Tag Archives: Food

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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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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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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Ugly Drum Smoker

By far my most visited and commented blog post is how to turn a 55 gallon drum into a smoker. I made another one.

Unsightly industrial refuse

Unsightly industrial refuse

Yes, my father again presented me with a 55 gallon steel drum. It contained non-toxic, FDA-approved blue powder pigment that was used on food packaging.

This time, though, I didn’t have a spare Weber 22″ dome cover. What I did have, though, was the original flat lid. This resulted in some design changes. Go to the original post (linked above) for the specifics (bolt sizes, hole sizes, measurements, ball valves for ventilation, etc.). This post really only emphasizes my changes from that earlier design.

First, as usual, I scrubbed the holy hell out of the inside of the drum with 409 cleanser and some CLR and a bunch of brillo pads. Then it was fired out to try and clean it further. Unlike last time, I am NOT going to paint the inside of the drum with Rustoleum High Heat, since that goes against the manufacturer instructions. Instead I am going to clean it thoroughly and cure it with a long hot burn after rubbing the entire guts with vegetable oil.

Fairly clean

Fairly clean

Before we go further, it’s disclaimer time:

If your drum contained anything hazardous or you even remotely think it may have contained anything hazardous, DON’T USE IT TO COOK FOOD. Flat out, if you get some barrel that says Chernobyl or Toxic or Rat Poison on it or it mentions any type of remote health hazard and you turn it into a smoker and get sick as hell, grow a few more ears, or your genitals become inoperable, then you are at fault. Not me. Read my general Disclaimer. Don’t be stupid.

One of the first things I did, as can be seen in the above photos, was add two chimneys to the flat lid. The drum lid had two threaded holes with plugs in them. The plugs are called bungs and the holes are bung holes.

I wanted a piece of 6″ pipe to fit into my bung hole… uh, let me rephrase that… I went to a plumber supply store to buy two 6″ long pipes, one each at 3/4″ and 2″ in diameter, to screw into the threaded holes on the smoker lid. I bought a ball valve for the 3/4″ chimney for about $5 or $6. The 2″ ball valve is a whopping $45+ and that’s with a phony plumbers’ union discount they were willing to give me! No thanks – I’ll invert an old ravioli can onto the 6″ chimney.

Once cleaned, I used the steel drum drill bit to perforate the hull of my new smoker for all the hardware I planned to bolt on, including on the lid.

Specialty tools cost $$$!

Specialty tools cost $$$!

Burrs

Burrs

The drilling left jagged steel burrs on the interior of the drum. I have big washers that I plan to bolt over these, so no need to remove them. You could get a Dremel tool and cut them off, but I didn’t bother.

Once all the holes were drilled, I painted the entire exterior with Safety Red paint from Rustoleum.

Painted!

Painted!

It took a few coats using a foam roller, but the whole thing took less than a quart of paint. Once dry (and it took a little while), I bolted on all the hardware.

A new feature this time was my fancypants bottle opener.

Practical

Practical

In hindsight, it might be dangerous to try and open a chilled bottled beer on a hot metal opener like this. I’ll keep you posted if I injure myself. It’s highly likely.

Having a flat lid meant less clearance between the grill surface and the inner portion of the grill lid. That meant lowering the grill support bolt holes several inches to allow larger meats (like a couple pork shoulders or a turkey) to be smoked.

Grill grate

Grill grate

This means the food is closer to the fire and the fire / smoke needs to be managed more carefully.

The lid received a metal handle, and I painted the chimneys (but for the ball valve).

Completed lid

Completed lid

The rest of the assembly is nearly identical to the earlier Big Blue model. The interior coal cage is pretty much the same.

Coal Cage

Coal Cage

I like the red color. It’s distinct and makes it visible to thieves in the country house where we left it. There’s nothing ugly about this Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS).

Home

Home

Once completed, I lubed the entire inside as well as the coal cage and grill grates with vegetable oil and lit a hot fire to cure the whole thing. I’m probably cooking something on it this weekend. The next UDS will be a little different… something my kid’s been asking me about for a while. Stay tuned.

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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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BBQ Joint Follow Up: PM BBQ

When you have solid BBQ, a return trip is in order. PM BBQ boasted championship chicken, but I got the brisket last time. I want that chicken.

