Snowflake’s BBQ

If you're out looking for a great 'cue joint—let me make your life easy... Mark down the following as Life Lessons and put them in your wallet or purse:

  • Make a pass just before lunch time, and you should see hungry folks lined up.
  • There should be blue smoke curling up from the building.
  • There should be wood piled somewhere on the property.
  • And all things being even, it should have come into this world as a bar where the good food finally pushed out the alcohol.

Now that the proprieties are out of the way, let's get down to it.

Snowflake's has been turning out serious 'Q in the 'Bottoms' area of Baton Rouge for decades. Its fans are die-hards, and there are legions of them...

The 'Flake stays far away from the gas-fired pits that many restaurants use to cook barbecue today. There's a wood-fired pit front and center. In fact, it's so front and center that the staff has to squeeze past it without burning themselves to take your order at the walk-up window.

Let's talk food for a moment. Hamburgers are fresh-cooked. Fried chicken—sitting under a yellow light in the window makes your mouth water while you're waiting to order. And the ribs are danged near perfect. (That's crispy on the outside, and tender on the inside.) That tender through-and-through rib motif that the big roadhouses turn out just doesn't cut it here. You've got to have a bit of crunch on the outside to make it right.

And have you heard of community-sensitive barbecue?

A story that's being told is that the owner—Alvin Davis--kept the sauce recipe in his head. That's standard in the BBQ world, along with getting divine inspiration to start the place, handed-down recipes from traveling salesman needing grub for the night, you know... You MUST have the secret that makes your food stand out. And you never give it out!

However, keeping those secrets locked up in your head may not make the best business sense. Suppose the unthinkable happened?

Well, it happened at Snowflake.

Mr. Davis died suddenly, and his wife Shirley and son Keith were left running a local legend, with barely a clue on how to make the requisite secret sauce.

By just being there, they knew most of the ingredients, but it's the small things—spooned in with love—that gives this barbecue sauce its local legendary status.

They tried little things, little dashes of whatever was handy in the kitchen. A pinch out of this bottle, a drop out of that one. (If it's in the kitchen, he must have used it, right?) And they slowly reinvented the wheel—one spoke at a time.

Truth be told, though, they got help from the order window—direct from the consumer.

"Baby, that sauce is almost right on. "You just need some more bay leaf in there," says a Snowflake old-timer. And the tinkering would begin anew with a bit of this and pinch of that—directed lovingly by the whole community. Most folks now agree that it's danged close to the original--but with the daily lines at the window, it's hard to tell they ever went astray.

Sometimes, it does take a village to put a child back on track.

Another story says that Snowflake's has always tried to keep one menu item for less than a dollar. I believe it. Lots of poor folks and elderly are within walking distance of the 'Flake, and the 99 cent hamburger was a staple in the 'Bottoms' for years.

Mr. Davis always said "If a man comes here and he's hungry, I want him to feed his family without robbing his pocket."

But rising prices of raw material can't be stopped, and Snowflake was forced to raise the legendary 99 cent burger—all the way up to a dollar and twenty-nine cents. In anybody's book, that's still a bargain.

So all is well in the Bottoms. You can still eat like a king with a poor man's wallet, and the sauce is settling in to its final form. And there's a line at the 'Flake every day about 11:30.