Salted Pig, St. Louis, MO – Searching for an Identity

There is a new restaurant in St. Louis called the Salted Pig.  It is restaurateur Michael del Pietro’s latest endeavor and it’s a departure from his prototypical Italian eateries.  I love salt and I love pig, is this a match made in heaven?

The Salted Pig is an upscale southern restaurant focused on BBQ and fried chicken.  The first thing I noticed when I walked in there wasn’t that BBQ aroma that slaps you in the face and makes your mouth water.  The place has minimal decorations and features an industrial / minimalist feel.  I liked the use of the reclaimed wood in the dining room, and I’m also pretty sure that this is the first BBQ place that uses Edison bulbs in the dining room.

I was really surprised how busy it was for a Monday evening.  The room is dark and I found it amusing that several folks of advanced wisdom and age were using phones and small flashlights so they could read the menu.  Speaking of the menu, I was expecting something a bit more diverse and unique. It mainly featured the standard BBQ and southern food staples.  For my meal, I chose to start with the sprouts and finish with a full slab of ribs.

The sprouts were soft but not overcooked to the point that they were mushy.  Typically sprouts can be bitter but the sauce with caramelized onions added a nice sweetness. I also enjoyed that the bacon stayed crunchy even while swimming in the sauce.  I would gladly eat these veggies again, but don’t worry, I won’t be going vegetarian anytime soon.

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When the ribs arrived the first thing my nose noticed was the sweetness.  They were nice and tender, not quite falling off the bone, and definitely had some chew.  The sauce was caramelized on each rib so there was a good amount of flavor.

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Up to this point, you are probably wondering why the title of this post is “Searching for an Identity”.  In general, this is a very basic BBQ restaurant but placed in a BBQ void location, Frontenac.  The key ingredients for a successful restaurant were there, but to me it was lacking that key factor (personality, originality, etc.) that would set it apart from other giants in the St. Louis BBQ scene.  This was only after a month of being open, so maybe they will find their way to stand out.  If you are in the area, it is a solid choice for BBQ.  If you are on a BBQ pilgrimage, there are more worthy choices.

Dive 2 Five Scale: 3.  The atmosphere here is lively and slightly noisy, so definitely kid friendly.  There are 2 TV’s at the bar in case you want to catch a game.  At the table they provide a wine menu rather than a beer list….maybe that is a Frontenac thing?  Note that the fried chicken seemed to be popular.  I didn’t try it but may have to in the future.

RJ’s Bob-B-Que – Lamb Ribs, Pig Tails, Bison, and More!

During a recent road trip to Kansas, I was slowed by an ice storm on my way back.  While passing through Kansas City, I decided to get fuel for both the car and myself before getting back on the treacherous roads.  Since it was Kansas City, the choice was clear.  It’s time to try a new BBQ restaurant.  This time, I tried RJ’s Bob-B-Que.

When you pull up to RJ’s, you will find that it is a shack on a side street.  Once you are inside, it’s a small shack.  The walls are decorated with lots of ribbons and awards from competitions and there are oldies playing in the background. They have so much love for John Wayne that an entire wall is dedicated exclusively to the face of “The Duke!”

Enough about the decor, I was there to check out their “Bob-B-que”.  Their menu will set them apart from most barbecue joints, with interesting features such as lamb ribs and pig tails.  As you all know by now, I’m a very adventurous eater, so I was excited.  I ordered the pig tails, brisket soup, and lamb ribs.

I must admit that any place serving pig tails is going to struggle to impress me after what I’m used to from the Libertine.  They are battered and fried, which reminded me of calamari.  Definitely use the Sriracha that they put on the edge of the bowl to give them some kick.  I prefer them to have a crisper outside; these were much chewier.

pig tailsNext up was the brisket soup.  This reminded me of a creamy minestrone but with brisket.  On a cold day like the one I was experiencing this was a great way to warm back up; a very solid choice.

One of their highly acclaimed dishes is the lamb ribs.  I am a huge pork fan so it was a stretch for me to try this rather than going with what I love.  There is a pretty clear difference between pork and lamb ribs.  These were very tender and yes, “fall off the bone,” but they were also very fatty.  For some reason I couldn’t stop eating the cheesy corn bake.  It is nothing fancy, but it reminds me of something someone would bring to a family gathering.

lamb ribs

RJ’s is not your typical Kansas City barbecue place.  They feature some unique menu items like pig tails, lamb ribs, bison, and many other palatable offerings.  It would not be a place to which I would make a special trip.  There is just too much other barbecue to sample and some old favorites that are too hard to pass up.

