Smoked Chicken Bacon Cheesy Fajita Wrap

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

A few weeks back, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that SugarFire Smokehouse had placed in Memphis In May for some kind of smoked chicken bacon cheesy sushi dish. I gave it a shot a couple weeks ago on vacation as an appetizer for our fajita night, and we were met with rave reviews.

The wife told me to “take it easy” and “not go crazy” on the BBQ this 4th of July, so I made fresh salsa, grilled a bunch of gourmet sausages, and made the smoked chicken bacon cheesy fajita wrap for my extended family.

Step one is the bacon weave, this time a full pound of Tyson pork bacon (since it was on an insane sale of $2.99 for a 1 lb. pack), hosting at its center a pounded-flat boneless skinless chicken breast (this one being a little over 1o ounces).

Bacon weave and flattened chicken breast

Bacon weave and flattened chicken breast

On that went a washed, seeded, and thinly sliced Anaheim pepper, and a quarter of a sweet yellow (Vidalia) onion, cut into liberal long slices.

Peppers and onions round out a fajita

Peppers and onions round out a fajita

And on top of all THAT went some pulled mozzarella string cheese (two sticks) and a couple slices of pepper jack. I didn’t want too much heat, since a variety of people would be eating this – including a couple people who aren’t down with the hot peppers.

Cheesy does it

Cheesy does it

When wrapping this contraption, I pulled the bacon edges nearest to me into the center of the cheese slices and then rolled the whole thing forward. This may allow the cheese to slide around two sides of the bacon.

I didn’t bother closing up the edges since they went so far beyond the ends of the chicken and other contents.

Wrapped and ready for smoke

Wrapped and ready for smoke

My weave / wrap went onto a Weber 22″ set up for indirect smoking with large hickory chunks.

Time to drink some beers

Time to drink some beers

While this smoked, I drank some amazing beers that I muled back from Florida. That we can buy neither Oskar Blues nor Dogfish Head in St. Louis is ridiculous.

After 45 minutes, I rolled it over. After barely over an hour, it was fully smoked. Importantly, the digital temperature probe read well over 165 in all locations that I tested. It’s ready to rest.

OMG that looks nice

OMG that looks nice

After about 10 minutes of resting, I sliced it at an angle and rang the appetizer bell.

The middle pieces are nice, but the ends are excellent

The middle pieces are nice, but the ends are excellent

Cleaning up the scraps of smoked crispy bacon was hard work. I barely hat time to get pictures.

If you make this, here’s a tip: In addition to getting a center piece, make sure you also get one of the ends. It’s more bacony than cheesy, and it’s gluttonous.

The meats of my labor

The meats of my labor

Everyone who had it loved it, and I offer my sincere thanks to SugarFire for inspiring this slight variation on their idea. Make this – you’ll not regret it.

I hope you had a wonderful and save Independence Day, full of beers, meat, family, and fireworks.

Happy 4th from Webster Groves

Happy 4th from Webster Groves

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BBQ Joint Review (kind of): Busch Stadium

I spent my afternoon in a Busch Stadium party suite to watch my underachieving Cardinals earn a win over the pitiful Cubs.

A good vantage for complaining about balls and strikes

A good vantage for complaining about balls and strikes

Lunch was the best kind – paid for by someone else. Even better, it was bratwurst, hot dogs, and Busch Stadium’s BBQ brisket. The party room was big enough that there were two buffet lines. I hit up the first and snagged a brat and some brisket.

WTF happened here?

WTF happened here?

… or at least it was once brisket. The tongs struggled to grasp an appropriate amount of the stringy mess of beef. It wasn’t sliced at all – someone just shredded it whole, so there were long strands of meat randomly attached to other long strands of meat via fat and other sinew. I either got one strand of beef or a bird nest of beef. A frustrating buffet experience.

The string beef was not tender at all and had no smoke flavor or colors. Tough, dry beef does not make a good beer/baseball accompaniment. I was sad to report to a friend via text that this was inedible.

How was it made? My guess is someone over-baked it in an oven until they thought it was done and then beat it apart with a wooden spoon before pouring some pan drippings and BBQ sauce on top. Then the chef returned to his regular job of slicing potatoes silently in a dimly lit room under the stern gaze of Bill DeWitt III.

