The Pilot House
By Alan Brouilette
The Pilot House in Cape Girardeau is challenging to find in the rain at night, which is how I found it.
It was worth the hunt, though.
You want to start with a Basket of Onions—onions cut lengthwise, breaded, and fried until crunchy. They call them onion petals here; imagine a rough-hewn version of Outback’s Bloomin’ Onion.
For the entree, go for a specialty sandwich such as the Big Hot Cheese (pulled pork, pimiento cheese, slaw, jalapenos, and “Fire Sauce” on grilled sourdough) or the Sweet & Special (pulled pork, Swiss cheese, red onions, and sweet sauce, also on grilled sourdough).
As a barbecue purist, I was skeptical about both. I was wrong. The Sweet & Special is especially terrific—imagine a barbecue pork sandwich crossed with a Reuben.
Eating in a place that is more bar than grill did take me back some, in the best of ways. Inside the Pilot House, it is 1987. You can smoke, a thing so rare in restaurants these days that the fifth-grader in my company mistook the ashtray on the table for a ketchup bowl. Not that I am advocating smoking. I was just hit with nostalgia.
I felt a kinship with that fifth-grader; this is what going out to dinner in fifth grade smelled like for me.
This story originally ran in the June/July Issue of Missouri Life. For more stories like this, subscribe to Missouri Life.