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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BBQ Joint Review: Adam’s Smokehouse

It’s client appreciation week for my solo LLC law practice, so why not take my longest-standing client and his wife out to a nice meal? In other words, I treated my parents to lunch at a new BBQ place: Adam’s Smokehouse.

Tasty food awaits you inside

Tasty food awaits you inside

We learned an important lesson about eating at relatively new BBQ joints: Don’t show up for lunch the same day a glowing review appears in the local newspaper. The line was out the door by 11:30 and we waited a good 20-25 minutes to place our order.

On the west edge of The Hill, south of where Watson splits off of Hampton (5 minutes from the zoo, for the out-of-towners), Adam’s Smokehouse rests in a small south city storefront strip shared with a dive bar.

As a longtime STL resident, the decor was pretty neat. All the walls were covered in 80s-ish baseball and hockey and olympic nostalgia. All those framed posters surrounded a modest storefront BBQ restaurant with 12-15 tables and minimal seating. It’s been open for two months and ripe for an expansion already.

A diverse chalkboard menu awaited us at the head of the line:

So many choices!

So many choices!

Beef brisket is a good measure of a BBQ joint, and I’ve never eaten tri-tip commercially, so that’s what I ordered (the pick two for $12.99). Amazingly, they were sold out of brisket at 11:45, so we were a good 10 minutes late. Unbelievable. Instead, I ordered the well-reviewed (as of that morning) salami. Sides were pit beans and slaw (which I was assured was homemade), and an unsweetened iced tea.

A person ahead of us asked for french fries, and someone said proudly said that they don’t serve fries. If you want your spuds, it’s going to have to be in the form of potato salad.

Dad reliably ordered ribs (1/2 slab, big boi!) and pulled pork for good measure, as well as beans and slaw, and my mother ordered turkey breast sandwich and slaw and applesauce.

Salami and tri-tip

Salami and tri-tip, with pit beans and slaw

Shredded turkey breast with applesauce and slaw

Shredded turkey breast with applesauce and slaw

Ribs, shredded pork, pit beans, and slaw

Ribs, shredded pork, pit beans, and slaw

As I came back with drinks, my parents were already digging in. Mom tasted her applesauce and fondly said it tasted exactly like her (German) grandma used to make. Dad sampled. He said pretty much the same thing. FYI to nostalgic old tyme apple sauce lovers – come to Adam’s Smokehouse.

On to my plate. I haven’t seen a bowl of beans that appetizing in a while. What a rich, deep color. They had it all in a BBQ bean flavor profile – sweetness, smoke, salt, some molasses and brown sugar. The finish as you swallowed was spice. I could eat a tub of these.

The slaw came in a thin cream base with heartily crisp cabbage and carrots. Whoever made it had a heavy hand with the celery seed, which is fine by me. Very little garlic salt, which I’ve seen in overwhelming proportions in other places’ slaw. I thought it was a nice cool contrast to two hot meats and a hot bowl of beans. Mom didn’t care for it. (“I like creamy slaw; I just prefer Schnucks’ slaw.”)

Tri-tip and I have a strained relationship. I’ve made it twice: once at home for this blog, and another time in a BBQ competition. At home it was decent, but in the field was quite sub-par. I don’t know what they did at Adam’s but this was superb beef. Thinly sliced and lightly pink, they cooked it with a big fat cap on top. Like well-prepared beef from well-fed cows, this was very tender and tasted like butter. It was a revelation, and I wish to goodness that I knew how to make it like this.

Everyone was there for the salami, based on our visual survey of the trays on other tables as we walked in. Our cashier said that it was the star of the aforementioned BBQ review in the newspaper that day.  Having been denied my brisket, I would take this salami as a consolation prize any day.

A quick aside about hot salami. One of my all time sandwiches ever and a Top 10 You Must Eat This In STL foods is the hot salami sandwich at Gioia’s Deli in The Hill neighborhood. I first tasted it in my early 20′s when some girls I new hired me to paint their living and dining rooms in exchange for lunch and beer. Gioia’s was walking distance away and we went there on Monday. I demanded return trips as payment the rest of the week. Recently, Andrew Zimmern and his TV show, Bizarre Foods America, visited St. Louis and stopped by Gioia’s. A somewhat unfortunate behind-the-scenes video explained that the hot salami is really salami de testa… hot tubed head cheese. (There’s a reason you never want to see someone make sausage.)

