South City has a new fast-casual barbecue concept.
Navin’s BBQ debuted June 18 in the space previously occupied by Guerrilla Street Food featuring smoked meats, sandwiches and more inspired by Texas and Kansas City styles of barbecue. The concept comes from owner and pitmaster Chris Armstrong, who grew up in an air force family; he spent the majority of his time living in central Texas and the Kansas City area before moving to St. Louis with his wife six-and-a-half years ago. He learned his way around the pit while living in those prominent barbecue cities, picking up family traditions around the grill.
“Barbecue has always been an interest and hobby of mine that grew into a true passion," Armstrong says. "My dad always had a Weber grill going, and my uncle was big into the barbecue competition scene. He had been doing the American Royal for 30 years. I joined his team to get into it and participated in the competition circuit for four to five years in the Kansas City area.”
Like many, Armstrong faced furloughs from his previous job throughout the pandemic. After realizing that the layoffs might be permanent, he decided to pivot away from his career in the beverage distribution industry and lean into his love for barbecue. What began as a smoking pork butts to share with family and neighbors soon turned into continuous orders from Armstrong’s friends and community, filling his home smoker with more than 150 chicken wings each week. To extend the reach of his barbecue, he also began offering his products in local collaborations with BeerSauce Shop and Blood & Sand.
Envisioning that his ideal barbecue restaurant would someday fill an old gas station or garage, Armstrong named Navin’s BBQ after Steve Martin’s character in The Jerk — in particular, for a scene set in a St. Louis gas station garage. While the initial iteration of his debut business doesn’t yet take up residence in such a space, he thought the 1,000-square-foot South Grand business district storefront would be the perfect way to start small and build his brand from the ground up.
The counter-service restaurant features seats for 10 to 15 diners and a patio for his offset all-wood Smoker Co. smoker, which he fills with oak and hickory — plus a little bit of apple wood for seasoning — to flavor his barbecue.
“Our style is kind of a cross between my influences growing up in central Texas and Kansas City,” Armstrong says. “We have Texas-style sliced brisket and Kansas City burnt ends. Some things that make us unique are our pork belly burnt ends and chicken wings.”
He explains that his chicken wings, which are finished in a brown sugar and spice glaze on the grill, are the most elaborate item on the menu from start to finish — a process that takes almost 24 hours to complete. Another unique item on the menu is the Texas Twinkie — a de-seeded jalapeño stuffed with cream cheese and brisket, wrapped in bacon and smoked. And his brisket is a re-creation of his childhood favorite: a thick, tender cut with a distinct smoke ring and a bit of garlic, plus a little give so that it doesn’t fall apart.
In addition to a la carte and meat-by-the-pound options, the menu at Navin’s also currently features seven different sandwiches, such as The Jerk, made with pulled jerk chicken, pepper cheese, bacon, sweet heat slaw, crispy onion strings and Navin’s white barbecue sauce. Vegetarian options are also available, such as the ShiNOLA with sweet heat slaw, collard greens, Swiss cheese and sweet pepper dressing on rye.
“St. Louis is a great food town, and there’s no shortage of good barbecue,” Armstrong says. “I hope people give us a shot and let us show them how different our take on it is.”
Navin's BBQ is open from 11am to 7pm (or until sold out) Thursday through Saturday.
Navin’s BBQ, 3559 Arsenal St., St. Louis, Missouri, 314.449.1185, navinsbbq.com