ROAD TRIP USA 2010: SNOOT IN SAINT LOUIS
Hands up who knows what a snoot is?
If you were tempted to answer “the snout of a hog, braised, deep fried and then smothered in a Saint Louis BBQ sauce” then go to the top of the class.
It was a new one on me and, ever the culinary adventurer that you have come to know and generally ignore, I was determined to have at one with some ferocity when I visited the spiritual home of the snoot, Saint Louis.
It was the first stop on our road trip and my companion Neal and I headed on the five-hour drive down the I-55 from Chicago until we hit this rather pleasing Mid West City in the early afternoon. We were being offered shelter by two of his friends and now my new chums, Chris and Adrienne and, after a chance to freshen up, they set out to show us what Saint Louis had to offer.
Rather a lot as it happens. Saint Louis may be some way from its Victorian glory days but it still has much to please and admire. Despite the problems caused in certain neighbourhoods by gang crime, there is still a very definite sense of civic pride about the city and there was an equal sense of pride as Chris and Adrienne showed us around.
There is The Gateway Arch, of course. Overlooking the mighty Mississippi and open since 1967. It is an instantly recognisable symbol of the city and, although I was too much of a ‘fraidy cat to head up to the top I spent a happy hour or so wandering around in the park down below while Neal, Adrienne, Chris and their two young daughters took the creaky lift to the top.
Then, there are The Cardinals, the cities beloved Baseball team and, I was informed by Chris, usually rather good. Not on the evidence presented to us last night they are not as we witnessed them suffer a rare 4-18 drubbing at the hands of the visiting Astro team from Houston. By the time the game reached its natural conclusion at the end of nine painful innings, the 42,000 strong crowd had been reduced to about 2,000 catcalling die hards shouting out their disdain and ironically cheering any vague sign of competence from their team.
Now for the food, just in case you were wondering what happened to those there snoots. The best in Saint Louis, apparently, are to be found at Roper’s Ribs in the rather blighted area of North Saint Louis. It is not a part of town that many would choose to visit unless they had to, being the epicentre of Blood/Crip gang conflict and both Neal and Chris expressed more than a little concern as we headed along the freeway towards the Goodfellow exit.
To fortify our spirits, we had made a stop at another Saint Louis landmark, Ted Drewe’s. Famed for its frozen custard and “concretes”. The ice cream is blended with a wide range of flavours and so thick the container can be turned upside down without the expected consequences. Tempted as I was by a concrete containing a whole blended slice of apple pie, I ended up ordering a strawberry shortcake version along with a chocolate mint version for Chris and something suitably girly for Neal. We ate them propped up against the ageing shack and then got back in our shiny Chevy Impala for the drive to the wrong side of the tracks.
Chris told us that the area was not as bas as he remembered, but it still looked pretty dodgy to two soft Englishmen and, by the time we pulled into the parking lot of Roper’s Ribs, we had seen a couple of crack sales going on and received enough quizzical glares to make sure we hurried into the store as quickly as possible.
Inside, the welcome was incredibly friendly and I ordered a combo of Snoots with rib tips, both a speciality of the house. They are cooked fresh to order and it took twenty minutes until I was presented with my tray and headed back to the car. Outside, we met Mrs Roper, the lady of the house, who explained that the perfect snoot should be “crunchy like the perfect pork old style pork rind, but more dense and covered in a sweet BBQ sauce with a sharp hit of vinegar”
Neal and Chris seemed more concerned about getting the hell out of Dodge than trying the local delicacy, which left the considerable plateful for me to try as we hurtled back along the freeway to downtown. The rib tips were good, moist meat flavoured with smoke from the slow cooking and doused in the Saint Louis style sauce Mrs Roper had been explaining. The snoots however were a revelation. The perfect combination of crunch, fat, heat, sweet and sharp and I polished off most of them by the time we reached our destination.
We may not be staying in Saint Louis very long, but it has been a great start to our trip. I have made a couple of delightful new friends in Chris and Adrienne, I have seen the arch and a memorable baseball game and, best of all, I got to try snoots. No one can take that away from me.
Next stop Evansville, Indiana. Why? Brain sandwiches and fried chicken cooked in lard, of course. Stupid.