Gioia’s salami and Adam’s salami have a lot in common, though I’ve only ever had Gioia’s as part of a sandwich. I felt like the Adam’s salami was a little more densely packed, and slightly greasier (maybe they’re the same and the Gioia’s Italian white loaf soaks it up), but it definitely had more complex flavor. You could eat it slice-by-slice, and I must have gotten at least 10 generous slices. I was pretty unprepared for this salami, and anyone who eats it will see why the STL P-D author went nuts for it.

And I stole a couple ribs from Pop.

That's a pretty deep smoke ring

That’s a pretty deep smoke ring

What an impressive smoke ring on those ribs. Deep pink color on both sides. So deep it actually meets at the thin ends of the babybacks. They had a very light bite that pulled the meat in front of your teeth off the rib, but it was smoked well-enough that the remainder of the meat stayed on the bone. I’d consider these perfectly tender, though BBQ competition judges might say they’re just a tad too tender. Whatever. I cleaned those bones and loved every second of it. Get these ribs. I know I will next time.

Our sauce choices weren’t exactly legion like over at Sugarfire, but the three that we had on the table were all really nice and totally distinct from one another.

Tasty triumvirate

Tasty triumvirate

Carolina Vinegar is no lie. It was very thin, a cider vinegar base. It had a great peppery finish and a nice sweet/salt taste. I doused some of my tri-tip and otherwise worthless bread with it and went to town.  Cranberry Cayenne was a thick sauce that balanced sweetness with spice, but I didn’t pick up on any tartness that you might get with cranberries. Nonetheless, it was a nice sauce outside of the mainstream. Sweet Jane Sauce was more like what you’d expect at a local BBQ joint. Nice balance of sweet and spice, with a traditional sauce texture and consistency. My personal bias was towards Carolina Vinegar, but the bottom line of the sauces is that anyone will be happy with at least one of these… or none at all since frankly none of this meat needed sauce.

All that was left was refuse and a sundry half bun. My meal made me quite full, but adding those two ribs got me up to nearly uncomfortably full. I needed a nap badly about 1/2 hour after leaving.

BBQ wreckage

BBQ wreckage

I liked that they served the food, by the way, in a plastic basket lined with a high gauge white Kraft paper instead of butcher paper or something else that either soaks up BBQ meat grease and/or cuts under the serration of my plastic cutlery. A nice touch that enhances the dining experience.

Overall this was a very pleasant BBQ joint experience, and they’ve only been open two months. They need to buy the place next door and knock down a wall for new seating, because it seems like demand is high enough for it. Of course I recommend eating here. I’ll be back soon.

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BBQ Joint Review Follow Up: Sugarfire Smokehouse

Fifteen years ago today I was a college sophomore, and my roommate and I (and two other guys) were initiated into our social fraternity. He and I live in STL and try to get together for lunch / dinner / beer / etc. every November 20th. Today it was a return to SugarFire Smokehouse.

Well-written menu

Well-written menu

Bright red posterboard grabbed my attention. The food description kept it.

One side? My ass. I’ll be having the Firewalker, plus the brisket chili (oh my god) AND an order of the polenta cakes with pork belly and cheddar (oh my flippin god).

Lunch

Lunch. EPIC lunch.

Brisket Chili – Wonder of wonders. I need to make this. Peppers, onions, huge chunks and shreds of brisket, thin sauce, chickpeas(?), a bunch of other great stuff.

Polenta Cakes – With cheddar and pork belly. Oodles of pork belly chunks, and well-mingled cheesiness. I love polenta, and this was awesome.

Firewalker – Pepper jack gravy is a new thing for me. So are flaming hot cheetos onion rings. All together, mushed with bread and hot sauce and, oh yeah, a load of pulled pork. It was as messy and gluttonous and epic as you might think. Not healthy. Worth every calorie.

Well played, SugarFire.

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Pumpkin Beer Bread

No, I’m not dead. I just haven’t posted in nearly two months due to work schedule, weekend hecticness (when I should be grilling/smoking), and a serious salad-and-beer diet. I have done some BBQ and beer-related things in the meantime. A few weeks ago on Halloween, I made pumpkin beer bread.

Beer and bread - together at last

Beer and bread – together at last

Scrolling around Deadspin, I came across an article about pumpkin beer bread and how it wasn’t quite as awesome as the author had hoped.

I’ve made beer bread twice. First, I used PBR and over-stirred, so it didn’t really rise. Second, I made one with Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat and it was pretty good. I love pumpkin bread and I love pumpkin beer, so why not give this a shot?

The recipe calls for 2.5 cups flour, 1 tbsp baking powder, 1 tbsp sugar, 1 tsp salt to be mixed up, and then a 12 oz beer to be slowly mixed into the dry ingredients. Simple enough.

Slowly stirred...

