Category Archives: Restaurant Review

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.

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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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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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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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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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BBQ Joint Review: Gobble Stop Smokehouse

If you take one thing away from this BBQ Joint Review, make it this: You absolutely need to go to this place and try a “Turkey Rib” (which is not really a rib, but I’ll explain that later.) Flat out the best turkey I’ve ever had, including all preparation methods. I was blown away.

Third on my hitlist of relatively new BBQ places that need reviewing, per the STL P-D, is Gobble Stop Smokehouse in St. Louis County on Olive, near Fee Fee. An unassuming facade used by a prior (unsuccessful, apparently) smokehouse, in the midst of a Korean-filled strip mall.

Somewhat inconspicuous and inauspicious

Somewhat inconspicuous and inauspicious

I phoned my father to see if he wanted to duck out of work (we’re both self-employed) to hit this poultry-only BBQ spot.

Managers usually have their hair a little better kept.

It’s hot enough for this so-called iced cream

Their menu did not have a hint of cow or pork or goat or non-winged four-legged animal. All bird – very ambitious.

As someone who BBQs often, I can tell you that making poultry well is hard. It’s lean, so it can dry out. The dark and white meats cook distinctly. Seasoning can be tough with the skin and the depth of the meat. Making good turkey or chicken on the BBQ shows skill. I’m still working on it, and it’s a goal for me.

Many options from few choices

Many options from few choices

I saw an article in the Riverfront Times that said that I needed to order the Turkey Tips, so I did. I added an unsweetened tea and side of beans (home made!). Why not toss in an a la carte turkey rib. This is not a rib, though. It’s a part of the turkey breast carved from the scapula of the bird.

Pops went with the pulled chicken sandwich, along with onion rings, iced tea, and his own turkey rib. (Again… not a rib.)

Looks great!

Looks great!

The owner served us and advised us on the lunch options. Based on the RFT recommendation, I was psyched to get the turkey tips. I’m a zealot for thigh meat (both chicken and turkey), so it seemed like a good choice. Basically it’s like pork tips but poultry. He warned me that each sauce-coated nugget was part gristle and part meat.

From a textual point of view, I wasn’t psyched about sticking a gristle-filled nugget into my mouth to chew off the tasty bits, so I tackled these one at a time with a fork and knife. One of my gripes about this place is the plastic silverware. I get it, as a former professional dishwasher, that the cutlery is nice and disposable, but the turkey tips were hard to navigate with flimsy plastic forks and knives.

With some effort, though, each nugget produced at least a bite or two of smoky, hyper-tender bird. The sauce was thick, sticky, spicy and incredibly wonderful. The meat was juicy and skillfully made. I really enjoyed it, despite the extra work. In the future, I probably pass on this one, given all the work, but I’ve never had anything quite like this before. Tasty tasty turkey.

The best choice I made, though, was getting a turkey rib. What an amazing, succulent, tender, smoky, sticky piece of turkey meat. I was shocked. Literally, though this meat had bite, but fell cleanly off the bone. Solid smoke lines, great tenderness, solid sauce, excellent texture. I was blown away by the turkey ribs, which is a low calorie low cholesterol way to down BBQ and still feel like you’re crushing ribs. A thin slab of bone was all that remained.

This looks big, but it's flat

This looks big, but it’s flat

It’s a genius move, but you still have to do it perfectly. These guys did just that. The sauce was such an awesome pairing with the tender smoked meat. Really a surprising entree. My father ordered one a la carte as well and he decided, based solely on that sample, to come back six hours later for takeout dinner for him and my mother. She told me how much she liked it, too – no shock to me.

Dad’s lunch was also wonderful. He grabbed the pulled chicken sandwich, with a side of onion rings.

Sorry for the blur

Sorry for the blur

Dad’s chicken was really good. It seemed like the chicken was more chunked pieces than shreds. Moist, tender. Hard to beat BBQ good enough to be served without any sauce (served on the side). There was a taste in the seasoning that I was struggling to pick up on… I swear it was some kind of Doritos nacho-y seasoning on the chicken. Really nice chicken, a great lunch.

