If I were trying to build the perfect barbecue joint, I certainly wouldn't use the blueprint that the folks behind Pappy's drew up for the new Bogart's Smokehouse.
Sure, the Soulard storefront has some of the best ribs ever conceived: racks ($20.99) of baby backs, dry-rubbed with a bit of sweetness, a bit of salt, a bit of spices and a hint of fire and then smoked to the golden point where the meat is tender but still has enough give that it doesn't just fall apart. When the ribs come out of the smoker, they're finished with a technique that could be called "taramelization," owing to the use of a roofer's torch to shellac a light apricot glaze onto the surface.
And sure, the pulled pork ($9.99 plate/$6.38 sandwich) is another masterful balance of texture, moistness and smoke that pairs particularly well with either Mad Maddie's thin vinegar-based sauce or Pineapple Express, a between thick-and-thin hoedown of tomato, molasses and a pinch of hot pepper, with pineapple adding some unexpected ukulele to the guitars, banjos and fiddles. Those are my two favorites, although a more straightforward sweet sauce and a spicy sauce with sneaky, lingering fire are also well worth sampling.
I admit that the slightly peppery crust, lovely smoke ring and again-impeccable texture of the beef brisket ($11.99 plate/$7.25 sandwich) made it another example of barbecue brilliance.
I also have to admire the Bogart's pit crew's willingness to take a few risks by offering unconventional items such as prime rib ($14.99 plate/$10.99 sandwich) and pastrami ($12.99 plate/$7.99 sandwich). I initially thought barbecuing, a technique most frequently reserved for cheaper cuts, was an odd match for the regal prime rib, but the smoke flavor and thin slicing — and, above all, a garnish of smoked onion — make it seem like it's always been every bit at home in a country smokehouse as it ever was in a downtown steak house.
As for the pastrami, it's enough to turn any good ol' boy into a good ol' mensch — and vice versa. Instead of the more frequently used brisket, Bogart's brines a better quality cut from the top sirloin called a culotte. The smoked final product gets almost all of its fattiness from its marbling and is amazingly tender.
I have to credit Bogart's for extending its extremely high standards to its side dishes: baked beans cooked in the barbecue pit under the brisket, resulting in a pervasive meaty flavor; potato salad made with deviled eggs and flavored with mustard, dill and hot red pepper; a slightly creamy cole slaw with a touch of apple contributing to its sweet side; and Billy Goat chips.
Maybe I'd even follow Bogart's lead by situating my perfect barbecue place in a single room decorated with such local icons as an autographed 1982 Cardinals World Championship pennant and Wm. Stage's immortal "Brains 25 Cents" photo from a Chouteau Avenue of a bygone time. I'd set up some picnic tables outside to handle the overflow, and I'd install an old-style tube-based television. The place would be well-staffed with barbecue experts and fanatics, and orders would come out in three minutes or less.
But here's what I couldn't abide if I were trying to reach absolute hog heaven: business hours of 10:30 a.m. to "4ish," only five days a week. Aside from a lot of remarkable pork shoulder, just what are these guys trying to pull? Clearly, they're trying to Bogart this joint instead of sharing it with as many people as possible.
If you're willing to settle for less-than-perfect hours, try Bogart's breathtakingly good ribs, unsurpassed pulled pork and stellar beef brisket, along with unexpected delights like prime rib and pastrami. Just be sure to mind your watch. Otherwise, you could always wait for me to build my own perfect barbecue restaurant, but you'd run the risk that I'm just blowing smoke.
Three stars (out of four) • Where 1627 South Ninth Street, Soulard • More info 314-621-3107, bogartssmokehouse.com, facebook.com/bogartssmokehouse • Menu Barbecue standards like ribs, pulled pork and brisket, plus unusual items like pastrami and prime rib • Hours Extended lunch Tuesday-Saturday
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