Slowly stirred…

It all went into a greased loaf pan and headed to the oven at 375 for 45 minutes.

Bake for 45 minutes... good enough time to drink more pumpkin beers

Bake for 45 minutes… good enough time to drink more pumpkin beers

I chose the O’Fallon Pumpkin Beer, not just because it’s a delicious local beer, but because it’s a CANNED pumpkin beer. I had to walk around the neighborhood in the dark, so bottles are a no-no.

45 minutes and 3 beers later

45 minutes and 3 beers later

It smelled pumpkin-y, but I have to agree with the Foodspin author that it didn’t really taste pumpkin-y. Instead, it was just a really tasty soda bread that had a super-subtle hint of pumpkin.

Finished product

Finished product

This bread demands being served warm with ample butter and a side of pumpkin beer. Anyway, a good way to ingest super-dense calories. Happy (belated) Halloween.

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Stuffed Smoked Wrapped Boneless Beef Short Ribs

Having not experimented with anything off the cuff recently, an affordable package of boneless beef short ribs adjacent in the store to the brisket I was planning to smoke anyway presented me with an opportunity.

Each rather large short rib, slightly smaller than my clenched fist, was lightly rolled with a rub comprising: brown sugar, paprika, garlic salt, seasoned salt, powdered sage, cayenne pepper, ground coffee, and coarse black pepper.

Those and the three medium sized brisket pieces (having received the same treatment) were put on the 55 gallon drum smoker, fat sides up, with ample hickory smoke for seven hours at about 190-200 Fahrenheit.

Big Blue back in action!

Big Blue back in action!

I've got all day to smoke these. On the grill at 8am!

I’ve got all day to smoke these. On the grill at 8am!

Hours and hours later (7, to be exact), and a few beers later (not quite 7), the ribs had smoked thoroughly.

Brisket looks pretty good, too.

Brisket looks pretty good, too.

Not even close to done, though

Not even close to done, though

A BBQ ace told me to cook beef with the fat up so as to continuously baste the meat. I never flipped them or the brisket pieces, yet each time I checked on the meat or added coals and wood, it still looked damp from the molten beef fat softening and oozing over the sides of the flesh.

Having learned from my past mistakes, I eased up on both the amount of brown sugar in the rub (by ratio) and the amount of rub total on the meat. This left less char and permitted more smoke penetration.

I pulled the short ribs to let them rest for about 10 minutes on a cutting board. Why rest? So that the hot and excited juices don’t escape and dry out the meat!

Resting. Exhausted from a long day of smoking.

Resting. Exhausted from a long day of smoking.

Once relaxed, the ribs were sliced substantially in half, leaving a hinge at the back.

Tender; smells great

Tender; smells great

I had a half carton of blue cheese left over from some steak salad I had made a few days before, and I put half of my remainder inside each short rib.

Feeling stuffed...

Feeling stuffed…

And since I like to smoke a bunch of bacon as a brisket sandwich topping, why not wrap each of these with three large thick cut slices of pork bacon. Sorry to my Hebrew readership, but this went from unkosher to exceptionally unkosher in just minutes.

Oy vey

Oy vey

Back on the UDS for two more hours of hickory smoke at about 200 degrees.

The finished product is worth the fuss.

9+ hours of effort. Will it be worth it?

9+ hours of effort. Will it be worth it?

Each short rib gave me 3 or 4 generous slices for the in-law family pre-JV football dinner.

Yes, it was worth it!

Yes, it was worth it!

The beef was incredibly tender and had solid smoke color penetration. The blue cheese was present in just the right amount. Unfortunately, the bacon didn’t quite crisp, but no one complained. My father in law said, “Simpson, you should enter this in a BBQ contest. It was great.” As I basked in this compliment, he added, “Although I do love anything with cheese in it.” I’ll take what I can get.

This was a super-simple recipe. Anyone can make this if you have all damn day to cook. Luckily I could work from home that day and I have a large upright smoker. Forgiving that, you could probably make this on a Weber kettle with a keen eye towards temperature control.  Regardless, simple technique and ingredients made a succulent experiment.

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Brewery Review: 4 Hands Brewing Company

North of Soulard but south of downtown sits the 4 Hands Brewing Company, a just-the-right-size craft brewer and tasting room. What better stop on a whistlestop date night?

Having already reviewed two of the 4 Hands beers, and as an avid lover of quality local brews, I’m quite familiar with this brewery. But physically going to the tasting room had been an elusive trip for a while.

What an awful shadow-obscured, no flash picture of the sign. I smell a Pulitzer

What an awful, shadow-obscured, no flash picture of the sign. I smell a Pulitzer.

