As we continued our coast-to-coast road trip on Route 66 into Missouri, we decided to drive through the state and selected St. Louis as the one place in the state where we would stop and get photos to represent Missouri in our Route 66 journey. We only had time to stop in one city as we passed Missouri that day, and St. Louis has the unmistakable landmark to photograph, the Gateway Arch, so that settled the plan pretty quickly. Since we would be reaching St. Louis in early afternoon, we thought it would be a good place to stop for lunch as well. The only question then was what to eat and where we would go for lunch.
When I thought of St. Louis in terms of food, one thing that came to mind was barbecue. St. Louis is not as famous for its barbecue as the city at the other end of the state, Kansas City. However, it has its own style of barbecue, and there is a delicacy that is associated to this city and the surrounding area, the barbecued snoots (grilled pig’s nose). It may sound weird, but apparently not to the locals there.
My brother and I tried out snoots once a couple of years before our trip when there was a barbecue festival in New York City where my brother lived. They had barbecue joints from all over the country coming in to represent their regional style of barbecue, and we saw one vendor from St. Louis serving snoots. We did try it there, but we thought it would be interesting to try the St. Louis-style barbecue again when we passed St. Louis. The only question was where we would go and try this out. Just like in many cities known for a regional cuisine, the locals have their favorite places, so you have to pick one in the end among many potentially good places to go.
While my brother was driving towards the city, I did Google search on my smart phone to look for options and people’s reviews on them. We finally settled on one place called Smoki-O’s that seemed to be located pretty close to downtown St. Louis (so we don’t have to go to far out of the way from the Gateway Arch where we wanted to stop and take photos). The place was also characterized as a ‘hole in the wall’ that is a favorite of many locals — which means it’s a ‘real deal’ and unpretentious.
We followed the Google Map direction to Smoki-O’s, and we ended up in a warehouse area north of downtown St. Louis. The descriptions we read about the place were true; the place was really a ‘hole in a wall’; we were even a bit unsure about the surroundings thinking about leaving our car parked on the street with our belongings in it. But we thought we’ve already made it that far, and we shouldn’t ‘judge the book by its cover.’
When we went in the restaurant, we were greeted by a lady that we found out later was the daughter-in-law of the lady who opened up the barbecue joint years before. She was very nice and hospitable, and explained what they had on their menu. We clearly looked out-of-place compared to other folks there who mostly ordered the food to go. The lady asked where we were from, and we told her that we were in the middle of a road trip from California to New York. After we ordered, she told us to have a seat at their small eating area while our order was prepared.
Few minutes lates, a gentleman came out of the kitchen area with a styrofoam container full of meat — the sampler that we ordered. He introduced himself to us as the pitmaster there. He was told by the lady at the counter about our cross-country trip, so he wanted to stop by and chatted with us a little bit. He mentioned that he’s done a road trip to New York City himself a couple of years back, since they were selected to represent St. Louis in a barbecue festival. When we heard that, we asked him if it was the same festival that we went to, and it turned out that it was. So we actually had snoots from Smoki-O’s already in New York City; we just didn’t remember it.
The photo below was the barbecue platter that we had for lunch at Smoki-O’s. It was plenty to share between the two of us. The food was good, but I think the encounter with the store owner and the pitmaster that left a lasting memory. I posted this photo on my Flickr album, and a couple of years later, this photo was included in an online slideshow on Big-Cities Barbecue on Grubstreet, the online foodies site for the New York magazine.