2627 Ryan St., Lake Charles, 436-2813
The Local Grubscape • By Justin Morris
For as many times as I have sat at this copper-top bar, it seems a lifetime since I last saw it. In many ways, I suppose it kind of was.
In the two years following Hurricane Rita, I was fortunate enough to serve as the news director for what was then Apex Broadcasting, now Townsquare Media — a radio station cluster at 900 North Lakeshore Drive. During my time there, I had a nice little afternoon break between newscasts to update the stories of the day or catch a press conference or two before the afternoon drive.
On those occasions when I actually had time to go sit and have lunch somewhere, I often found myself rolling south on Ryan Street, headed for that one-time newsstand, frequent watering hole and culinary constant, Pappy’s Bar And Grill and Pappy’s Sports Pub.
Recently, I came to realize that it had now been the better part of a decade since I’d gone to lunch at a place that I had once frequented.
I figured it was high time I remedied that.
It was a gray and cool, but not particularly cold, December afternoon when I pulled up and parked at the long-time Lake Charles institution, located on the northeast corner of Ryan and 18th. A peek inside the deli door showed a healthy lunch crowd and a number of people patiently waiting in line to order, which was, really, no surprise.
Inside, the room was low-lit because of the grey skies of the day, and the bar, under its orangish hanging lights, was set off in a warm amber glow. At the bar roughly a half-dozen fellows, ages ranging from early middle age to retiree, sat. Only a couple of seats remained that didn’t have a bar top game machine or a bevy of tap handles in front of it. Those available seats were adjacent and to the right of the bar, and, incidentally, between one of the longest-visiting regulars (since at least my radio days and probably much longer) and the manager of the joint, Justin McQuiston. McQuiston was talking to his father, owner Gary, who was standing behind the bar along with the friendly bartender.
After saying hello to the familiar faces, I got a warm greeting from Sarah, who asked me what I wanted to drink. I honestly had no idea, as food was the real reason for the trip. I did confirm that I could still order and pay for food at the bar. I knew we were good to go, so I took a walk to the far end of the bar to see what was keeping their taps moist these days. (Pro Tip No. 1: Skip the line. Head to the bar.)
A quick perusal led me to walk back to my seat and order up a Huckleberry Brewing Up River IPA, a beer and brewery I was completely unfamiliar with.
Justin was glad to hear my choice and began telling me about the Alexandria-based brewing operation that he had become such a fan of that he put a number of their beers on the Pappy draft beer menu.
The beer itself was a bright and hoppy IPA that was easy to drink, yet still satisfying for someone who likes to be assaulted by hops (such as myself). It was a great way to wake my palette up for what was to come.
Now, we were getting to business. Beer in hand, I turned my eyes to the menu Sarah had served up with the brew. Pappy’s classic offerings still held their familiar spots on the menu. Not a thing seemed to have changed. The Killer Club was still there, as was the Gran’ Pappy Po-Boy — even the Crazy Dude Sandwich was still there.
In fact, the only thing I remember that I did not see on the menu was the jalapeño cheese tots that I was turned on to by none other than former Lake Charles Mayor and former State Senator Willie Mount, when I ran into her and her husband Ben in the deli one evening many years ago. I actually think it was the last time I ever spoke to Ben Mount — over some tots, in Pappy’s. That’s how those things go, sometimes. I think he would appreciate that fact, in a way that was uniquely Ben Mount. I hope so, at least.
So, with nostalgia looming, I had to fall back on an old favorite: the Crazy Dude.
This is one of those sandwiches that is beyond a sandwich. It has all your typical sandwich components. But in the midst of it all lies a brilliantly cooked chicken fried steak draped in a blanket of melted pepper jack cheese. It hangs so far over the sides of the sandwich that I cut off all the overhanging chicken fried steak and ate it like an appetizer. (Pro Tip No. 2: Skip the appetizer. If you order the Crazy Dude, it comes built in.)
(Pro Tip No. 3: Get the kibbie, or “kibbeh,” as it is actually spelled.) The spices are actually a bit mild for my liking, but would probably be just fine for most folks who have eaten it here in Southwest Louisiana. I like those exotic spices, and I like them kind of loud and present.
This kibbeh is a nice-size and well-cooked patty (as opposed to the usual “football” shaped ones one tends to see), but it’s big, it’s tasty and it’s not so crazy on the Middle Eastern spices that it would be off-putting to anyone who hasn’t tried it. I hadn’t had it in some time, so it got added to my order.
The lack of jalapeño cheese tots did make me sad, but I needed some salty fixture to go along with the feast. I went with the curly, Cajun-spiced fries under the advisement of Sarah, who gathered up all the info and rushed off to set the order on its way.
Now would normally be the time that I would avail myself of a smoke — That’s right. We’re technically in a bar, after all. — while I waited for my food, but I found myself interested in the scene that was playing out to my left.
As it turns out, the longtime regular sitting to my immediate left had brought in some brisket he wanted to share with everyone for the holidays. He also wanted to see how it tasted on Pappy’s jalapeño cheese buns. Not only did Pappy’s not get hung up on losing potential lunch sales, Justin went next door and prepped up a whole plate full of buns, condiments, cheese and various other toppings patrons could pass around and share at the bar.
They told me to help myself multiple times, but I had already ordered a metric ton of food, and I shared in their company, insight and comradery instead — the more fulfilling option, by far.
I had my gargantuan sandwich (now sans extemporaneous chicken fried steak), a quantifiable mass of kibbeh and a load of fries that I knew very well I wouldn’t be able to finish.
The sandwich was as spectacular as it had always been, if not more so. That chicken fried steak was, in and of itself, better than any I’ve had anywhere else. It was genuinely the rock star of the sandwich, and the sandwich is pretty damn fine in its own right. It is an absolute monster, though, so bring two appetites or plan on taking half home with you.
As good and consistent as the food is, I can’t help but be more fascinated with who and what Pappy’s is. I genuinely feel that even if the food sucked (which it doesn’t) and the weekend bar crowd was weak (which it’s not), the sense of friendship, familiarity and, dare I say, family, was real and unmistakable. That camaraderie would drive this business, regardless of the food.
Even after all these years, and even though only few recognized me, the clientele were just as kind, friendly and welcoming as they had ever been within those four walls. That kind of recognition, welcome and friendliness isn’t policy there. It just is; and it’s those kinds of people that place has always drawn and, I believe, somehow always will.
It is things and places like this in the world that I’m glad haven’t changed. I hope they never will.
Here’s to you, Pappy’s. Let’s do it again real soon.