Chugging a Budweiser (also free) in an effort to forget the abomination beef, the guy next to me had a brisket sandwich. He raved, telling me all about how great it was. Rather than insult his malfunctioning palate for being impressed with shoe leather noodles, I just nodded at him. Sure thing, Buddy. He’s probably the same guy that votes for Olive Garden in the annual “best pasta” RFT diner survey.

Back inside, I got another free beer from the other side of the party suite and snagged a sub-par (but free) cookie. Glancing into the brisket tray on that side, something caught my eye…

How did I miss this?

How did I miss this?

More brisket, but (1) it’s sliced, and thinly at that, (2) it has pink smoke color on both sides of the slice, (3) it looks appetizing, and (4) I can recognize it as beef brisket. Can’t say that about the other tray.

How was it? Tender and tasty. No sinewy pull in the bites. It was flavorful and delicate and the sauce balanced well against the meat. Some non-incompetent person made this. An actual BBQ person. Amazing, considering the crud I’d just eaten on the other side of the party suite.

For the sake of comparison:

One good, one... not so good (or worse)

One good [right], one… not so good [left]

Something terrible happened in the BBQ kitchen at Busch. I hope that apprentice who made the fiasco was fired and sent back to whatever menial job he normally has. Sell felt pennants on Clark Avenue – just never touch the food intended for humans again. Clydesdales might even turn their gigantic noses up at that beef.

The well-made brisket was well made and I ate a bunch of it. If this was a restaurant, I’d probably get it again on a future trip. If you find yourself a guest in a party room at Busch, have a keen eye on BOTH buffet lines and don’t settle for bad brisket.

Stuffed Jalapeno Smoked Fatty

Spring is back in STL, which means I’m not grilling/smoking in snow or ice anymore.

On my list of BBQ dishes is the smoked fatty. Some Google searches will reveal that a fatty is a weave of bacon that’s wrapped around a meatloaf that’s stuffed with something. There are as many fatty recipes online as stars in the sky.

I like stuffed jalapenos, so…

Stuffed jalapenos

Stuffed jalapenos

… why not stick them in a fatty?

I took a 50/50 mix of pork salsiccia and ground chuck, plus an egg, totaling just under 2 lbs, and used 1/2 of it to make a boat atop my bacon weave. My stuffed peppers went into that boat.

Pork belly weave

Pork belly weave

Soon to be wrapped...

Stuffed peppers, stuffed in meat…

The boat was itself covered in the rest of the meat.

About to wrap

About to wrap

Once wrapped up, the whole thing was over three pounds. 1 lb. of pork sausage, 1 lb. of ground beef, 1 lb. of bacon, over half a brick of cream cheese (1/3 the fat!), and 5 veggies for health. This is not, uh, what’s the phrase… not good for you. But it’s hopefully yummy.

Maybe all the fat is why it's called a fatty?

Maybe all the fat is why it’s called a fatty?

 

Indirect heat in the Weber 22″ grill with a few hickory chunks.

Fatty fatty fat

Fatty fatty fat

After barely an hour, the bacon was nicely charred, so it got a 180 degree turn.

It's hard not to pick charred bacon chips off of this

It’s hard not to pick charred bacon chips off of this

After about 3 hours total, I pulled it and was ready to carve.

Fully smoked datty

Fully smoked fatty

A nice slice of fat(ty)

A nice slice of fat(ty)

I got a nice pink from the smoke and bacon, plus the meat stayed juicy from all the basting provided by the pork grease from the bacon. For my first effort, it wasn’t too bad. Probably just a little overdone, and maybe peppers and cream cheese wasn’t the best choice, but it was still pretty good. My picky son who likes some BBQ crushed it.

I’ll try another one soon… maybe mushroom and swiss? Philly cheese?

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BBQ Joint Review: The Salted Pig

Mid-morning I received an email from a friend that he wanted to try a new place called The Salted Pig and he wondered if I was game. Never heard of it, but he had me at “Salted Pig”.

Some Google searches revealed that this is the BBQ venture of Mike Del Pietro, who owns Sugo’s, which is my parents’ favorite pizza place in STL not owned by my uncle. That’s a strong resume.

