I have a confession to make: I really, really hate barbecue sauce, but I especially despise the thick, gooey version we have here. The flavor of barbecue sauce — complete with its list of undetectable spices that are completely overwhelmed by diabetic-coma-inducing sweetness — doesn’t bother me so much as the fact that it is all too often used as a foil for lousy cooking. This is about principle, not taste: If an innocent animal had to die to feed me, by God I want to be able to taste it instead of the quart of ketchupy, corn-syrup flavored goo it’s swimming in. Sauce should complement, not cover, the taste of the meat. Unfortunately, because of its rich, opaque flavors, barbecue sauce seems to be incorporated on restaurant menus to mask the true flavors of poorly cooked or ill-seasoned meat.
So after watching a show on Food Network that featured a Memphis specialty called barbecued spaghetti, I thought I had finally found an ethical use for barbecue sauce. Sunday night, I went to Highway 61 Roadhouse and Kitchen just to try this concoction. After I arrived and took a gander at the extensive menu, it was hard to stick to my original plan. The Roadhouse has incorporated a slew of signature dishes representative of Southern geography, including the BBQ shrimp and Po’ Boys of New Orleans, Memphis’ pulled pork, fried tamales from the Mississippi Delta and St. Louis’ very own gooey butter cake.
We started with the Crossroads wings ($8.59), which are flappers and drummies stewing in a mixture of hot sauce and barbecue sauce. I like my wings hot, and this flavor just didn’t cut it for me. It had a pleasant burn, but I found the barbecue sweetness distracting, though you may suspect by this point I am a little biased. However, for someone who doesn’t have a tolerance for hot-hot wings, these are probably a good alternative. Next time I’ll opt for the Voodoo, a combination of hot sauce and Cajun seasonings.
For my entree, I stuck to my guns and ordered the BBQ spaghetti ($10.99) and a side of red beans and rice ($2.99). The spaghetti had been tossed with a lava-red barbecue sauce and a good heaping of pulled pork. The meat was tender and, with the sauce as a sweet glue holding the dish together, it complemented the fat spaghetti noodles beautifully. Though sugary, the sauce has a satisfying Cajun bite and it’s just savory enough for the spaghetti. The portion was huge: half of it went home for lunch the next day.
Served in a no-frills plastic bowl that was much larger than the server had indicated, the red beans and rice had the appearance of refried beans atop white rice. The beans were a bit overcooked, but they had released enough of their starch to make a thick, spicy gravy that was a good complement to the candy-flavored BBQ spaghetti. The red beans and rice have a Cajun kick: the first few bites are warm, and you don’t notice the delightfully slow burn in the back of your mouth until you put down your fork.
Incidentally, the sides (called “B-Sides” on the menu) could be a meal in themselves. With smaller portions of BBQ spaghetti, sweet potato pie, decadent mac & cheese and cream corn souffle, consider customizing your very own sampler platter for your next meal.
In keeping with the Southern atmosphere, Highway 61 Roadhouse and Kitchen has a regular schedule of live music, including an Elvis impersonator. Saturday, August 29 is Shrimp-a-Palooza, featuring live music, Schlafly beer specials, and loads of shrimp. Visit the Roadhouse at 34 South Old Orchard Avenue, Webster Groves, MO 63119 314/968-0061 http://www.hwy61roadhouse.com/