Monday, January 23, 2012
Charlotte and Charlotte's Rib, two St. Louis institutions
Charlotte Peters may have passed away in 1988, but she continues to have a major presence at the St. Louis area barbecue restaurant that has been operated by her family since 1977.
As you enter Charlotte’s Rib, located in the Claymont Center strip mall in suburban Ballwin, Mo., a television screening highlights from 23-year career of the “First Lady of St. Louis Television” makes her as omnipresent as the cowboy items everywhere (a mural on the wall greets you, “Howdy Partner”).
Peters, pictured below, seemingly interviewed everyone who came to or near St. Louis from 1947 to 1969, including director Alfred Hitchcock, singer Eddie Fisher and renowned circus clown Emmett Kelly.
However, today we can thank the daytime TV entertainer for talking a Roman chef into giving her his recipe for a meat rub that her father-in-law, a career chef, further modified. They still use the rub today at Charlotte’s Rib.
The restaurant was founded in Kirkwood by Herb and Pat Schwarz, Charlotte's daughter and son-in-law, in 1977. Now at its third location in Ballwin, Charlotte's granddaughter and son-in-law carry on the tradition.
As evidenced by our meal and the numerous trophies also on display near the entrance, the next generation is doing it quite well. The ribs had excellent smoke markings and yet were very moist. Their variety of sauces complimented the flavor but weren’t always needed. The portion sizes were outstanding.
One person in our group surprised us by ordering the catfish, which he found to be delicate and flavorful without being greasy.
According to the book Real Barbecue, which was available for purchase at Charlotte’s Rib, Herb Schwarz entered the Kansas City American Royal Barbecue Cook-Off under an assumed name, Dr. Rollin River. Schwarz, who really was a doctor, was the contest champion for his pork in 1981. A year later, Pat’s chili recipe was an award winner at the Regional Chili Cook Off in St. Louis.
Herb passed away on Valentine’s Day in 2007, but his family has kept up the family reputation in competitive barbecue. Charlotte’s Rib won second place in the cook’s choice category of the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue in 2008. Prominently displayed during our visit were several trophies from the St. Louis Home Fires completion in 2011, where Charlotte’s Rib was the reserve champion and brisket champion and won third place in rib category.
The family says its sauce is based on a family recipe, passed down from previous generations. They now have four versions, which they sell at the restaurant and at a nearby grocery store.
Since we were visiting St. Louis, we were compelled to have the ribs, but Charlotte’s Rib also is well known for its pork sandwiches and beef brisket – which we’ll try next time. Also on the menu are chicken, salmon, shrimp and steaks and burgers. Charlotte’s Rib also is known for its onion rings, but we found them to be disappointingly lacking of flavor.
Only on Thursday’s they offer a delicacy, burnt ends -- the trimmings from a smoked brisket. When beef is smoked, there are pieces around the edge that tend to dry out and get very smoky in flavor. After being trimmed off, they are either often used in sandwiches or stews. It’s a phenomenon common in these parts as well as in Kansas City.
As we enjoyed our dinner, we frequently looked up at Charlotte on the TV screen – dressed as a mermaid, a fairy or as Annie Oakley – and traded laughs. If you want to see her during the golden years of live television, her son and famous cartoonist Mike Peters has lovingly posted videos from her variety shows online on YouTube.
As some would say, “What a hoot.”