Occupying the immediately-former Frontenac Grill site, a place better known as the former site of Coco’s (some breakfast place), The Salted Pig sits in a large out lot building at the corner of Lindbergh and Conway in the central STL county city of Frontenac, where stuff’s expensive. I waited tables in Frontenac for a few years and made bank. Big houses with gates and big retail sticker prices. So I planned to pay the municipality standard upcharge… the BBQ had better be worth it.

A welcome sign

A welcome sign

Quick anecdote that is relevant here: Some of us have noticed that when *ahem* larger people frequent restaurants, then the food is probably pretty good (the Sams Club cafe notwithstanding). For example, I once waited 20 minutes for some fried chicken at a local hotspot, but there were no fewer than 6x 400 lbs. people quietly, patiently, gleefully awaiting their carry out chicken. It occurred to me that the chicken is probably pretty damned good. Turns out it was really delicious.

Why is that relevant? My dining companion texted me from the parking lot (since he got there a few minutes ahead of me): “A big fat guy just walked out looking happy. That’s a good sign.”

Approaching the door, wafts of aroma from unseen smokers let us know we had probably made a good lunch decision.

Close up of the menu attachment mechanism

Close up of the menu attachment mechanism

The menus are single pieces of printed cardstock attached to a thin plank of stained wood via a pair of rubber bands. In fact, dark stained wood and earth tones dominate the decor of the restaurant, both inside and out. I quite enjoyed it.

From a bevy of appetizing options, I ordered the brisket chili, a half slab of baby back ribs, and a Sofie.

A complaint: My chili and entree arrived simultaneously. You’d think that the chili would have been an appetizer, or at least the waiter would have asked if I wanted it out first. Neither was the case, and I was handed a lot of food at once. Coursing is nice. Having to shift my ready-to-eat rib platter aside so that I can get going on my chili while it’s hot is not.

Mike got the pulled pork, which came on a bun (probably uselss) with fries. He wisely asked for an extra side of sauce.

Though not mine, an enviable plate of food

Though not mine, an enviable plate of food

The pulled pork plate looked simple enough. Minimalist generic fries, no pickles(!), and a heapin’ helpin’ of lightly sauced meat on a toasted bun.

My chili looked pretty good, deep red and chunky in a deep bowl atop a dishrag on a large plate with a single crouton.

Brisket chili

Brisket chili, w/ towel garnish

My ribs looked even better, paired with ceramic ramekins of beans and slaw. I’m psyched.

Yes, I'm that asshole who photographs his food at a restaurant

Yes, I’m that asshole who photographs his food at a restaurant

Pulled Pork:

Mike’s going to have a nice afternoon balancing the books at Frankenfoods, Inc. with a belly full of this pork. He slid me a few generous shreds in exchange for a rib and a chunk of brisket from my chili. I have to say it was pretty solid pulled pork. This piggy was not particularly salted, but the seasoning was restrained and well-balanced. As I suspected, the bun/bread was useless. In fact, it just soaked up valuable, valuable sauce.

On to this sauce… it reminded us both of a sauce I used to to make. Basically I would boil down a gallon of cider vinegar with oodles of seasonings and ingredients. Their sauce was vinegary, sweet, salty. It coated the meat perfectly and complemented the seasoning of the pork. Really a nice job with the sauce.

The feedback on the pork is that it’s impressive and filling and satisfying. I enjoyed my two big bites for sure.

Brisket Chili:

Chunky and flavorful. Large pieces of onion, loads of tender red beans, and huge chunks of hyper-tender brisket. Plenty of salt, but the spice is perfect. I swear I picked up on some green bell pepper flavors, but couldn’t find any pieces. It’s a great bowl of food. Everything is tender and velvety, with a nice presence in the mouth around the tongue. My only gripe with this chili (if I have to pick one) is that some of the beans were a little mealy instead of melty, but overall this was a really nice chili. Brisket is a solid chili ingredient, more so than pork in my opinion.

The crouton that came with the chili was apparently garnish not to be consumed. It didn’t taste like a typical crouton. This was clearly a slice of bread that accidentally went 80% stale and someone spritzed butter on it. I scooped some chili on the breadly wafer and took a bite and immediately regretted wasting chili on this greasy stale styrofoam display disguised as bread. It needed a silica gel warning – desiccant: do not consume.