Onion rings… pedestrian. Thick breading, crispy coating, but probably came from a bag. Not bad but unremarkable.

Beans were great. I got a nice pepper and cumin flavor, with a serious peppery spice aftertaste. Nice thick sauce and tender beans. Great appearance with good red pepper bits throughout. Excellent, particularly if they cooked them without any pork or beef. Getting a nice hearty flavor with no pork grease can be a trick. I’m very curious how these were made.

The place was clean and quaint, and the owner was personable and polite. What’s not to love about Gobble Stop. I tried to buy a cookie after our late lunch… he gave me a lemon sugar cookie on the house. Great cookie. Moist, without any superfluous powdered or crystallized sugar on it.

I 100% guarantee that I’m returning to Gobble Stop Smokehouse. Epic meat. Wonderful service and atmosphere. You don’t always need to eat pig or cow to get top notch BBQ, and Gobble Stop is proof.

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BBQ Joint Review: Sugarfire Smokehouse

When the STL Post-Dispatch published a list of the 5 new BBQ joints that need visiting, I treated that as a checklist. I’ve selflessly hit up and reviewed Hendrick’s and took an off-the-list detour to PM BBQ. The third BBQ Joint on my agenda is Sugarfire Smokehouse.

Quite a bit of hype to live up to under this sign

Quite a bit of hype to live up to under this sign

Apparently this place is owned by the same people who own Cyrano’s, the site (when on Big Bend near Clayton) of many many high school dates and more recently the site (now in Webster Groves) of many many after hours drinks with my wife.

I’ve come by here with my father a couple times to see a line out the door and nowhere to park, so we would just go across the street to Chevy’s. Not today! I’ve brought with me two very discerning and distinct palates: Mike, a zealot for Texas BBQ who has been unimpressed with STL BBQ to date, and Randy, a Reform Jewish guy who keeps fairly kosher.

We got to the front door and didn’t move much further. The sign says 15 minute wait from here.

Looks like a bunch of happy customers

Looks like a bunch of happy customers

iPhone in hand, I followed the Sugarfire Twitter accounts…

... and you can follow me at @dtsjr

… and you can follow me at @dtsjr

On the way to our cafeteria-style BBQ line, I noticed the soda fountain is stocked only with Excel Bottling beverages, including the southern Illinois treat Ski.

Made with pure can sugar

Made with pure can sugar

I’m an unsweetened tea man, myself, so I passed on this pure cane sugar goodness. Apparently Ski and bourbon is a specialty drink in SW IL.

Just past the ice cold sodies? Beer.

More frosty beverages... too bad this is a business-y lunch

More frosty beverages… too bad this is a business-y lunch

Maybe it’s all the time I spent there in law school instead of studying (hence my shitty grades), but Morgan Street Brewery has a special place in my heart. And now they can beer. YES.

On to the cafeteria line of meaty godliness.

I got the stink eye from a line server as I clicked away

I got the stink eye from a line server as I clicked away

More truly uninteresting photos

More truly uninteresting photos

I realize now that these photos add nothing to this blog post. Oh well. It’s cafeteria style. You get your drinks, then walk up and tell the guy what meat you want, then the next guy your sides. Pretty simple. Pickled peppers, pickles, onions, etc. is waiting at the end of the line. Sauce on the table.

More beers!

More beers!

Hey, they serve cans of Stag?! More win from this place. Everyone’s grandpa or great grandpa drank Stag, but no one you know drinks it today. I’ve bought it for a fishing trip, but that’s about it.

On to the actual food.

What is this a picture of, exactly?

What is this a picture of, exactly?

