Prejudices are really pretty nasty things. Pre-judging - because that's really what the word means - can eliminate some potentially fine experiences. That's especially true when it comes to food. I don't like artichokes can lead to "Well, that dip you just scarfed down was spinach and artichokes." I once had a brother-in-law who refused to eat oysters (not allergic, just didn't like the way they looked) but enthusiastically chowed down on my late-ex-mother-in-law's stuffing, which I was convinced contained them. Finally, his wife confessed, "We just don't tell him."
This, of course, leads to a discussion of my own prejudices, and one of them has always been barbecue in shiny-clean suburban settings. I think maybe the 21st Century has put paid to the generality that good 'que is either urban or rural, slightly grimy from all that important, fragrant smoke, and with an overall feel of at least slight grittiness that pretty much proved this was the authentic stuff.
Thus, walking into PM BBQ in a far West County strip mall, its tables fresh and the condiments aligned like military formations, it was difficult not to think "I dare you...." The mood on departure, though, was considerably different.
Arriving a little after 6 on a Tuesday evening because of an unavoidable delay, we were greeted with a sign that announced they were out of everything but pork and brisket. Good news/bad news, too bad about the diminished supplies but good news that they don't warehouse their meat, making piles at one time and holding it until it sells, however long it takes. A few days later, a mid-afternoon visit found a full set of offerings.
Probably the biggest surprise was the brisket. Joe was wild about brisket, as befitted a kid from Brooklyn, but I've always been less enthused. This brisket, however, is darn near superb. Tender, lean, full of smoke and beefy flavor, it really, truly didn't need sauce, and I was two-thirds of the way through the sandwich before I realized I had a duty to try them. Pulled pork was equally succulent. Without sounding dismissive, to my taste, pork is absolutely made to put in a smoker, and is far less temperamental a meat than its bovine pal. I'd be hard put to decide between the two, pork being my usual choice but this brisket is downright seductive.
Smoked turkey is thinly sliced breast with a black pepper rub. Nice and smoky, and in a sandwich it would stay moist, but served open-faced it will dry out quickly, not surprising given that it's white meat and very thinly sliced. Still it's a worthwhile substitute for those worrying about certain kinds of diets. Ribs were probably the least successful of the four meats we tried. Almost too tender, and lacking enough porky flavor, they were properly trimmed, and well-rubbed, but just don't inspire.
About those sauces: Four different kinds, only two that are tomato-based, the sweet and the spicy. That spicy carries a nice kick behind its celery seed notes. A Carolina mustard sauce works particularly well with the pork, and there's a pepper vinegar sauce that is worth exploring. One reviewer, perhaps in the RFT, said that it overwhelmed; not so much, to my tastebuds. I liked it a lot, especially on the ribs.
This is surely the first appearance on a local menu, at least that of a casual restaurant, for spoonbread. PM's version is more like a soft, moist cornbread with whole corn here and there, rather than the polenta/souffle hybrid cookbooks call for, but it's a nice and worthwhile change in side dishes. Macaroni and cheese is properly cheesy and slightly gooey, two qualities often lacking in the dish. The smokehouse beans, several kinds of beans combined, were indeed smoky, and above average, while their green bean cousins were nothing remarkable. That phrase also applies to the potato salad, which lacks any tang whatsoever, and the coleslaw. Apple sauce shows the pink tinge that marks it as seasoned with red-hots candy, giving the cinnamon note, a little chunky and slightly tart, good for kids, or whoever honors the pork-and-applesauce tradition. Sweet potato fries will please the purists who eschew the sugary sprinkles of some offerings; these are irregularly cut and feel like real throwbacks to the days when they were a real novelty on a menu, the only sweetness their own.
Counter service for ordering, do it yourself for drinks (no liquor license, if that's a concern), orders brought to your table. Lots of carryout, not surprisingly.
103 Chesterfield Towne Centre, Chesterfield
Lunch & Dinner Mon.-Sat.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good