Otherwise the chili was epic.

As amazing as the brisket chili was… I’m typing this review several hours later, and, well… I’ll let Coleman from Trading Places explain it.

"It gives me the wind, something terrible"

“It gives me the wind, something terrible”

Baby Back Pork Ribs:

Very tender with a nice smoke flavor. Some places put on too much rub before the smoke, or put on a bunch unnecessarily after the smoke, or the rub is too damned salty. None of the above here. What I liked about this rib was the tenderness. Nearly too tender, since there was very little pull back on the bite into the ribs, but the bite was better than anything I’ve ever made.

Great smoke color

Great smoke color

I’m not sure how they smoke these so that all the pink is on the convex side of the ribs, with a very deep ring.

What impresses me about these ribs is that the seasoning is modest and restrained, but done very well. The pork is respected during the cooking process to the point that the meat is the star, not the clever rub.

This shocked me: These ribs can hang with the top tier pork ribs in STL.

Sides: Beans and Slaw

The slaw was a solid cabbage and vinegar mixture with a generous portion of celery seed with paper thin slivers of carrot. It was just a tad oily, but really refreshing and a nice pairing with the ribs.

The beans were good, not great.  Lots of shredded meat in the beans, and it was a thick ramekin of beans. Not too spicy or salty, but pretty decent. The least impressive part of a great meal. Slightly above average beans. I didn’t come here for beans, though; I came out for salted pork.

The result was a clean plate.

Compliments to the chef; Apologies to the dishwasher

Compliments to the chef; Apologies to the dishwasher

The bottom line from this meal is that we were blown away in terms of reality vs. expectations.

I figured it was going to be another fancypants attempt at modern BBQ, which is a nice way of saying some idiot’s interpretation of pork and beef. No no no. This was a very impressive assortment of well-made, traditional BBQ. I’m happy to have gone, and we’re probably heading back on Friday with a friend from out of town (as in China) who wants to chow on some USA BBQ.

I recommend you give this place a shot. Frontenac or not, the price wasn’t outrageous, but the BBQ was top notch.

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Drink This Beer (While You Can): Schnucks Anniversary IPA

For a limited time, STL-area IPA fans can commemorate the 75th anniversary of one of the local grocery chain stores and also try another variation in the Schlafly IPA family. Having spent enough money at Schnucks in my lifetime to send at least one Schnuck kid to college for a year, what’s another 7 or 8 bucks for a sixer of Schnucks Anniversary IPA?

Didn't need a bag, so I got an orange sticker from the check out clerk

Didn’t need a bag, so I got an orange sticker from the check out clerk

I’m admittedly loyal to STL-based establishments to a fault, so this is a double homer beer. If only they could put a Cardinals logo on it and sell it exclusively at Ted Drewes.

Poured in a room temperature glass mug, it gives a highly effervescent cloudy yellow presentation with a thick though minimal head.

Drank this with the Cards game on the radio

Drank this with the Cards game on the radio

The hops aroma didn’t lie, with a 45 IBU. It’s a smooth, creamy hop flavor with grapefruit notes. In addition to the citrus, there’s some sweetness and a hint of pine (which maybe I’m only tasting because I read it on the beer label… confirmation bias). Smooth finish that leaves a lingering bitterness on the back sides of your tongue. Shared a few of these with my neighbor, who remarked that “these’ll go fast.” Indeed.

So if you are in the area and have the urge to try something hoppy that has limited availability, then you should Drink This Beer.

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Instant Beer Review: Schlafly Hop Trial UK Phoenix

Lenten beer battered cod fish sandwich with my father means sampling a beer you can only get on site at the Schlafly Bottleworks.

Lunchtime beer

Lunchtime beer

At 45 IBUs, this beer has nice restrained hop profile. The waiter said it had a floral finish, but I though it was nutty… borderline peanut buttery. Just delicious and refreshing.

Important details, neatly presented

Important details, neatly presented

Crisp, tasty, highly enjoyable. Drink This Beer, if you get the chance.

UPDATE

A friend who has a respectable beer palate said the following: Phoenix Hop Trial = 5/10. Too convoluted. Tastes like the leftovers of several other types of beers.