This primo blurtastic picture of brisket was intended to reveal that the fat cap is left on the beef while smoked and cooked, and you would see a nice modest smoke ring. My kosher friend LOVED the brisket, and he’s been raised on Kohn’s brisket. He added the only non-cheezy non-pork sides of fries and green beans. He was quite satisfied.

My other dining companion got something called the Big Muddy:

The Big Muddy

The Big Muddy

This testament to gluttony comprised smoked brisket and sausage piled high on a bun with slaw and sauce. He added some fried artichokes as an appetizer. As a Texas resident for 10+ years, he said that Sugarfire was finally a BBQ place worthy of his admiration, and he said is was far better than Hendricks. Woah… that’s quite the assessment. He phoned his wife soon thereafter to plan a family trip back to Sugarfire, and he lives in Wildwood!

I kept it simple. Half slab baby back ribs, beans, slaw, iced tea… something called crack pie.

Amazeballs

Amazeballs

The 1/2 slab comes with two sides and a fountain drink for $14. I decided to spring for the crack pie (we’ll get to that later) for a whopping $5. Better be worth it.

Smoked goodness

Smoked goodness

Ribs: These are fairly lean-looking for babyback ribs, but looks can be deceiving. They are just as succulent as baby backs are supposed to be. As hoped, they are tender but with a nice bite. I’d say slightly less tender than Hendrick’s (having just eaten there last week, I can say that with some certainty), but they come cleanly off the bone as eaten. You get the nice bite mark and pull when you gnash into a good hunk of rib meat.

In order, I pick up salt then pepper then sugar. There is a deep smoke ring, much further into the meat cross-section than other places I’ve tried recently. That adds to the very rich smoky flavor.

Literally, these are finger-licking ribs. There’s a sticky but not moist rub on the exterior of the ribs. It’s fairly salty but has a nice spicy finish and really adds a nice unique profile to the meat. It’s a bold move for sure – you are adding intense flavors to smoked meat that took lots of time and energy and skill to produce, but it works well. Watch out beard and mustache owners (like me). This will hang around your facial hair.

Beans: Mild spice, good tenderness. Great rich sauce with a good pepper flavor instead of pepper heat. They were restrained on the onion. I didn’t see any pork bits, so these are stand alone beans worthy of another order in the future.

Slaw: Very rich sauce but not thick. Good creaminess, but there’s nothing distinct about it besides the richness of the sauce and the crispiness of the veggies. No salt or pepper or celery seed, at least not in appreciable levels. Still quite delicious, but not wildly distinctive. A good accompaniment to the ribs.

Sauce: Didn’t even touch it. The labels said Coffee, Black Cherry, TX47 (wtf?), and other notations, but these ribs needed zero sauce. That would have been an abomination to put sauce on them. Solid ribs.

Crack Pie: Though Tyrone Biggums might have been disappointed with what he got after placing his order, but he would have liked this pie. Imagine a gooey butter pie made with molasses and a thick crumbly crust. I found it to be a little too sweet for me, and not worth the $5, but it was still pretty doggone good. The Texas BBQ lover messily devoured his with zeal.

This was a very successful business lunch. I’m going to deduct my bill, and I finally managed to sample this BBQ. Absolutely worth a return trip, and the ribs were outstanding. I’d venture to say that these might be the best ribs in town, but I need to return to Pappy’s soon to confirm. I strongly recommend you get to Sugarfire Smokehouse.

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Brewery Tour: Bell’s Brewery, Inc. – Kalamazoo, Michigan

Family vacation. Time spent on the beach, enjoying the company of your children and siblings, reliving childhood memories, visiting famous epic craft breweries. What? You don’t do that last one? Well, I did. Today I trekked about an hour or so east on Interstate 94 to visit Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, MI. What a trip it was.

An unassuming entrance to the wonders it holds

An unassuming entrance to the wonders it holds

On a damp, drizzly day in southwest Michigan. while the lake offered only treacherous waves and undertows, and whilst my wife and children were off picking pounds and pounds of blueberries , I rounded up my father, brother, and sundry others for a trip to one of my favorite breweries.

