Smoked favorites in southeast Missouri
Smoke fills the air on the back patio as Alfea Crenshaw tends to the seemingly endless rows of chicken, ribs and pork steaks. He checks to make sure the smoked meats are about ready to be pulled off the heat in time for his restaurant, Hercules Southern BBQ, to open for the day. This is no fast process; but Alfea and his wife, April, know the juice is definitely worth the squeeze.
The Crenshaws opened Hercules Southern BBQ in May 2013 offering traditional barbecue fare for carryout on weekends from a small location in Piedmont. As time passed, Alfea’s smoked creations grew more popular and they expanded their hours and eventually into a full brick-and-mortar restaurant. Today, Alfea and April serve traditional smokehouse staples alongside delicious sides and other non-barbecue items.
Alfea had never been in the restaurant business and tends to the smoking of the meats. April — who previously was the general manager at fast-food restaurants — handles the kitchen. Alfea’s barbecue prowess wasn’t something he developed on his own, but got from his stepfather, the restaurant’s namesake, Hercules.
“He was a big-time barbecue guy,” Alfea says. “He cooked for masses of people at church gatherings, family reunions and all kinds of things.”
After moving to Piedmont from St. Louis in 2002, the Crenshaws were asked to cook for different gatherings here and there and started to develop a reputation.
“We’d be having friends over for the Fourth of July and people would see us barbecuing and just stop by,” he says with a smile. “Of course I’m not going to not offer you something.”
Hercules operated a small barbecue stand in Houston, Texas, and Alfea convinced him to bring his smoker to Piedmont and they’d collaborate on a restaurant. In the course of that process, Hercules’ health began failing and he ultimately passed away. “These are all his recipes. He showed me how to do everything,” Alfea says. “I thought it would be very special to name it after him. I can only aspire to be as good as him.”
Alfea uses a trio of smokers — including Hercules’ smoker he drove up from Texas — to prepare all the smoked meats going out the door. He uses a combination of oak and charcoal for his ribs, chicken and pork steaks and cherry, hickory and applewood for pork butts and brisket. “As the briskets and butts cook, we spray them with apple juice to seal in all the moisture so they’re tender,” Alfea says.
There’s a chance your meal at Hercules will start and stop at the appetizer menu. If you’re hungry, go for the Loaded Pulled Pork Nachos. A bed of tortilla chips is topped with Alfea’s tender pulled pork, nacho cheese, barbecue sauce, jalapenos, sour cream, bacon bits and onions. “When we go to festivals we take these, the kids love them,” April says.
So plentiful are the portions of their most popular appetizer, they serve them in to-go containers to prevent the heaping nachos from sliding off the plate.
Substitute the tortilla chips for a baked potato and lose the jalapenos and onions and you have another popular item, the loaded baked potato. “It’s almost like you get three or four courses with just one item,” Alfea says.
It wouldn’t be a Missouri barbecue joint if they didn’t serve pork steaks. The Crenshaws, members of Black River Electric Cooperative, source their 3/4-inch thick pork steaks from a local grocer. Alfea uses a combination of seasonings on the raw meat before slowly smoking over charcoal and oak. Once they’re finished, the steaks are wrapped in foil to ensure maximum tenderness.
“The flavor to me is a light smoke and kind of a combination between a smoked and grilled taste,” Alfea says. “With that seasoning it’s a little salty and garlicky; it just melts in your mouth.”
Other smoked items not to miss are the baby back ribs — the Crenshaws’ favorite — and brisket, which is only available on Fridays.
Saturday has become a popular night at the restaurant as well, but not necessarily for the barbecue. They serve up hand-cut, USDA choice rib-eye, sirloin and New York strip steaks cooked just to your liking along with a pair of sides — a fresh garden salad and baked potato are the most popular. Steaks are available after 2 p.m. and they prepare around 80 steak dinners weekly.
A few years ago, the Crenshaws were looking to expand the restaurant to accommodate more diners. After some searching, they relocated the restaurant into their current location on the north side of Piedmont right as the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020. Their prior experience just offering carryout paid off and they were able to survive the difficult and unknown conditions. “It was a chance we took,” Alfea says. “We had to change the way we did our food, but our team made it work. When the mandate was removed, we were able to open our dining room and still keep tables separated.”
Having diners back in the restaurant was a welcome change for April. “My favorite part is seeing the repeat customers who we’ve come to know,” she says. “Especially after the past year, it’s good to see them out.”
For Alfea, it’s about becoming part of the community and honoring his stepfather.
“The big thing is being able to carry on the traditions of Hercules for me,” Alfea says. “‘Herc’ did lots of barbecuing, and just to see peoples’ faces when they taste his barbecue, man that gives me a rush. I want people to have that same reaction to mine as they did his.”
Hercules Southern BBQ
Specialties: Smoked barbecue favorites including pulled pork, brisket, chicken, pork steak and baby back ribs. Appetizers include spicy fried pickles, toasted ravioli and Loaded Pulled Pork Nachos. Other favorites include loaded baked potatoes, chicken strips, hamburgers and steaks on Saturdays.
Price: Appetizers from $3.99 to $9.99. Sandwiches from $3.29 to $7.29. Entrees from $5.59 to $20.79.
Details: Open Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Monday. No smoking. Cash, check, Visa, Discover and Mastercard accepted. Located at 1019 N. Main St. in Piedmont. Contact at 573-223-3654 and www.herculessouthernbbq.com.