Friday, July 18, 2014

St. Louis BBQ

I was worried that the Midwest was just going to be a culinary wasteland of chain restaurants, where Taco Bell and PF Chang's served as the only ethnic alternatives to burgers and meatloaf. Thankfully, my fears were unfounded. We've already found some really good local spots, and there actually seems to be a thriving culinary scene. There's no doubt that I've got a lot of eating to do in the next few years.

The one cuisine I knew St. Louis was known for is their BBQ. After some research, the consensus seems to be that there are 3 places that vie for the top BBQ joint in town - Sugarfire, Pappy's, and Bogarts. I've been here just over 2 weeks now, which means I've already eaten at each one now multiple times. All three are terrific.  Anywho, on to my rankings -

Sugarfire is my favorite of the 3. On a trip with my brother-in-law, I had ribs, brisket, pulled pork, turkey, sausage, fries, slaw, and beans. Oh, and that was all on one magical plate called the Meat Daddy.

For good measure, we also added a pound of smoked wings because it was a daily special. All that food plus Schafly for like $30. Pretty amazing. The brisket is probably the best I've had outside of Texas. Sausage was cheddar jalapeno - good heat without being obnoxious. Pulled pork was great, ribs were good, turkey was least impressive (fine, just nothing noteworthy). All their sauces are decent - mustard-based is best on the turkey, their sweet Kansas City style sauce was pretty good, but I thought their Bama style white sauce was their best.

On another trip, my buddy got a burger with balsamic onions and fried egg - I was definitely jealous of his order - it looked amazing. My wife got the smoked salmon, and it was really good. I was restrained, so I got a combo plate of just 2 meats - pulled pork and brisket. Both delivered again. The pleasant surprise was the special side of the day - reuben casserole - it was like a reuben sandwich (house-cured corned beef) chopped into hash browns. pretty fantastic.

Oh, and they have crack pie. Their own version of the Momofuku Milk Bar crack pie. Soo good.

This place is my favorite of the 3 for a few reasons - 1) best brisket (thick cut and so juicy); 2) really good fries (think of perfectly crisp Belgian frites); 3) daily specials that are unique and well executed; and  4) crack pie.

My second place BBQ joint is Bogarts. One of the guys from my softball team raved about it, and went on and on about the baked beans. He's biased because he lives down the street, but I have to admit, he's right about the beans. They are cooked in a tray in the smoker under the brisket, so the brisket juices and debris drop into the pan and flavor the meat. I like my baked beans sweet, but these are black peppery and meaty. Different than anything I've had before, and definitely awesome. But, to paraphrase the great Homer (Simpson), who once said you don't make friends with salad - you don't judge a BBQ place by its beans.

The photo is terrible, but here is the tray from one of my visits - beans and slaw on the left, pulled pork top right corner (notice it's pulled, not chopped) and burnt ends front and center (you see what i mean about not being distinct chunks).

What makes Bogart's my #2 is the burnt ends. For those of you who don't watch every BBQ show on Food Network, Cooking Channel, Travel Channel, Destination America, PBS, etc. etc., burnt ends are the fattier meat chunks from the point end of a brisket - because they are fattier, they need to be cooked longer than the flat part of a brisket to maximize their flavor. Fat equals flavor however, so a properly smoked burnt end with a great bark is pretty much the best beef BBQ you can get. Bogarts burnt ends are great. You won't see the BBQ competition style chunks, but you will see a perfectly barked, juicy pieces of fatty brisket with a sweet, smoky finish. Heavenly. Their pulled pork is also deserving of mention, as is their house pastrami. And the throw-in starch on the side isnt just regular white bread - it's a mini-loaf of what I assume to be ciabatta - whatever it is, it makes a great leftovers sub roll.

Having named my 2 favorite places, you'd be inclined to think I don't like Pappy's. but the reality is, Pappy's in many other cities would be the best of the bunch. Pappy's is great, I just like it a little bit less than the others. It's splitting hairs really, b/c I actually love the feel of the place - one of the times I went, I met the owner who was going table to table and was a really nice guy. One thing that almost put Pappy's higher up my ranking is their pulled pork - I think it's actually the best of the 3 - juicy, flavorful, smoky, delicious. Their sweet sauce is also great. Another great thing about Pappy's is their Adam Bomb - below in all its terrible pic glory.

Rack of ribs, 2 sides, sausage, brisket sandwich, pork sandwich, 1/2 chicken, and for some reason cropped out of the photo, a frito pie. I'd go back for the frito pie, which gets most of its flavor from a sweet layer of baked beans. It also has onions, meat of your choices, and obviously fritos - insanely good.  The sides we got with the Adam Bomb were fried Corn on the cob (meh) and sweet potato fries (decent). Ribs were great, chicken was flavorful (but a bit dry), but the brisket was disappointing dry. Fortunately, their sweet sauce was awesome, so soaked in enough sauce, it was fine. Part of the experience of Pappy's is waiting in their line - in the multiple visits, the shortest wait I had was 40 minutes at 1:45pm on a random Wednesday. Smart marketing actually, b/c by the time you get your food, you're starving and think it's the best thing you've ever had. 

Anyway, I'm pretty happy so far with the BBQ I've discovered so far. What's the best BBQ you've ever had? St. Louisans, what BBQ joint in town should I go to next?


  1. This is making me want BBQ so bad even though I just ate. The best BBQ I've ever had is probably Dinosaur BBQ. Find out which place has the best mac and cheese for when I visit.

    1. oh, I've already found the best mac & cheese you will ever eat - - we'll definitely go when you guys are here for the marathon next year