In the beginning, there were the meats. Since 2014, Springfield, Missouri, locals have lined the sidewalk outside of City Butcher, anxiously awaiting a taste of owner Cody Smith’s expertly smoked meats. Now, just a few feet from City Butcher’s front door, Smith is trying his hand at something new: Lucky Tiger Sandwich Co., a fast-casual concept with mouthwatering Asian, Middle Eastern and Southern sandwiches and sides.
Smith’s winding road to savory stardom has included stints as a sous chef, a kitchen underling at a now-shuttered seafood outpost in Rogersville, Missouri – even a high school football coach. But his career took a major turn with Le Cochon Charcuterie, the wildly popular charcuterie stand he operated out of Farmers Market of the Ozarks. “I realized it was going to be tough to make a living doing exclusively charcuterie somewhere like Springfield,” Smith says. That’s where barbecue came in. “I trained as a chef in Austin, Texas, which is where I discovered Texas barbecue,” he says. “It completely changed my life.” Enter City Butcher, which is light on frills and heavy on traditional butcher shop vibes. Now, with Lucky Tiger, Smith has achieved another lunch rush hot spot.
At Lucky Tiger, guests can choose from seven bánh mì sandwiches, four American-inspired sandwiches, several small plates and sides like umami-rich kimchi slaw and creamy macaroni salad. While every dish is packed with flavor, there’s something more that sets Lucky Tiger apart. Maybe it’s the careful hand of restaurant manager Dalton Alday, who Smith describes as “the face of the business.” Maybe it’s the splashy branding by area favorite Frank Norton, who’s worked on projects for The Golden Girl Rum Club, Best of Luck Beer Hall, major brands like Boulevard Brewing Co. and even Feast's own May 2019 cover. Whatever it is, Lucky Tiger is the latest in a slew of projects from what Smith calls Springfield’s “new guard” of young, adventurous chefs. “For a long time, it’s been the old guard,” he says. “But there are a lot of young, talented people making a splash. People like Daniel Ernce at Progress, Caleb Stangroom at The Order inside Hotel Vandivort downtown. Of course, my buddies Daniel Stern and Doug Riddle are also rockin’ out at Team Taco. Exciting things are happening here.”
The fast-casual restaurant's menu plays on Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Nashville and New-Orleans staples.
What is your favorite ingredient to cook with and why? Garlic has always been my favorite thing to cook with. I put it in almost everything I cook – except for desserts. It’s aromatic and savory, and it makes almost everything better.
What's your perfect day of eating in Springfield? I’d start with breakfast at Elotes don Toño – they don’t serve breakfast, but I’d get there at 11 and start my day that way. For lunch, I’m gonna to Bao Bao Chinese Bistro for their salt-and-pepper fish and some pot stickers. For dinner, it’s Bawi Korean Barbecue to crush some Korean barbecue and drink some soju. After that, probably cocktails on my back porch.
Who are Springfield chefs you admire at the moment? I’ve always had a lot of respect for Dan [Stern, head chef at Team Taco]. I worked with him when we opened CB Social House, and he’s such a solid dude and a good chef. One of my favorite chefs of all time has to be Roland Parny of La Galette Berrichonne in Fordland. When I was just starting out, I told him I wanted to work for him, and he told me he couldn’t afford me. I told him I’d work for eight bucks an hour. He was like, “You’re hired.”
What do you like to cook at home or on your day off? I like to do something simple. I’ll throw some rib eyes on the grill – go and get some good meat, make sure it’s impeccably seasoned and expertly grilled and overall keep the effort pretty low.
What’s your favorite comfort food? I love to make soups in the winter. A favorite is caldo verde, a Portuguese soup with potatoes, sausage, kale and chicken broth.
At last, the ever-popular barbecue joint is opening a second location.
What is your first food memory? All of my culinary memories come from growing up on a farm in Rogersville. We showed registered cattle when I was growing up, and one of the most memorable moments was probably the year I showed a steer all summer, then got to eat him. [Laughs] Of course, with the farm, we always had fresh everything – fresh tomatoes, fresh okra straight out of the garden. Simple, fresh food that we ate alongside our own beef. I was always around agriculture.
What’s the most intriguing dish you’ve made recently, and why? For Springfield, the bánh mì sandwiches on our menu are the most exciting thing. People may have had them before, but they haven’t necessarily had a good bánh mì. Ours has pickled vegetables, fresh vegetables and cilantro – just getting all of the textures of those veggies with the meat gives you a great sandwich that’s so bright and fresh.
What inspires your cooking? How do you approach R&D at your restaurant, and what inspires that process? When we originally started, I thought to myself, “What would I do if I had no rules and could just make sandwiches outside of the context of ham, turkey, lettuce and tomato?” At first, we wanted to have a single bánh mì on the menu. Then, I realized the bánh mì was such a good vehicle for so many different flavors. Ultimately, it’s about asking myself what I like to eat, then making those things and improving on them in subtle ways. For example, we make a bulgogi – traditionally made with rib eye, which is very expensive – and landed on making it with prime chuck tenders, which have great marbling.
What are your future plans? We’re in the process of expanding City Butcher – opening a brick-and-mortar on the east side, and hopefully another brick-and-mortar in the region within a year. We’ll see how Lucky Tiger goes, and I definitely want to do other things. I get bored easily, and there are tons of concepts I’d love to play with. It’d be really awesome to do something like a Neapolitan-style pizza restaurant – something simple done really well.
Lucky Tiger, 3654 S. Campbell Ave., Springfield, Missouri, facebook.com/Lucky-Tiger-Sandwich-Co