So take that for what it’s worth. Beer is subjective.

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BBQ Joint Review: Bogarts Smokehouse

Happy Fat Tuesday!

What better way to celebrate than with a lawyer buddy over some BBQ, followed by some beer. My long-overdue trip to Bogart’s Smokehouse in Soulard finally happened.

Line not out the door yet?

Line not out the door yet?

Every time I’ve been by this place, the line has been out the door. Usually it’s midday on a weekend to visit the adjacent Soulard Farmers Market, but on this chilly late STL morning, the line was only about 15-20 people deep.

This place doesn’t need hype from me. Since it opened about three years ago, it’s become regarded my many as the best BBQ in St. Louis. Friends who know I am trying to review all STL BBQ places worth reviewing cannot believe I haven’t yet been to Bogart’s.

Bogarts sits in a typical Soulard corner store with a narrow, colorful, welcoming facade. Like its restaurant cousin, Adam’s Smokehouse, seating is at a premium at Bogart’s.  Apparently burnt ends are a premium, too… at 11:30 in the morning!

Dammit. I love burnt ends.

Dammit. I love burnt ends.

Prices are reasonable for premium BBQ. I like to go with two meat combos so I can maximize my meat sampling.

This is seriously the most difficult part of my day

This is seriously the most difficult part of my day

For my Pick 2, I of course went with the brisket and paired it with more beef – tri-tip sirloin, and selected pit beans and cole slaw as my sides, all with an iced tea.

Lots of good stuff w/ useless bread

Lots of good stuff w/ useless bread

Pardon the blurriness of this photo, but we were packed into seats like sardines. I’m literally elbow-to-elbow with both of my neighbors.

Lunch buddy Pete, who picked up the tab with the promise that he’d turn in the receipt for reimbursement from Mr. Huge STL Law Firm, also went the Pick 2 route, but got tri-tip and pork ribs, and opted for potato salad over slaw.

Good choices

Good choices

Everyone gets a packet of Heinz Horseradish Sauce. Why? There’s four BBQ sauces on the table, and the meat is amazing as a stand alone product. Why take mayo w/ horseradish puree made in a metal vat in Pennsylvania and present it as an accompaniment to handcrafted elite BBQ? Maybe it was put there ironically…

Finally some expertly-made brisket that’s actually BBQ-style brisket (and not the stuff they slung me at Wild Smoke House).

Real beef brisket

Real beef brisket

What can I say but that this was expertly tender and just generally perfect. Exact balance of smoke and spice, amazing color and smoke ring, nice little ribbon of fat, generous portion for a 1/2 serving, reasonably restrained hand at the seasoning. Try this and attempt to appreciate the heightened skill and years of experience that went into making this food.

Bottom line is this is the best brisket in town (that I’ve tried to date, taking into consideration that day-to-day meat sampling may vary, and I haven’t been everywhere yet,  etc.).

The tri-tip was also amazingly epic. I haven’t seen many places serve up BBQ tri-tip, which I’ve only managed to make very, very poorly. Adam’s Smokehouse makes an impressive tri-tip, but Bogart’s is elite. The two are 1 and 1A.

Bogart’s tri-tip was thinly sliced and loaded with ribbons and marbles of fat, nicely pink internally. It cut smoothly and each bite was velvety, buttery. Just a spectacular job on this meat. I need to reinvest myself in making this.

Pit beans were among the best beans I’ve ever had. Sensing a theme here? They were rich and thick, with a hearty spice finish. I got a few nice hunks of brisket as well as lots of little brisket shreds. You can taste the BBQ drippins in these beans. Manly legumes.

Cole slaw… meh. It was creamy but not too rich. I thought it was too sweet for me, but I’m a vinegary slaw fan. This is a personal preference thing, although I think there were cooked chilled apple slices in there? Maybe next time I’ll follow Pete’s lead and get the deviled egg potato salad.

Good Guy Pete passed me a rib. What are friends for?!

I was full... until he handed me one of these

I was full… until he handed me one of these

Perfect tenderness and bite. Excellent flavor, smoke, finishing crust & seasoning. Maybe I’ll just get these next time and really indulge myself. But this was one amazing pork rib.

