor comes from the sweet-and-spicy (and unavoidably messy) sauce. The meat is full-bodied, moderately dense near the bones but especially chewy down around the left-intact flap piece, making this a good choice for those who gravitate toward this unique style of sauce or toward the gnaw-the-bones style of meat. Our order came out in a little more than five minutes.

Phil's (9205 Gravois Rd., 314-638-1313) is also pushing the big 4-0 in age and has always struck me as the patron saint of the St. Louis stewing style, which is blatantly displayed at the carryout counter just to the left of the front door. There you'll see subsections of rib bubbling away in pots of dark, brownish-red sauce.

This style of cooking tends to cause variations in the finished texture of the meat. On this particular visit, it was still clinging consistently to the bones and more chewy than fall-apart. The sauce at Phil's is truly one-of-a-kind, with an aroma and a subtle finish of pumpkin-pie spice, and the cooking style obviously causes it to be a blatant participant in your slab ($16).

A second Phil's is located just off I-44 at 115 W. Fifth St. in Eureka (636-938-6575). Because of the kettle-finishing style, carryout at Phil's is virtually instantaneous.

Our final stop on this particular tour is Chaney's (8224 Olive Blvd., 314-993-1716), a sentimental favorite of mine, owing to my U. City upbringing and the fact that they still use that same late-'60s faux-Peter Max flower-child logo.

With a heritage dating to 1945, Chaney's may just take the title as oldest continuously operating barbecue joint in St. Louis. Its current building was opened in 1962, but it has expanded multidirectionally in the years since, adding a roof over and a screen around the barbecue pit when overzealous health regulators objected to the former open-air cooking approach and later tacking on a group of outdoor tables out back.

Chaney's meat takes the ribs-simulating-ham approach, even extending to a hint of saltiness in the finish. The sauce isn't powerful in any given direction -- a hint of sweet, a hint of spice -- but this balances nicely with the cooking style.

While you're waiting for your order -- we were quoted a 10-minute wait, but the ribs came out in just over five -- be sure to browse the pictures, mementos and clippings on the back wall, which include ticket stubs to Cardinals' World Series appearances in the late '60s. With Hogan's Heroes reruns playing in the family room while I chomped on Chaney's ribs, my trip down memory lane was complete.

CORRECTION: The general manager of the Bacchus Brewery Co. called to correct the statement in last week's column that it hadn't started brewing its own beer before ceasing operations in Union Station. According to the general manager, Bacchus had in fact brewed beer and had also sold it to numerous bars and clubs.

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