To select a beer flight, the bartender hands you a laminated deck of cards that describe each beer in some detail. At $8 for a flight of four 3 oz. beers, it’s a little pricey (although I think the beer pours were more than 3 oz. each). But, still, it was a nice experience. As you’ll read later, the food’s pretty darn good also.

Our beer menu

Our beer menu

Yet another photo where it’s hard to see what’s going on. I’m sorry. This was our third beer-serving stop, not including our dinner restaurant that also served beer.

If you could read that menu in the bad photo, you’d see that their featured beers are (from top to bottom) Single Speed Session, Cast Iron Oatmeal Brown, Reprise Centennial Red, and Divided Sky Rye IPA. Additionally, seasonals included Contact High, Pi Pale Ale, Prussia, and Ruby Red Prussia. (Hmmm. Didn’t notice the $5 bloody mary until now… I’ll have to hit that up when I return.)

We made our selections from the left end of the bar and gazed in awe at the clean new brewing equipment that filled an old factory or warehouse of some sort.

Alcoholic alchemy

Alcoholic alchemy

Since it had been a couple hours and more than a couple beers since dinner, we also ordered a nice hummus plate. The olives were particularly delicious.

Great beer demands good food

Great beer demands good food

In short order, our beer flights arrived. My wife’s tastes are distinctly lighter than mine, as seen from her flight:

Katie's beer flight

Katie’s beer flight

I went with the hoppier and darker options:

My flight

My flight

Of course, I tried them all. Each was distinct and delicious. I’ll review them right-to-left, beginning with my wife’s flight.

Divided Sky – Fruity smell, met with an equally fruity taste. Whatever hops provided the plummy aroma left a lingering hop bitterness. A cloudy amber beer with wonderful color. I swear this beer tastes like Fruit Pebbles… just like New Belgium’s Sunshine Wheat. Good beer, right up my wife’s alley.

Contact High – I’ve bought and enjoyed this one before. Smooth beer with only a light hop flavor. The fruitiness is mild and it’s a very attractive cloudy yellow. Speaking from experience, have this one with some chili dogs covered in raw onions and hot sauce. Football should be on while you eat & drink.

Pi Pale Ale – A few months ago I ran into a specialty Schlafly beer collaboration at Pi Restaurant in the Central West End and really enjoyed it, to the point that I wrote it up. This one is smooth and rich like a good ale should be, but has a hoppy fruitiness less adventurous than that of Divided Sky.  I prefer the 4 Hands project to Schlafly’s, but only slightly.

Single Speed Session – Easily my wife’s favorite. Apparently I’ve negligently passed over this beer many times at the local grocer or beer shop! I thought it was mellow and surprisingly bitter for a beer my wife would like. It was rich and enjoyable, and I wound up buying a few more the following week to bring home.

Reprise Centennial Red Ale – My notes are vague, but I first wrote good red. Then I revised it to great red. Apparently this beer really grows on you, and I’m fast becoming a big fan of high quality red ales. For too long have I shunned red ales. The best beer I drank at Bell’s was a (hopped) red ale. The best at Trailhead was a red ale. Maybe I just had a few crappy ones and got turned off. My eyes are opening. This was smooth and nicely bitter. The color was great. Really an enjoyable few swigs of beer.

Resurrection IPA – Amazing smells of tart pineapple and the bitterness was sharp yet subtle. What an amazing IPA. Probably the best beer here. I drank it too fast to really reflect on it’s complexities but bought more when I went to the grocery store recently. Wifey barely got a sip.

Cast Iron Oatmeal Brown – Heavy burnt smoke aromas, rich in texture and flavor. There’s a nice cocoa finish that rolls over your tongue. I’m not a huge brown fan, but this was pretty good. A little heavy on the roasted malts, though you need to take into consideration my personal preference. Perhaps a porter fan would go nuts for this beer.

Prussia Berliner Style Weiss – I reviewed this a few weeks ago and made the horrible discovery of it’s sub-3.5 ABV. Still, my wife loved it nearly as much as the Single Speed. It’s a tasty beer that’s fresh and clean. Went well with the hummus.

With a birthday coming up, my wife wanted to buy me a raglan t-shirt. I just need to act surprised when the kids give it to me to unwrap.

I pay them to be a walking ad for them? Makes sense.

I pay them to be a walking ad for them? Makes sense.

The whole tasting room experience was great. Quaint space with character, and not very crowded for 9-ish on a Saturday night. We found seats at the bar with no issue. No loud noise or smoking or music. Everyone was friendly. My wife demanded an imminent return trip. Fine by me!

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