During a recent trip to St. Louis, I stayed out in the Chesterfield Valley for a morning meeting the next day. Searching for food choices for the evening, I came across a barbecue place that I wasn't familiar with - even though it had been in business for over 30 years - Charlotte's Rib. I decided that I'd go over and try their barbecue in nearby Ballwin. (Photo courtesy Pitch.com)
To people over the age of 50 in the St. Louis area, they all remember Charlotte Peters, dubbed the "First Lady of St. Louis Television". Peters answered an ad looking for performers for a noon time variety show on KSD-TV (now KSDK) in 1947. Even though she was late for the interview, her audition went so well that she was hired on the spot. For seven years, Peters was part of the performing cast on a show that was geared toward housewives called "To the Ladies". She was immediately popular with her singing and comedic skills. When the original host of "To the Ladies" decided to quit, KSD named Peters the new host of the show and renamed it "The Charlotte Peters Show". The show was largely unscripted, and being that it was live television it was totally unpredictable. Peters, guests (which included Bob Hope, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Alfred Hitchcock and dozens of other notables of the day) and studio audience members - along with thousands watching at home - all went along with the intermittent chaos that a show like that could produce. Peters' mantra before each show was "Let's just wing it."
A dispute with KSD management in the early 60's forced Peters to jump to rival station KTVI (along with a vast majority of her sponsors and viewers). Peters continued the Charlotte Peters Show - still a live show - until the popularity of locally produced live variety shows began to decline. Charlotte Peters hosted her last show in 1970. She continued to work in local theaters and penned a column for the local paper after she retired from television. Charlotte Peters died in 1988.
Not only did Peters have a highly successful television show, she was also a stage actress, columnist, and was an advocate for local St. Louis charities. But above all, she was a mother. Her son, Mike, became famous in his own right as the man behind the highly popular Mother Goose and Grimm comic strip. And her daughter, Pat, used a barbecue sauce recipe that her mom came up with to be the impetus for what eventually became a barbecue joint called named after Charlotte Peters - Charlotte's Rib.
Pat, and her husband, Herb Schwarz had a love for Kansas City-style barbecue and they opened their first Charlotte's Rib location in suburban Kirkwood in 1977. The next year, the couple moved their business to a location out in West County on Manchester Road in Manchester, just west of Missouri Highway 141.
Herb Schwarz began to enter the world of barbecue competitions using the name "Dr. Rollin' River" to hide his association with Charlotte's Rib. (I believe, at that time, professional barbecue chefs couldn't enter some barbecue cook-offs.) In 1981, Schwarz/Dr. River won a regional barbecue cook-off to qualify for the American Royal Barbecue Cook Off in Kansas City - the World Series of Barbecue. Schwarz/Dr. River won the Best Pork category that year and it soon solidified Charlotte's Rib as the barbecue joint to go to in St. Louis. In 1982, Pat Schwarz used a family recipe that had been handed down in the Peters family to win a regional chili cook off in St. Louis. In 1985, the Schwarz's began to market their barbecue sauce - Mild Hickory - through local grocery stores, and began to develop new sauces and their own barbecue rub.
By the late 90's, the Schwarz's daughter, Lisa, and her husband, Scott Brown, joined Herb and Pat in the family business. The same year that the Schwarz's retired from the business and handed the reins over to their daughter and son-in-law, Charlotte's Rib was forced to move to a new location thanks to urban renewal. They moved to what is their present day location in Ballwin in 2001. They thought it would be a temporary move until they found a stand-alone building like their location on Manchester Road, but they settled in and decided to stay.
Their location is in a strip mall at the northwest corner of Clayton Road and Kehrs Mill Road. (see map) Through the week (they're closed on Monday) Charlotte's Rib is open until 8 p.m. (9 p.m. on the weekends). I got there around 7:15 and there was a light crowd in the place. As you walk into the restaurant, you come face-to-face with the multitudes of awards Charlotte's Rib has accumulated over the years. After Herb Schwarz's death in 2007, Scott Brown and Lisa Schwarz got back into local and regional competitions to pay homage to her father. In 2008 they won second place in the coveted "Cook's Choice" category at the Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational. They've also won a number of awards at local St. Louis area barbecue competitions since then.
80's and 90's country music from Sirius XM was playing over the sound system in Charlotte's Rib. The decor in the place was sort of a Western/ranch-style theme.
I found a spot in a booth toward the back of the place and was greeted by a young woman who gave me a menu. She asked what I wanted to drink and I told her I'd take a Budweiser. She brought me back the beer and asked me if I was ready to order. I had only been there for a couple minutes and hadn't had the chance to figure out what I was looking for yet. She told me that she'd check back and I said that was fine. That was a mistake. More on that later.