A truly successful Mardi Gras lunch. How best to finish this gluttonous holiday? Maybe a lead-footed friend who wanted to pay some legal fees?

Legal fees

Legal fees

Urban Chestnut, Rogue, and PBR? I hope this guy keeps speeding all over Rock Hill! I drank a bunch of fees and fell asleep on the couch, which is why I’m posting this on Ash Wednesday and not Fat Tuesday. (And, no, I’m not giving beer or BBQ or anything for Lent.)

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BBQ Joint Review: Wild Smoke House

Is it fair to judge a BBQ joint based on its first day of business? Its first hour of business? Look, you tell everyone on Reddit that there’s a new BBQ place in town and I’m going to show up on opening day.

Is it fair for me to consider ribs and brisket to be a suitable and universal baseline comparison between all BBQ restaurants? Those are the two things that I’ve found require intense levels of skill (based on trips to restaurants and on personal experience), and so those are the two things I try to get at every BBQ joint gauge that joint against all others. Two kinds of meat, two distinct flavors, lots of patience and talent required, etc. If you do both well, you’ve got your act together.

These two things in mind… I present my review of Wild Smoke House in Creve Coeur, MO.

As usual, I phoned my father with news that I needed a BBQ sampling partner and he was all too happy to oblige. On a late Tuesday morning we ventured together to the site of a former Culpepper’s, just west of I-270 on the south side of Olive.

Wild Smoke? I like smoke!

Wild Smoke? I like smoke!

Clearly they spent some cash renovating this place. Things are nice and new and clean. Cloth napkins holding my silverware!

Cloth napkins!

Cloth napkins!

Cowhide (or cowhide prints) for booth seating!

Moo. Ok, maybe no cow actually died for this booth. A bunch died for lunch, though.

Moo. Ok, maybe no cow actually died for this booth. A bunch died for lunch, though.

Woah, some kind of RFID laser-tag system that differentiates my table from the table two feet away? Order and pay first and then take this thing to your seat. Ok, sweet.

Hey, we're No. 1! Also, this is apparently not a coaster.

Hey, we’re No. 1! Also, this is apparently not a coaster.

So a ton of high end stuff went into this place, and it looks literally nothing like the Culpepper’s that was here before. And there’s lots and lots of people working there. And the hostess is unnecessarily hot. But, how is the food?

Background on this place is that it’s owned by winery people who also run Edge Wild in Chesterfield, where their smoked food apparently sells well when on the menu. And they are collaborating with some guys who won a recent chicken wing championship. Great… how about a brisket and pork platter with slaw and an order of onion rings?

It came out VERY quickly after ordering.

My lunch: Brisket ribs and slaw (with pickles)

My lunch: Brisket ribs and slaw (with pickles)

Dad’s a big BBQ chicken fan.

Dad's lunch: chicken ribs and slaw (and also some pickles)

Dad’s lunch: chicken ribs and slaw (and also some pickles)

And we love onion rings.

Ginormous onion rings and sauce

Ginormous onion rings and sauce

And they provided us with a sampling of four home-made BBQ sauces (and also had a squeezy pump of ketchup adjacent thereto).

Shiny new sauce dispensers. None of this "bottles of sauce on the table" shit!

Shiny new sauce dispensers. None of this “bottles of sauce on the table” shit!

Impressive in their diversity.

Four sauces, none like the other

Four sauces, none like the other

On to the food:

Beef Brisket – Very thinly sliced, including a big fat cap you find on untrimmed brisket. I saw some really nice color on a couple slices (see below), but for the most part there was no smoke ring or color.  The ring is a chemical reaction, and the lack of it is not indicative of a lack of smoke, but the ring looks nice.

Wild Smoke's Brisket

Wild Smoke’s Brisket

This is not your typical brisket. When you go to PM BBQ, Pappy’s, Sugar Fire, Hendricks, etc. you get a tender bite of meat sliced a certain way with certain flavors. Variations between those traditional BBQ briskets are rubs, injections, tenderness, color, etc. Wild Smoke gave me ultra-thin slices of brisket that had no detectable smoke flavor and had zero of the tender bite of a normal sliced brisket. Literally unexpected.

