Steve Williams is a Springfield, Missouri, institution. His father, Jess, opened Crosstown Barbecue on Springfield’s north side in 1970. Williams took over in 1984; since then, Crosstown has catered to generations of locals. “We’ve been here a long time,” Williams says. “People know us. We always try to reach out; to give back to our community – things like community activism, inner-city youth ministries. We want to be a staple and a gathering place.”
Crosstown is certainly both of those things, serving up quality eats in a region that was regarded as a food desert for years in the aftermath of Springfield’s suburban flight. Even in times of economic uncertainty, Crosstown has remained a beacon, offering genuine Kansas City-style barbecue and perhaps the friendliest service in town. For decades, Midtown and north side residents have lined up for classics like hot link sandwiches and baked beans, the latter of which are concocted using the Williams family recipe. Williams also barbecues Crosstown’s meats onsite using a custom smoker that employs both direct and indirect heat.
Although Williams is certainly serious about Crosstown’s food, his real passion lies in recognizing – and taking part in – Springfield history. That includes paying tribute to Springfield classics, many of which live on in the photographs hung on Crosstown’s walls. “Coley’s, Fridays, The Cat in the Fiddle, The Shady Inn,” Williams says, reminiscing. “A lot of those places have closed. It’s hard to see those mom-and-pop businesses close – it’s like the end of an era.” Still, Williams works to honor those historic eateries – partially through his old-school take on customer service. Williams can be found at Crosstown every day, serving customers and catching up with regulars until long after closing time. “It’s about friendship, love and good food,” he says.
What is your favorite ingredient to cook with and why? I put sugar in just about anything – sauces, stews, meat rubs. I feel like it gives food a little something extra. I also really like to cook with different kinds of seafood like shrimp and lobster.
What's your perfect day of eating in Springfield? When my dad owned the restaurant, he and I used to eat at all the Springfield classics, and those are still my favorites. I’d start with breakfast at George’s [Family Restaurant, located on South Glenstone Ave.], then when it’s time for lunch, I’d make my way to either Pizza House or Mexican Villa. At night, I’d take it up a notch with dinner at Jimm’s [Steakhouse & Pub].
What concepts or styles of cooking do you hope to see added or expanded in Springfield? The restaurant business is really tough. I find myself missing some of the old Springfield favorites, but in the future, I’d love to see more seafood – other than Red Lobster, of course. I’m not a fan of chains. What I’d really love to see is Cajun-style seafood. Louisiana-style Cajun gumbo; even more international cuisine, like food from the West Indies.
What do you like to cook at home or on your day off? I like to be very creative. My family will tell you that. Of course, I’ll do do barbecue, but I’ll also do all kinds of different things when I’m cooking for my family. I can recreate just about any kind of recipe. Lately, I’ve been working on a lot of Japanese steakhouse-style food. I’ll clown around with my family, flip the shrimp around [laughs].
What’s your favorite comfort food? Meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy, definitely.
What is your first food memory? When I was kid, before I moved to Springfield for college, I used to ride the Trailways bus down from Kansas City on Friday nights. I was living there while my dad operated the restaurant down here. So I’d ride the bus down, we’d work in the restaurant all day on Saturday. I’ll always remember starting the day getting breakfast with him, starting the fire to get the barbecue going [at Crosstown] and working with him all day, seeing him interact with customers.
What are your future plans? Right now, I’m thinking about opening up another location on Springfield’s south side. There just isn’t a lot of Kansas City-style barbecue in this area, and there’s a demand for it. As of right now, my kids don’t seem all that interested in taking over the family business, but that’s okay – I’ll be here for a while.
Crosstown Barbecue, 1331 E. Division St., Springfield, Missouri, 417.862.4646, crosstownbarbecue.com