C&K Barbecue, St. Louis, Missouri
In this tiny BBQ shack on a lonely stretch of I-70, the Brantley family bakes pig snout until it’s good and crunchy, then they simmer rib tips and plop it all on Wonder Bread. In Barbershop Cedric the Entertainer informs his boys that they haven’t had good BBQ till they’ve had C&K. He’s right. A sign reads, THE SECRET’S IN THE SAUCE. We agree, and we’re not ashamed to say it! (4390 Jennings Station Rd., 314-385-8100)
The C&K Barbecue experience begins and ends with agony. First you have a five-minute wait at the carry-out hut, awash in the aroma of tomato and vinegar. Torture. Then there's the drive home, fighting the urge at every stoplight to tear into the steaming, sweet-smelling takeout containers. C&K has been taunting barbecue lovers like this since 1963. And as one longtime fan notes, "Those in the know know there's no other barbecue like it." Current owner Daryle Brantley runs the place with the help of his wife and four children. Every day at least one of them is on the premises manning the rotisserie and dishing out super-size slices of sweet-potato pie. The pork comes from Jayson Meat Co. on Martin Luther King Drive, says Brantley's eldest son, Oz. "And everything we sell here, we make here." The rib tips, loaded with meat, literally shimmy off the bone. The sauce is thin, and tingles underneath your fingertips. By the time the Styrofoam is empty, your gut, legs and noggin have gone numb. Pain is pleasure.
That craving for barbecue can hit a person at any time, which is one of the reasons why I like St. Louis’s C & K Barbecue so much. C&K can soothe my hunger pangs at just about any hour—eleven in the morning, three in the afternoon or even around midnight. It’s a take-out place with all the usual ribs, chicken and wonderful potato salad. But connoisseurs come here for the “snoots”—hog snouts and ears—which come out crispy and lavished with Daryle Brantley’s no-kidding-around barbecue sauce. Whatever you order, be prepared to eat it in you car, because it’ll be impossible to smell that aroma and not begin tucking in on your way back home. Just be prepared to have to give your car a good wiping down later.
C & K Barbecue
By Betha Whitlow
SPECIAL TO THE POST-DISPATCH
No ever one said that dating a food writer was easy. In the game of love, people promise each other all sorts of things, even if it eventually leads to profound regret. So discovered my gentleman caller, Dave, when his time came to pay the piper. In a moment of weakness, he pledged to this restaurant reviewer not wine and roses or chocolate and puppies, but something far more romantic: to eat a different part of the pig. That's where C & K Barbecue came in handy.In business for more than 40 years, C & K Barbecue is a local joint with national press, as regarded for its way with pig snouts, ears and tripe as it is for chicken and pulled pork. The 1950s building housing it is space-age angles and orange fiberglass insets, while the tiny, tidy interior is equipped for carryout only. Expect friendly counter service with an earnest, "Let me see if we have it" attitude. And if they don't have it, don't fret — C & K has plenty of amazing barbecue to go around.
We chose to start easy with a plate of pulled pork ($4.50). Prepared just the way I like it, with textural play between soft and crispy shreds of meat and hot pockets of fat, it became a revelation with a heavy dose of C & K Barbecue's astonishing sauce. Tomato-based, mildly sweet and black pepper-infused, with a thick, 10-napkin sloppiness, it was worth eating by itself with a spoon.Thankfully, the sauce made a return appearance on C & K's fabulous barbecued chicken ($5, half chicken), which was so juicy and tender it virtually melted off the bone. Were it not for my preference for dark meat and Dave's for white, I suspect a hearty battle would have ensued for perhaps the best chicken we've ever had. Lulled if not primed, we took on the tripe sandwich ($3.25). While not particularly appealing in concept — tripe is a stomach lining — C & K's preparation of it dispelled our doubts. Spicy breading gave it the air of a chicken-fried steak, drawing out the tripe's surprisingly mild flavors and complementing its uniquely chewy consistency. A dose of pickles, onions, mustard and hot sauce added body, and soft, white bread, a comforting familiarity. Then, just when Dave thought he'd lived up to his promise, the snout plate ($6) arrived. Yes, that would be pig muzzle, sliced thin and flash-fried. Crunchy like pork rinds and sauced like barbecue, it wasn't our thing, but it wasn't half-bad, especially with C & K's clever take on potato salad — a thick, rich puree dotted with a lively pickle relish.Later, as we gobbled up a huge slice of C & K's superb lemon layer cake ($1.50), Dave quietly uttered, "Don't make me eat more snout," and as my romantic gesture to him, I promised I wouldn't. C & K Barbecue — perhaps the top restaurant of its kind in St. Louis — offers far more than a grand tour of the pig. It also gave a guy a chance to impress a girl. And it worked.