Dive 2 Five Scale:  It’s a shack so it’s definitely a 2. You are getting barbecue in a dive, but the service is quick and friendly.  There are plenty of TV’s showing sports, plus it is family friendly.  I think I could do without the golden oldies.  🙂

RJ's Bob-B-Que on Urbanspoon

Gobble Stop Smokehouse, Creve Coeur, MO – Where’s the Beef? Nevermind, It’s Not Needed!

Can you believe it, time for another BBQ post! Gobble Stop Smokehouse in Creve Coeur opened in 2012 and I was confident it was going to fail.  Why?  They serve only turkey and chicken.  How can you have a BBQ place without any pork or beef offerings?!?!?  Since they found a way to survive, I figured I better finally give it a try.  Once I did, this place quickly earned a spot in my regular rotation of dining options.

The dish I order the most frequently is the smoked wings.  Take a peek at this:

gooblestop wings

The wings have a perfect smoky flavor without being dried out. They serve them with a sweet sauce that they will put on for you or you can have it on the side.  They do have a spicier sauce available if you request it.  After eating these wings I don’t see a need to ever eat a breaded and fried wing again. One time I was so excited I didn’t wait to get home, I just opened the box outside at one of their tables and went to work!.

I have tried a handful of the sides and all were satisfactory.  There really hasn’t been one that will steal the show from one of the turkey or chicken main dishes.  I typically stick with the baked beans or their creamy potato salad (pictured above).

St. Louis does get some love for its BBQ, but in my opinion not enough.  When you can have a restaurant that only does chicken and turkey and it survives, we are unique.   Is it enough to make me swear off pork?  I wouldn’t go that far!.  It is good enough for me to not miss it, and I clearly must not be the only one that thinks so.  I have had days where I’ve had to move to a third or fourth option because my old standbys are already sold out. Some of the other dishes I like are half smoked chicken, pulled chicken, and the turkey ribs.  This is my favorite place to eat in Creve Coeur.

Dive 2 Five Scale:  2.  Gobble Stop is located in an older strip mall at Fee Fee and Olive.  It’s a strip mall that I have driven passed daily for 2 years and didn’t see any reason to stop until now.  The inside is clean and small.  The owner usually is the person taking your order.  I see a bright future for this restaurant but I hope they don’t move to a different location!

Gobble Stop Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

Shaved Duck – St. Louis, MO – If it Looks Like a Duck and Tastes Like a Duck…

One of the many things I love about St. Louis is how it’s made up of many neighborhoods with each having it’s own unique personality.  Typically each of those neighborhoods has a restaurant or bar that is deeply rooted into the fabric of that small community.  One such restaurant in Tower Grove is the Shaved Duck.

I originally found the Shaved Duck while searching for a restaurant in St. Louis that had duck fat fries.  Unfortunately duck fat fries are no longer on the menu but there is plenty of unique items to choose from.  During my most recent visit I tasted the Big Jimmy Sampler and the smoked duck entrée.

big jimmy

The Big Jimmy Sampler is St. Louis style spare ribs, beef brisket, pulled pork, and pulled chicken.  Unlike a lot of BBQ places where you smell the smoke when you walk in, at the Shaved Duck I only noticed it when the food landed at my table.  The ribs were good but not as tender as you might get at Pappy’s (they have a bit more chew to them).  The pulled pork, pulled chicken, and brisket were all on the dry side.  All of them have good flavor, but I typically prefer my BBQ to be more juicy.  The Habanero BBQ sauce though was killer. I would put it on everything.

The highlight of my most recent visit was the smoked duck breast.

smoked duck

It had a subtle smoke flavor.  The cherry juniper jam was the perfect way to top the duck.  It is an idea that I have stolen and made my own when preparing duck at home.  I will definitely order this dish again.  My only complaint was that it was gone so quickly!

The Shaved Duck is a neighborhood favorite in Tower Grove.  I am typically a fan of more tender and juicy BBQ but there is still plenty of food I enjoy at this restaurant.  Besides the smoked duck, I love the walnut and sugar encrusted bacon, the smoked chicken wings, and the confit pot pie.

Dive 2 Five Scale:  3.  I love the neighborhood feel of this place.  It’s a very small and intimate place.  If you are going on a weeknight, try to arrive before 7 so you can avoid waiting outside.  It has a great selection of beers featuring several local breweries.  There is live music on a regular basis, but it’s not so loud that you can’t enjoy a conversation at your table.

The Shaved Duck on Urbanspoon

PM BBQ, Chesterfield, MO – Why Did The Chicken Cross the Road?

