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