Charlotte's Rib is famous for their hand-cut pork steaks. They cut a steak out of pork shoulder (a.k.a. pork butt) and grill it. It's been a signature menu item for over 30 years. But I was looking for barbecue and they have St. Louis cut spare pork ribs, baby back pork ribs, brisket, pulled pork and chicken barbecue dinners. They also have a slew of appetizers including Pat Schwarz's chili and a Southern-style Burgoo stew that consists of Beef, Chicken and a variety of vegetables in a chicken stock. Burgoo is popular from about Central Missouri and Central Illinois south to heart of Dixie. I've been to Burgoo festivals before and they're pretty fun.
Charlotte's Rib also features pulled pork and brisket sandwiches, they have a handful of burgers on the menu, and they also have something called the C.B. Joe - a chopped beef and pork sandwich mixed with a combination of spices and topped with barbecue sauce. Charlotte's Rib also has a kid's menu, has menu items for family gatherings and can do large catering jobs.
They have a combo meal at Charlotte's Rib - 3 rib bones, 1/4 chicken, ham and beef brisket. But I don't care for smoked chicken all that much and ham is great for holidays, but I find it to be rather boring for barbecue joints. I found that I could just order different sizes of ribs and get a half pound of brisket. They had two different sizes (small and large) of the sides they offer which included seasoned French fries, potato salad, baked beans, cole slaw and chunky applesauce.
I had finished my beer and I had figured out what I wanted - 1/3 slab of ribs, 1/2 pound of brisket and a small side of the baked beans. I was waiting for the young girl to come back - and she never did. There was another girl looking after a small group of people toward the front of the restaurant, but my server was nowhere in sight. I walked into the restaurant just after 7:15 and it was now 7:25. Then it was 7:30. Then it became 7:35. I was seriously thinking of just laying three bucks on the table for the beer and getting up to walk out. Finally, nearly a full 25 minutes after I walked in, I got the attention of the other server. "My waitress has forgotten about me and I've been ready to order for over 15 minutes."
She apologized profusely and ran back into the kitchen to grab the other girl. My server came out and she said, "Oh my gosh! I am SOOOOO sorry. What can I get you?"
I just sort of sat there, looking up at her. I was just so incredulous that this happened to me in a restaurant - AGAIN! Figuring that I made her feel guilty enough and didn't have to tell her "Don't forget about your customers" (my eyes and facial expression was doing a good enough job of that), I ordered up my barbecue and baked beans along with another beer. She brought out another beer to me and said, "This one is on the house. Again, I am SOOOOO sorry."
She brought me out my barbecue about 15 minutes after I ordered and it was a hearty slab of meat on my plate. She asked if I wanted any additional barbecue sauce other than the mild hickory sauce that they had on the brisket and ribs. I asked what she had and she said, "Let me get you some more sauce." She came out with a spicy Southern sauce and a Western blend sauce.
I got more than a 1/3 rack of ribs, I'm guessing because of her forgetting about me, but probably more because it was the end of the rack. The ribs at the end were a little tough, but toward the middle of the rack they were more tender. The outer bark of the ribs was tasty, the ribs had a nice smoke ring under the bark, and they had a nice subtle smoky taste. The ribs middle ribs were pretty meaty and pulled off the bone pretty easily. They were pretty good.
The brisket was also very good. It was thick cut, tender and easy to cut with a fork. The brisket was served on a slice of white bread and it, too, had a nice smoky flavor to it. I think I liked the brisket a little bit more than I liked the ribs.
The baked beans were very good on their own. Most of the time, I have to add some barbecue sauce to some place's baked beans because they're usually drab in taste and they're too runny. Charlotte's Rib baked beans had a thicker consistency and a very good overall flavor. I did add some of the Southern spicy sauce to the beans, but they really didn't need it.
The sauces were just all right, I thought. The mild hickory had a nice sweet and smoky taste. The Southern spicy wasn't all that spicy to me. The Western blend was pleasant enough, but it wasn't ass-kicking in taste. The sauces from Charlotte's Rib are all acceptable, but they weren't remarkable enough to the point where I wanted to run over to Dierberg's to buy some to take home.
I paid the bill and left a small tip for the young lady. She didn't deserve a 15 percent tip and barely deserved a 10 percent tip. As I was leaving, I was taking a few snap shots and a man came out of the kitchen and asked me how the food was. I guessed after the fact that this was Scott Brown. I told him that the food was good, but I was a little disappointed in the service. He said, "Yeah, I heard about that. I'm really sorry. I had her back in the kitchen doing some stuff and she just forgot."
A couple three weeks later, I was reconciling my expense report versus my credit card statement and I noticed that the tip that I had included on my credit card receipt was not on my statement. I don't know if she refused it or if Scott Brown didn't include it after I signed the credit card receipt. I thought, "OK, that's the way to do it."
So, other than the poor service, the ribs and brisket at Charlotte's Rib were decent and respectable. The sauces were all right, but unexceptional. The decor, I thought, was a little too kitschy, but it was tolerable. With a growing number of good to excellent barbecue places in St. Louis, Charlotte's Rib will have to work hard to maintain its long standing place in the market. They just can't forget about their customers.