It’s been a while since my last BBQ post, so I am overdue for one of my favorite foods.  When I think of BBQ, my mind conjures up images of “fall off the bone” ribs or juicy beef brisket. When I think of PM BBQ, I can only think of one thing… chicken.

Your first thought could be that I have lost my mind.  While I’m sure there are arguments to be made that could support that stance, this is not one of them.  Every time I visit PM BBQ, I order the half chicken meal.

half chicken

It looks like a small fryer that is smoked with a dry rub applied.  The skin turns is gorgeous  golden brown color and has a slight peppery flavor.  The meat itself stays juicy all the way through and has a hint of smoke.  This is a meal where you just tear into it in with your hands.  Don’t worry there are plenty of paper towels on each table.

They have a wide variety of sides. I always order the sweet corn spoonbread.  Trust me on this one.  The other sides are good, but this is head-and-shoulders above the rest.

Now that my son is older, the trick has become finding places where he will eat restaurant food.  This has been hit-or-miss so far and unsuccessful attempts can result in having to feed him something more when I get home.  In that respect, PM BBQ has vaulted itself to the top of my son’s list.  I ordered him the kid’s turkey meal with mac n’ cheese.

kids turkey meal

He loved it!  He finished all the mac n’ cheese and most of the turkey.  The ease of finding a meal that he enjoys is definitely worth mentioning.  The fact that it is served on a Frisbee with paper on top was a nice touch.

PM BBQ is yet another great BBQ place in the St. Louis metro area.  If you are in the Chesterfield valley, I would highly recommend it.  PM BBQ provides an alternate answer for the classic riddle, “Why did the chicken cross the road?”  Clearly any chicken whose fate lands it in PM BBQ is honored in this fantastic dish.

Dive 2 Five Scale:  3.  Great kid friendly place in Chesterfield.  Like most BBQ places in STL, you order at a counter and the food is brought out to you.  They have some beer to help wash down their tasty BBQ.

PM BBQ on Urbanspoon

Sugarfire Part 2 – Twice in One Week

Back in September, Sugarfire Smoke House opened in Olivette.  With an event like that taking place so close to my house I had to check it out.  You can read about my first experience here.  Last week I went back to see how they were doing.  This is the first time I am doing a 2nd review on a restaurant.  It’s even more surprising because I also went there twice in one week. That should give you a big hint how I feel about this place.

So why review the same place again?  My first visit was on opening night.  I wanted to see how things have changed since they have been open for several months.  The first visit this week I went with a half slab of ribs, baked beans, and fries.

half slab and beansIf you remember my original review, the fries are made when you order them. By the time you ordered them your BBQ had already been plated.  The order of events was the same, but this time they brought the fries out to the table when they were ready. 🙂

The ribs and beans were excellent.  Even my 1-year-old son was enjoying the baked beans.  I will raise him to love BBQ for certain.  The ribs are not the “fall off the bone: kind.  They still have a good chew and they had the signature smoke ring.  Out of 12 sauce choices, I went with the sweet.  It’s personal preference for me with pork.

As I mentioned before I never go to the same restaurant twice in one week.  What made me go back so quickly?   Each time I went there, I stared at the burger option.  I also was greeted at the counter by the day’s specials written on brown paper.  They have been extremely tempting.  I went back after having my BBQ fix to make sure I tried something else.  This may have been a little overboard:

meal

Here’s the break down:

  • Top left – pasta salad with artichoke hearts and spinach leaves
  • Bottom left – sweet potato salad
  • Middle – pastrami sandwich
  • Right – double burger

Let’s start with the double burger. You can order it with an array of toppings.  I choose balsamic onions, Portobello mushroom, a farm fresh egg, and American cheese. Here’s a closer look.

burger

When I ordered it, I was surprised there wasn’t an option to choose how it would be cooked.  They were served medium well.  The patties are smashed on the grill, however they are not thin and crispy like at Carl’s Drive in.  All of the toppings were great and I loved that they left the yolk soft on the egg.  I would get this again.

However, the pastrami and the sweet potato salad stole the show.  This pastrami sandwich was one of the best that I have ever eaten.  It was piled with thick, fatty, juicy pastrami.  The toasted marbled rye was the perfect choice of bread.  I also liked adding in some of the Carolina mustard sauce.  The sweet potato salad was really unique.  I loved the flavor added by the sweet potatoes and it finished with just a bit of tang.  It’s a simple idea that I can’t wait to try and replicate.

Overall Sugarfire is a great BBQ place for those of us that don’t have quick access to Pappy’s or Bogart’s.  Each time I have been there I have never had to deal with much of a line.  Not only do they make great BBQ, but the burgers and specials were a surprise.  This restaurant will be in my normal rotation for sure!