I can only describe it as roast beef. Now, this was utterly succulent and tender and juicy and flavorful roast beef, but unless I knew from ordering it and watching them slice it that it was BBQ brisket, I would never ever have guessed as much. Put some jus on this and stick it on a sesame bun, and you’re eating a kickass roast beef sandwich. There was a nice pepper finish to the meat. I just was expecting traditional BBQ brisket.

The rockin’ steak knives that we got were useless with the brisket. The serration depth of the knives was greater than the than the thickness of the cut of the meat, so cutting pieces of the slices was not very effective. Just stringy tearing and shredding; no cutting. The steak knife was effectively another fork. Just a plain old knife would have done fine. And a useful knife would have been nice due to all the fat cap I trimmed. (Yes, the cap adds flavor during smoking, but I don’t want to eat all the fat.)

Baby Back Ribs – With my brisket they gave me three thick but short ribs. Before slicing the slab, they applied some kind of rub that had a nice little heat finish after each bite. Great flavor and some nice pink color.

Great looking ribs

Great looking ribs

The convex arch meat of my first of the ribs had a literally perfect bite. When I sunk my teeth in, there was the most subtle tender tug back but nothing pulled off the bone. It was like biting into a firm yet yielding slice of meat bread. I even photographed it to memorialize.

Great bite of pork!

Great bite of pork!

Sadly that was the only perfect bite. The lateral side bits of rib were not quite so tender and needed some teeth gnashing and tearing. The other two of my ribs were also not particularly tender. It’s a shame because the flavor was spot on and the color looked great. Maybe STL style ribs would have fared better? Maybe something else in the process needed to be controlled more tightly?

The reason I use pork ribs and beef brisket as a baseline is because it’s extremely hard to make them perfectly consistently. My ribs were not consistently perfect, in fact neither consistent nor perfect. Pretty good, but given the local competition in pork ribs, these pale in comparison. The bar is set high. Very high.

Onion Rings – Yes, you only get three, but they are three humongous hemispheres of fried onion. Great crunch of thick batter and perfectly salted, but they were a little greasy. The sauce was… not so good. Too heavy and rich and the flavor didn’t match the salt / crunch of the rings. Just discard the sauce and use the rings to sample the BBQ sauces. Three to an order is plenty for a two person appetizer.

Cole Slaw – What, uh, what the heck is going on in this slaw? It’s loaded with sunflower kernels and white raisins. The veggies are crisp (borderline crunchy) and there’s a little more carrot shred going on here than I’m used to. It’s both creamy and vinegary, instead of just choosing one, and I cannot put my finger on whatever other flavor they tossed in here, or maybe it’s the white raisins.

To steal a rant from Adam Carolla, iced tea is really good and doesn’t need innovation. Lemon wedges were about as innovative as we needed with respect to iced tea. Then some people started putting passion fruit into it (looking at YOU, Schlafly Tap Room), which is needlessly screwing with a wonderful thing that didn’t need abusive tinkering. At least at Schlafly when you order it they say, “Oh, it’s passion fruit iced tea. Is that okay” so you have a chance to say, “No. No, that’s not okay at all. I’ll just have a beer even though it’s 11am and I have to go back to work.” That’s what happened here, but no one said to me, “Listen, we do some goofy stuff with our slaw and you probably actually want the beans. Just a heads up.”

Someone is getting really cute with cole slaw and I just don’t understand why. My dad liked it. Nay, he LOVED it. (He’s hopped up on pain meds these days.) But, I was a little perplexed. You see clever cooking shows where someone reinvents a classic or puts their spin on a popular dish… that happened here, but instead of the judge (me) saying OMG this is amazing, I’m just making a mental note: never get that again.

Pickles - Firm and tart with a great cucumber flavor not overpowered by brine. Reminds me of a home made kosher pickle. I really liked these pickles.

Sauce: Showdown – Super sweet and evocative of an overly patronizing attempt at an STL-style (according to Kraft foods) bottle sauce.

Sauce: Tennessee Zed – Tarter and pepperier than the Showdown sauce, and thankfully less sweet. I guess it’s the best of the lot, which isn’t saying much. The only Zed I know of was in Pulp Fiction and had questionable interests.

Sauce: Carolina Peach – How did this go?

Me: I love yellow Carolina sauces!