The many coming events

The many coming events

Adjacent to the original brewery is the Eccentric Cafe, where we ordered our flights of beer and lunch before the 1:30pm Sunday tour.

Beer flights are my friend. Bell’s gives you a piece of paper and you can write down any six beers you like. None of this rigid beer flight menu nonsense – this is a true a la carte beer selection. Nice.

Six little brewskies

Six little brewskies

My choices were many. I selected, from left-to-right: Third Coast, Round House IRA, Quinannan Falls, Smoked Stout, Larry’s Latest Pale Trial #1, Midwest Pale Ale.

Hard to go wrong

Hard to go wrong

You’ll find these six beers to be amazingly awesome. How good were they?

Third Coast Beer

You can find this locally, at least that’s the case in St. Louis area grocery stores. It’s light and crisp with a nice hoppy note. There’s a barely cloudy and yellow body, with a fresh and enjoyable flavor and texture. If you’re out on a hot day, this is a great beer. Unfortunately it’s about 60, cloudy, and drizzly in late July. What kind of weirdo part of the country is this?

Roundhouse IRA

Two drunks at the bar said that this was the best Bell’s beer ever, and the bartender agreed. IRA stands for Indian Red Ale. Basically this is a thoroughly hopped red ale, and I have to agree that this is quite the beer to behold. Malty, caramely, with a nice hop and spice finish. Smooth, excellent body with a mellow aftertaste. I could (and did) drink this all day. There’s a rich dark red color and a wondrous (rye?) aroma. I have to agree that this was a splendid beer, unlike anything I’ve had before.

Quinannan Falls

Officially called the Quinannan Falls Special Lager Beer, this beer presented mild hops and a light color. The aroma was neither fruity or flowery. Really this is a light hoppy one note beer, although crisp and fresh. Nothing noteworthy and probably not something I’d get again, though a solid effort.

Smoked Stout

I like smoked beers and I like stouts, so I thought this would be a good choice for my flight. It was dark and definitely smokey without being meaty or baconish (like the O’Fallon Smoked Porter, for example). Super smooth with mild richness and nonexistent effervescence. I was pleasantly surprised to find a lack of overpowering aftertaste. This is a nice novelty beer, but the one beer flight sample was sufficient. I did sip on my brother’s cream stout, which I actually prefer over the smoked stout.

Larry’s Latest Pale: Trial #1

I guess Larry Bell regularly experiments and this beer is one of his latest trials. Well done, Larry. This pale ale was amber and translucent, with nice pale ale flavors, lighter and smoother than other similar style pale ales (like Schlafly’s). Lighter doesn’t necessarily mean better, because this is a great beer. Despite being a little flat, I got great grain flavors that were stronger than the hops profile, without much of an aroma. Imagine a mild yet traditional English-y style ale. That’s this beer – I really enjoyed it.

Midwest Pale Ale

Another beer you can probably buy locally, this was lighter in color than the Larry trial beer. With a subtle hop flavor, I got a nice light beer taste without being a light beer. This is a great hot day beer… which, again, is a shame since it’s so chill today.

Six great beers. Let’s soak in the ambiance and sip.

I love the breweries that reclaim old buildings

I love the breweries that reclaim old buildings

I violated a cardinal rule of restaurants. Usually, if there’s a Cuban sandwich on the menu, I order the Cuban sandwich. I also passed on the brisket platter. I was in the mood for something lighter, so I stuck with the turkey avocado sandwich on wheat with a side of salt and pepper chips. Save room for beers.

Turkey sandwich

Turkey sandwich

Lunch won’t overpower any beer, and it was pretty good, even if the turkey was a little dry. They used a creamy potato salad style mayo on the bread, which was a nice touch. The pickle was some kind of super tart dill – a damn good pickle.

