At the height of their first lunch rush today, barbecue mastermind Skip Steele stepped outside Bogart's Smokehouse, his small joint across from Soulard Market, to take a phone call. Dogs on their afternoon walk stopped to give Steele the once-over, straining at their leashes towards the open door and the heavy smell of smoked meat.
"Food and Wine is sending a reporter. Not bad for the first day," Steele said as he came inside after being thoroughly investigated by a Weimaraner.
Not bad at all. The small dining room was full through most of the lunch rush with a line stretching to the door. Diners rotated through a communal table the length of the room and a few four-tops to the side with dozens of carry-out orders zipping in and out. The staff, filled with barbecue veterans from Steele's days with Supersmokers and Pappy's Smokehouse, kept the pace.
Steele's new offerings differentiate his new venture from the places he's been before. There's the pastrami, pale pink and thinly sliced, buzzing with the flavor of vinegary corning brine. When he approached a Chicago company to help him develop a pastrami brine, Steele was told they couldn't do that. He persisted, and damn if they didn't get it right.
While Pappy's is no slouch in the hot sausage department, Steele makes some more changes with the Sausage Fatty. Instead of a link, it's three thick patties that look like well-seasoned meatloaf. The subtle blend of spices makes a broad palette for the sauces. The sweet-tart Pineapple Express and deceptively thin Mad Maddie's Vinegar both compliment the sausage. The real treat is the bread. Don't eat it as a sandwich - eat the meat and save the bottom bun for last. The Portuguese roll from Companion soaks up the flavor of the sausage in a dense white bread that's hearty enough to handle it.
Most surprising isn't the pastrami, or the presence of prime rib on the menu. It's Steele's new twist on brisket, which is often treated as the bastard cousin when barbecue's discussed in St. Louis. Instead of thick slabs intended to carry sticky-sweet Kansas City-style sauce, this brisket is sliced as thin as the pastrimi, then added to soak in an au jus made from the liquid rendered during the smoking. The finished product doesn't need a knife. It doesn't even need a fork, because it's so tender it shreds with the touch of a finger. For its delicate texture the brisket carries a complex flavor of beef, smoke, and spice. The Portuguese roll dipped in the leftover au jus is almost as good as the post-sausage bun.
Side dishes are all outstanding, with beans that have been in the pit for 14 hours and potato salad and slaw reminiscent of Sunday lunch at Grandma's. The best, though, has to be the heaping piles of barbecue pork skins. They're fresh and crisp with a dusting of a seasoning rub that starts sweet and ends with a bit of bite. They would be fantastic piled on a pulled pork sandwich.
Bogart's has been a highly anticipated addition to ever-evolving Soulard. It was worth the wait.
1627 South 9th Street
St. Louis, MO 63104
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