(samples sauce)

Me: This is not good.

No, it’s not mustardy at all. It’s kind of tart and sweet and goopy. Really the texture is totally off. It’s got as much in common with a traditional Carolina sauce as maple syrup, which is to say they’re completely unrelated.

Sauce: Root Beer Molasses – Ok please stop. Tasted like a root beer barrel candy with some pepper in it. So odd and it made no sense to me at all. Why?

On a scale of Yuck to Yum, these sauces averaged a Meh, borderline Blah.

Summary: I really really wanted to like this place because I consider myself a meat optimist and I want STL to be a haven to superior BBQ. This place is just different and not my style at all. Maybe it will succeed with flying colors by doing things that are not just outside the box but several dimensions outside the cube.

Don’t go there thinking you will get brisket and slaw and have the BBQ lunch you are used to. You’re getting someone’s attempt to try new things, which I can respect. Those new things just aren’t my thing.

Will I go back? Yes, for a couple reasons. First, it was their first day and there are bound to be kinks that need working out. Second, I will try other things on the menu to see if maybe there are some more traditional BBQ experiences that I might enjoy. There’s enough badass normal BBQ joints in town to satisfy my needs. If you want a totally different experience on BBQ or maybe regular BBQ isn’t your thing and you want to see someone else’s take on it – then this place is for you.

I’ll go once more to (likely) confirm my impressions from this review. In the meantime, this place should probably trade off of its uniqueness. Not for everyone, but maybe it has a home in STL. I’m all for diversity. I sincerely hope they do really well and anchor that shopping strip for years.

Epilogue - Hey, their beer taps look awesome!

Beers (to wash away that slaw flavor)!

Beers (to wash away that slaw flavor)!

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Smoked Chicken Wings

Santy Claus brought me a new BBQ cookbook and I need to show up at a neighbor dinner with appetizers.

Important news

Important news

How about some smoked chicken wings? Easy yum yums.

Everybody likes chicken

Everybody likes chicken

I rigged my UDS for smoking at 200 with about 2/3 a coal chimney’s worth of charcoal. Atop that hot mess I added a mix of hickory chunks and cherry chips with the intent to leave it alone for about 1 & 1/2 to 2 hours.

Who wants wingy wingy?

Who wants wingy wingy?

I figured that kiddos might prefer the drumettes while the adults can negotiate the entire three part wing. I let the whole batch smoke for about 1 hour 45 minutes, all 5+ lbs.

Smoke!

Thoroughly smoked

I got some badass color on these wings, with a single batch of charcoal and wood fuel. The UDS, quite well made if I say so, got up to about 200 degrees and didn’t need a lick of attention while I drank some beers and watched bad reruns on tv.

Two sauces were made: Traditional hot wing sauce comprising a stick of butter and oodles of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce, and Honey BBQ sauce comprising a bunch of Sweet Baby Ray’s, a ton of honey, another stick of butter, and a couple dashes of Frank’s.

I tried to roll the wings in butter and flour to fry them, but that failed, since I don’t own a cast iron skillet for frying. Instead, I dropped all the smoked wings into about 3/4″ of hot vegetable oil to fry the skin. From the frying pan, each wing went into a warm foil pan of sauce. Drumettes into honey BBQ and the full wings into the Frank’s sauce.

Hot wings!

Hot wings!

Honey BBQ!

Honey BBQ!

Super thrilling to me was seeing my son’s 7 year old friend crushing the honey BBQ wings. They were really good, with a deep smoky taste and a nice tenderness. Those hot wings grow on you, or so I was told. Truly, they were tasty wings with a nice finish and bite.

In the end, the minimal effort resulted in two kinds of tasty wings full of deep smoke flavor, moisture, and tenderness. Each well-incorporated the richness of their respective sauces. Delicious poultry that everyone enjoyed.

Pro Tip Epilogue:

I received a text from someone with far more BBQ wing experience. Smoked chicken wings don’t like to stick to sauce, unless you augment the sauce with some brown sugar. That explains why the honey BBQ sauce coated the wings well, and why the hot sauce slicked off their respective wings. In the future, add brown sugar for stickiness and perhaps some vinegar to keep the heat when doing hot smoked chicken wings.

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