Sugarfire Smoke House on Urbanspoon

Hendricks BBQ, St. Charles, MO – EAT BBQ!

Since I moved back to the Midwest, I have started eating a lot of BBQ. The southwest didn’t have much to offer but St. Louis has a ton of great options.  My most recent BBQ joint was Hendrick’s BBQ in St. Charles.

Parking can be a little confusing the first time you go.  However, if you just follow the signs, you won’t have an issue.  You sneak up behind the building and can enter by climbing a flight of stairs or taking an elevator.  I took the elevator.  When the doors open I was greeted by that old familiar smell.  If you weren’t already hungry, you are now.

I love the decor of this place.  Wooden tables with chairs that look like old window shutters.    The paper on the tables reminds you that you are going to eat BBQ and it’s OK to be messy.  Also there is this awesome neon sign by the kitchen:

Eat BBQ

The menu is intense.  There were too many things that I wanted to try.  I decided to start with 2 appetizers.

First up, deviled eggs.  Deviled eggs are a staple at most of my family gatherings.  These were nice and tangy.

deviled eggs

Wait a minute, things were about to get even better.  For the 2nd appetizer, I had the pork cracklin’. They were salty and addictive.  I loved the ones that had the crispy outside and a nice creamy fatty inside.

pork crackling

As you have read by now, I love pork.  I order it any chance I get.  So of course for my meal I ordered… the brisket sandwich.  Why the change of heart?  I typically have a rule to try what is recommended by the staff when I am having a tough time deciding.  This was one of those times.

brisket

I ordered mine with the melted pepperjack cheese.  You can choose two sides with the meal.  I ordered the corn casserole (see above) and the mac n cheese (pictured below).

The brisket was tender and served on a very soft bread.  They had multiple BBQ sauce choices on the table, I stuck with the sweet for my sandwich. This was a very enjoyable brisket sandwich.  The corn casserole was like a soft cornbread.  It had creamed corn, onions, and whole sweet corn kernels.  I definitely recommend it.

mac n cheese

The mac n cheese was not the typical style your mom made. This was made with penne pasta, white cheese, and topped with bread crumbs.  Another winner.

Hendrick’s BBQ was a pleasant surprise in St. Charles.  I can see why their chef won the Chef Battle Royale at the 2012 Taste of St. Louis.  Tasting is believing, so get some for yourself.

Dive 2 Five Scale – 3.  Hendrick’s BBQ is family friendly but is also a great place to go grab a cold one.  If you follow some of the food review sites, some people complain about the prices.  For BBQ it is on the pricey side, but they do serve quality dishes.  They have a great selection of local beers on tap.  You will hear lots of blues while you are there.  I loved all the small touches.  Sweet tea from mason jars… nuff said.

Sweet Tea

Hendricks BBQ  on Urbanspoon

Panhead Billy’s, Kingdom City, MO – KA-CHOW, Did I Find a Real Life Radiator Springs?

I’m not known for being someone who loves poetry.  However, as a child I memorized “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. It’s something that continues to pop into my mind from time to time.  Recently I was wondering if I was going to find a hidden gem on that “road less traveled” on a recent road trip back from Kansas City.

Along old Highway 40 in Kingdom City, I stopped by Panhead Billy’s Smokehouse BBQ and Tavern.  Taking the right turn onto highway 40 I was quickly reminded of the animated movie “Cars”.  Here was small stretch of highway that had an out of business gas station, abandoned motel, Nostalgiaville, and Panhead Billy’s.  Clearly all affected by the “progress” brought in by I-70.

Abandoned motel on old Highway 40.

As I pulled in the gravel parking lot and up to the metal building I was pretty sure I had found myself a sure 1 on the Dive 2 Five Scale.  However when I entered I was surprised by the time and effort was put into this place.

After settling in at the bar, I asked for recommendations.  The bartender first mentioned brisket that just finished in the smoker the previous night.  I ordered it with a side of fries.

The brisket was tender enough to cut with a fork.  Thank goodness, since I wasn’t given a knife. 😀  Maybe I looked like a shady character and couldn’t be trusted with one.  The fries were fresh cut on site.  As I have found with other fresh cut fries, they were on the soft side.  I prefer a crispy outside but these weren’t bad.  They were seasoned well.  There was only BBQ sauce so that kept things simple.  It was on the thin side, but with a nice subtle after-burn.