1/2 chicken and all the fixin's

1/2 chicken and all the fixin’s

What great chicken! Half a bird, well smoked. The skin was barely crispy and peeled back easily, revealing uber-moist and succulent meat. It was well-flavored and the smoke came through wonderfully. My dad got the same thing and we didn’t put a drop of BBQ sauce on it. It was that good.

I’ve smoked chicken before with success. It usually turns out really good and everyone likes it, but mine is not this good. The white meat and the dark were evenly moist and tender, and that includes the wings. Every time I cook a chicken on the Weber, the wings get dry. I really don’t know how they did such a great job – this chicken shows great skill.

I was told by someone in the know that I made the mistake last time of not getting the sweet corn spoonbread side. It was good, but a little dense. The beans were much better. The slaw was a basic light cream slaw – nothing amazing but not bad. It pairs well with chicken.

We also split the small order (that’s a small? does the large come in a bucket?!) of fried pickle chips. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s a batter I’ve definitely had before. They were a good treat to split.

The chicken is worth a return trip, as is the brisket. PM BBQ is a solid BBQ Joint option.

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I Eat Salads

If the title of this post isn’t a giveaway, I like greens mixed with stuff and dressing. While at Dave & Busters for a business lunch, I saw the ridiculously-named salad: The Lawnmower.

Note the fork for scale

Note the fork for scale

The waiter told us that he’d only seen two people eat the entire monstrosity. After me, it was three.

Why post this salad nonsense on my BBQ & Beer blog? I mentioned that I had eaten the largest single-serving salad I’d ever seen and was ridiculed by friends. They dared me to post and here we are. It was friggin’ delicious.

After I got home, I cracked open an impulse beer from a favorite brewery: Le Freak by Green Flash. It was amazing, and might have earned a spot in my beer Top 20 list.

C'est chic! (Sorry, Christopher)

C’est chic! (Sorry, Christopher)

Coming in over 9% ABV, this Big Beer packed a whallop, but it was very tasty and drinkable. Worth another buy for sure.

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Smoked Cod Tacos

Cold and raining?! Ain’t got no time for that. It’s taco night.

A little crapola weather can't keep me down

A little crapola weather can’t keep me down

It doesn’t have to be a Friday in Lent to enjoy fish at the end of the work week.

Fish tacos are quick and easy. Clean flavors, loaded with lean protein, and widely-appealing.

I put a couple cod filets from Schnuck’s on a water-soaked cedar plank, and gave each a sprinkle of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt and a light dusting of Old El Paso Taco Seasoning Mix.

Alaskan Cod makes good tacos

Alaskan Cod makes good tacos

By “light dusting” I really meant light dusting. That taco mix can be overpowering, and I want to taste the fish and the smoke. The taco mix is really meant to be a complement to the taco theme of the meal.

Instead of quickly cooking the fish by using the plank to steam and smoke the fish, I am going to let the cedar plank provide a clean platform for cooking and only some moderate smokiness. I have in the past put planked fish over semi-direct heat and let the plank char. Not this time.

How are smoked jalapenos? I guess I'll find out.

How are smoked jalapenos? I guess I’ll find out.

Instead, I offset the fish to completely indirect cooking and put a few chunks of dry mesquite wood on the coals.

After about 45 minutes, the fish was done and looked pretty amazing.

Smoke color looks great!

Smoke color looks great!

For service, I warmed some flour tortillas and made small 5 bite tacos out of the fish, along with some black beans, taco cheese, cilantro, light sour cream, and some amazingly awesome Frontera tomatillo salsa. Finish with 1/8 lime drizzled over the plate.

To warm but not toast the tortillas, I just tossed some foil over the fire and quickly flipped them around until each was ready. I just stacked them up and wrapped the pile in that same foil until service.

They taste as good as they look

They taste as good as they look

These were spectacular and the entire thing took less than an hour from start to mouth. The rich smokiness of the wood melded with the flaky fish. Cod can be oily and dry, but these morsels were far from it. Amazingly delicious.

Next time, I’ll pass on the black beans because their flavor rose up a little more than I wanted to interrupt the fish. One decent-sized filet made three heaping tacos.

Simple, easy, tasty: Three things that make this dish a winner.

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