by | Aug 22, 2021

Classic sandwiches and more at  a Cape Girardeau institution

The cozy eatery is much more than just a place to get your next meal. This dining destination is a southeast Missouri institution that pays homage to Cape Girardeau’s river roots. The portions are plentiful and you’ll never sit next to a stranger. And your meal can be washed down with a Rusty Nail.

For more than six decades the Pilot House Restaurant on the north side of Cape Girardeau has been a hub of activity. Through the years it has transitioned from a pool hall to a unique restaurant featuring specialty sandwiches, mouthwatering barbecue, made-from-scratch appetizers and more. Whether it’s a SEMO alum returning for homecoming or a local walking off the 18th green at nearby Cape Jaycee Municipal Golf Course, the Pilot House doesn’t have many single-visit diners.

Nicki Biediger and her husband, Ricky, purchased the restaurant in the summer of 2020. While they are first-time restaurant owners, they are no strangers to the Pilot House. They purchased the restaurant from Nicki’s uncle, Jim Byrd, who transformed the nondescript social hub into what it is today through 35 years of ownership.

“My cousin, brother and I grew up in here helping out,” she says. “When I went to SEMO, I worked here for about four years waiting tables and bartending. This place is a labor of love for us. I love this place.”

The couple hasn’t changed the restaurant much since taking over, staying true to the popular menu and concept developed over decades — there’s much debate if the original Pilot House opened in 1959, 1960 or 1961. “This used to be a pool hall with a jukebox. It was really just a bar. For a while it was the only place to get package liquor on Sundays,” Nicki says. “That is gone now and it’s a place to get lots of sandwiches, steaks, kebabs and our original barbecue sandwiches.”

That crave-worthy food has kept customers coming through the door. Popular options to start your meal off include their basket of onions — fried onion petals — and oversized Buffalo wings. But, for a Pilot House classic, opt for the stuffed mushrooms. Mushrooms are loaded up with their housemade pimento cheese dip and transformed into a delicious bubbly bite after a trip under the broiler.

Another pre-meal creation to try is Pilot House’s salad. A blend of iceberg and romaine is topped with broccoli, cauliflower and red peppers. But, what sets this salad apart is the dressing. “Our salads are known for our famous hot bacon dressing,” Nicki says. “It’s unique and different. Not too sweet and has a little smoky taste to it from the bacon.”

A larger version of the salad is available as an entree with grilled chicken as well.

Customers have been flocking to the Pilot House for decades for their barbecue sandwiches. They slowly smoke pork shoulder using hickory onsite and slice it thin. Their simple sandwich options include doubling your meat or adding the homemade pimento cheese on top. For a truly unique combination, go for the Big Hot Cheese. A double portion of the sliced pork shoulder is warmed on the flattop and topped with pimento cheese, coleslaw, pickled jalapenos and a housemade fire barbecue sauce all between two slices of toasted sourdough. “It’s a perfect combination of hot and cheesy,” Nicki says. “The coleslaw kind of helps calm it down a bit, but it is absolutely delicious. It’s been around awhile.”

Other smoked options at the Pilot House include a beef brisket sandwich and dinner portions of brisket and ribs.

Another unique flavor combination can be found on The Tank. Sliced prime rib and ham are warmed on the flattop and topped with jalapenos, Swiss and American cheeses on sourdough. “It’s an odd combination with the ham and prime rib, but the ham adds a little extra saltiness and you’ve got the spiciness from the jalapenos,” Nicki says.

Try your Tank with a side of Pilot House’s seasoned fries. Their regular fries are tossed in a mix of Cajun seasoning and sugar for a sweet and spicy combination on your fried spuds.

Other customer favorites include the burger, cheeseburger and rib-eye steak sandwich, all using certified Angus beef.

If you’re feeling particularly peckish, opt for the catfish dinner or a pair of their giant kebabs. The catfish dinner comes with six pieces of farm-raised catfish that is hand breaded and served with fries and coleslaw. “When we set down a platter, people’s eyes get wide,” Nicki says with a laugh. “I think our waitstaff all have biceps because of that.”

The kebabs are available on weekends only, however, come early as they only make so many. “Sometimes they’re all gone by 7 on Friday night,” Nicki says.

Two large skewers are overloaded with marinated beef tenderloin, peppers, onions and mushrooms. The finished product is served with a salad and twice-baked potato.

While the Pilot House is much more of a restaurant than the pool hall it used to be, they still serve drinks under the boat wheel located above the bar. One unique drink is their signature Rusty Nail. It is simply a pint of Stag beer with a large pickle dropped in. “That gets people in the door for sure,” Nicki says.

Those guests have been what has sustained the Pilot House all these years.

“Our regular customers are amazing, some of them I’ve known since I was a little kid,” Nicki says. “They know our staff and their kids. This is a community here and that’s really special. That is why we wanted to preserve this place.”

Pilot House

Specialties: Appetizers including Buffalo wings, stuffed mushrooms, onion petals and salads with housemade hot bacon dressing. Sandwiches including hickory-smoked, sliced pork, Philly cheesesteak, certified Angus beef cheeseburgers, Reuben and The Tank. Dinners including catfish, ribs, beef brisket, grilled chicken and giant beef kebabs on the weekend. Bread pudding for dessert.

Price:  Appetizers from $8.99 to $13.99. Sandwiches from $4.99 to $12.99. Dinners $6.99 to $25.99.

Details: Open daily, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Cash, check and credit cards accepted. Nonsmoking. Located at 3532 Perryville Road in Cape Girardeau. Contact at 573-334-7106 or follow them on Facebook.

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