Panhead Billy’s is a typical small town BBQ restaurant.  It would likely get lost in the mix with Pappy’s and some of the other great BBQ in St. Louis.  However this is a good stop when you have that craving and are traveling along I-70.  It’s also a nice place to stop and support a local business.  This was the road less traveled that I will be traveling again.  After doing some research, I think on my next trip I will try their BBQ chips.  They sound tasty!

Dive 2 Five Scale:  2.  As I said, from the outside I expected to score it a one.  It was just simple.  Inside the wooden tables and chairs were a nice touch.  The chairs were over-sized and heavy.  I was really surprised how nice (and clean) the men’s bathroom was.  It’s more of a bar, but I would not hesitate to take my son there.  It wasn’t really a sports bar, but had two TV’s for those of us interested in the college football games.

Panhead Billys on Urbanspoon

Sugarfire Smoke House, St. Louis, MO – New BBQ on the Block

Clearly, I love to try new restaurants.  Tonight I tried the grand opening of Mike Johnson and Carolyn Down’s Sugarfire Smoke House in Olivette.  If Mr. Johnson’s name sounds familiar, it should.  Maybe you have heard of Cyrano’s or Boogaloo?  Additionally they use the same model smoker as Pappy’s and how could I not give it a try?

When you walk in you are greeted by a strong smokey aroma.  This is the type that will stay on your clothes the rest of the day.  Unfortunately they were already out of ribs and brisket.  Bummer.  Not being one to give up so easily, I went for the 8 oz pulled pork sandwich with a side of green chili cheese fries.

Pulled pork and green chili cheese fries

First sign that it was a new place: the timing.  The sandwich was ready and waiting before the fries were cooking.  So the meat was a little cold by time I was at my table.  They also had issues with the register.  Only one was working and it took a minute for someone to let me know to go to the take out line to pay.  Neither of those are a big surprise for night one.

Now let’s focus on the food.  The pulled pork was tender and had a good smokey flavor. They had several different types of sauce.  By serving the meat without any, you get to choose. The sauces ranged the gambit from white BBQ to Carolina mustard.  My two favorites were the sweet and coffee.

The green chili cheese fries were not very spicy.  This is likely to make sure they don’t “overheat” a typical midwest palate.  The fries themselves were crispy and well seasoned.  It made for an ok side dish.

The staff was very friendly and helpful.  They all seemed very excited about the food that they were serving.  If BBQ isn’t your thing, there were many other choices.  The burger sounded really good and they offered a wide choice of toppings.  There were also some interesting sounding sandwiches, shakes, and home-made pies.  I was surprised and the variety for such a small place.

My visit to Sugarfire on their opening night offered some positives and negatives.  With positives involving the food and negatives typical opening night jitters, I think this new restaurant has a lot of promise.  Since I was unable to sample their fall off the bone ribs or brisket as originally planned, I will leave this as to be continued…

Sugarfire Smoke House on Urbanspoon

Oklahoma Joe’s, Leawood, KS – Kansas City BBQ: Gas Station Style

Over the years I have sampled BBQ in Memphis, St. Louis, Austin, Kansas City, and more.  I have been to Arthur Bryant’s, Gates, Salt Lick, Pappy’s, and Charles Vergos’ Rendezous (not that I’m bragging 🙂 ).  I won’t claim to be a BBQ expert.  It’s more like a BBQ addiction.  Last weekend I made a trip to yet another world-famous BBQ joint, Oklahoma Joe’s.

Since it was my first time trying Oklahoma Joe’s, I went to the place where it all started.  This meant going to a gas station and standing in line for an hour.  I was torn between trying the Z-man and the ribs.  I decided on the ribs and one meat dinner.  That way I was able to try the ribs and the pulled pork.

3 bones, pulled pork, baked beans and Texas Toast

The ribs were VERY good.  They would hold to the bone when you picked them up but the bone easily came clean.  The pulled pork was tender and I liked that I could choose how much sauce to add.  It allowed me to sample both the regular and spicy.  Both were excellent. The only thing I was not a big fan of was the beans.  They were almost more of a chili than baked beans.

Anthony Bourdain once listed Oklahoma Joe’s as one of the 13 places to eat before you die.  If I only get to choose 13, that’s probably a stretch.  However, I will say that this is my favorite BBQ in KC and it was worth the hour wait for the experience.

Dive 2 Five Scale:  2.  If you are eating in a gas station, you might be at a place that is somewhat of a dive.  I like that aspect; it adds to the uniqueness.  You are served cafeteria style in an upbeat and loud atmosphere.  Your clothes will smell like BBQ when you leave. It’s the perfect cologne / perfume if your significant other is a carnivore!

Oklahoma Joe's Barbecue on Urbanspoon