I came across some light reading on the way to the restroom. This is important journalism, people:

News you can use

News you can use

Apparently I missed some kind of amazing party last night:

7/27... what?!

7/27… what?!

Those beers in my belly, it’s time for the beer tour. We can bring beer in a plastic cup… no glass. How about another IRA?

Beer in hand. Ready to learn.

Beer in hand. Ready to learn.

The beer tour was hipster-heavy that day, my friends. Me and the other Simpsons, and a bunch of hipster people. Awful hats and beards and tight jeans and girls who look like a depressed Lisa Loeb.

Of course the first question on the tour, hosted by the knowledgeable and diligent Kenny, came from my father. Bell’s uses Kalamazoo municipal city water, though they filter out the chlorine and iron. Dad’s had a beer flight and more, so why not ask Kenny what the pH of the water is after filtration? Kenny doesn’t know. Raise your hand during the brewery tour? That’s a paddlin’.

Paddlin' the Bell's canoe? You better believe that's a paddlin'.

Paddlin’ the Bell’s canoe? You better believe that’s a paddlin’.

Most of the people on the beer tour had a beer in hand, not including my preggers sister. Always bring a DD on your beer tour, even if it means a hyper-pregnant sister.

I took some needlessly detailed photos of hops and hop pellets.

Hops!

Hops!

Hops again!

Hops again!

Rabbit food! No wait... hops pellets!

Rabbit food! No wait… hops pellets!

My brother, Officer Stinkypants, wanted his photo in front of a big metal barrel. Done.

Represent the 'Lou in MI

Represent the ‘Lou in MI

Kenny the tour guy explained the whole beer process… I wasn’t really listening. The mash tun (pictured above) is where the malt mash, which is hot water and grain, turns into sugar. That is then mixed with hops and yeast, which ferments somewhere else to provide acid, flavor, and alcohol. Beer is made. Boom.

While I was taking this picture and Kenny was talking, Dad dropped his empty plastic cup onto the echoing concrete floor. Cut that man off.

Barrels full of sundry beer

Barrels full of sundry beer

I even posed for a quick photo.

Beer in hand; Beer behind

Beer in hand; Beer behind

I admired the many knobs and tubes and doodads that the brewers used.

Thingamajiggers

Thingamajiggers

We noticed the old tymey sign outside that belied the modern operation indoors.

A bare marquee

A bare marquee

Just look at all the special craft beers they make here!

So hard not to turn a nozzle with my mouth underneath

So hard not to turn a nozzle with my mouth underneath

Kenny told us that many beers were made at the Kalamazoo location that were only available at the attached cafe. Most of the nationally-available beers are actually brewed 10 miles away in Comstock, Michigan. The specialty craft beers are made here in this room. Yum.

All their beers are non-pasteurized and unfiltered.

Speaking of specialty beer…

Now that's a big assed barrel

Now that’s a big assed barrel

Kenny told us that these monstrous barrels were Cabernet Sauvignon barrels from California that will ferment beer through 2014, and they aren’t sure what they are going to get out of these! The small barrels only age for six months, but I’m sure the contents will be amazing. It took quite a bit for me to restrain myself from causing a distraction so my brother could heist a barrel.

Of course, while we are ready to go… Dad is chatting up poor old Kenny.

Yak yak yak yak

Yak yak yak yak

On the way out the door, we snapped some pictures of the sample grain and hops that were passed around on the tour. Gratuitous over-sharing, people. I can’t help it.

Important ingredients

Important ingredients

So many beers from which to choose. It’s difficult to restrain myself.

The plethora of beers available to us

The plethora of beers available to us

On the way out, we hit the gift shop. I bought a skull cap, t-shirt, and trucker hat. And four six packs of beer.

What an amazingly successful vacation trip. I thank my wonderful wife for taking my children for a few hours so we could venture out to the beer capital of southwest Michigan. Well worth the hour drive each way, ideally the first of many brewery tours. Such is my burden – try and sample so many beers.

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