This fall, I had the chance to visit St. Louis for three days. I drank more than I should have at Sanctuaria, the moody tapas bar best known for its handcrafted libations, and got to know why locals make such a fuss over their food traditions at Gus’s Pretzels and World’s Fair Doughnuts. But I spent most of my time checking out the city’s fresh crop of restaurants, these three the most enticing:
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The most cherished piece of cooking equipment owned by the top dog at Bogart’s
Smokehouse dominates a fenced-in yard outside the 43-seat dining room. That’s where Skip Steele, the first-place winner of the 2000 Memphis in May World Barbecue Championship, tends to a smoker that runs on apple wood and can handle up to 156 slabs of ribs at a time.
The most dramatic cooking tool here is a 50,000 BTU Red Dragon blowtorch. Roofers use the instrument to melt tar. Steele finds the flamethrower handy after he applies apricot glaze to his baby back ribs: The blast infuses the meat with color and gives it a welcome stickiness. (Kids, don’t try this at home. “We open the door, or the fire alarm goes on,” says Steele.)
Opened in February, Bogart’s follows two failed barbecue joints at the same location in the St. Louis neighborhood known as Soulard. Everything about the building’s latest occupant suggests that it’s in for a long run. Steele, the pit master, comes to Bogart’s from the beloved Pappy’s, which many locals view as the city’s finest barbecue. Mike Emerson, the owner of Pappy’s, encouraged his friend to go out on his own. “It’s a little more family” than rivalry, says Steele. For sure. Emerson lives on the floor above Bogart’s.
Bogart’s encourages customers to venture beyond the usual barbecue subjects. Sharing the menu with the ribs and brisket are turkey that smacks of having trotted through a bonfire; excellent prime rib with soft sweet onions; a zesty house-made breakfast sausage resembling scrapple; and pastrami made from top butt sirloin, generously piled as if by a New York deli. Leftovers, if there are any, are never reheated.
The only meat that needed a splash of sauce was pulled pork. To the rescue: some “voodoo” sauce. The house-made blend of habanero, steak sauce, Worcestershire and cola revives the dry meat and rouses the taste buds.