Photograph by Katherine Bish
Ever find home in a place you’ve never been? Ever smell nostalgia the instant you pass through a brand-new door? Pappy’s Smokehouse, tucked into an unlikely cul-de-sac somewhere between midtown and downtown, should smell like the paint’s still drying on the walls—it opened for business in February—and if memory serves, I did detect the scent of spackle as I headed in the back entrance.
But once inside, oh, the whiffs of smoke and wood, of summer camp and sticky weather, of a barbecue pit that may as well have been smoking meats for the past hundred years. It’s an aroma that sure does make people happy; you can see it on the customers’ faces, with their goofy, almost drugged smiles. One table’s full of SLU kids, at another sits an entire hook and ladder company on its lunch, and a gaggle of female co-workers confiscates the last seats in the house. Now and again, owner Mike Emerson slides all friendly-like from group to group, calling out hellos and goodbyes to the parties that come and go. The scene is so frigging hap-hap-happy, so it’s-a-beautiful-day-in-the-neighborhood, it’s as if some casting agent rigged the whole thing for a scene in a movie. And yet, on my very first visit to Pappy’s, I could’ve sworn I was not on a Hollywood movie set, but in some smaller, more Southern city, like a Little Rock or a Nashville—or really, a Memphis, since this is Memphis-style barbecue done shockingly well.
Here’s what you get at Pappy’s. You get meat—brisket, turkey breast, sausage links, pulled pork or pulled chicken—on an open-faced sandwich or on a platter, and from what I could tell, the only difference is a lot of meat on the sandwich or a lot more meat on the platter. Either way, you get your choice of two side orders. You can also get a baked potato, which they top with your choice of meat, or an iceberg salad, which they top with your choice of meat. And if you’re not in the mood for meat, you can get a half-slab or a full slab of ribs instead.
The chicken—my favorite of the meats, mostly because I don’t usually like chicken—was pink and juicy and, yes, finger-licking good. The turkey is firm, thickly sliced, clean-tasting; the sausage links more Chicago-style than Memphis-style; the pulled pork not quite as exciting as the other meats, but solidly enjoyable all the same; and the beef brisket is, surprisingly, the driest of the meats but richly seasoned (it needed a quick dab into the cup of house-made barbecue sauce to give it a little moisture).
On the side, go for the cinnamonalicious baked beans or the vinegar-based coleslaw. The sweet potato fries are kinda blah, and the deep-fried corn on the cob, though such a fun concept, actually just comes off tasting like burnt corn on the cob.
One thing you’ll likely never see, even at other local barbecue joints: the aforementioned officeklatsch of women all ordering Frito pies. And then the guy behind the counter using his kitchen knife to deftly slice open an individual, snack-sized pouch of Fritos for each order. Definitely try a Frito pie.
Oh yeah, and go for lunch. Since Emerson insists on making all food fresh each morning, they can run out of food by dinnertime. The only way Pappy’s ain’t like home: an empty fridge.
3106 Olive, 314-535-4340, pappyssmokehouse.com. Hours: Mon–Fri 11 a.m.–7 p.m. (or until they sell out), Sat–Sun 11 a.m.–4 p.m. (or until they sell out).