When Zagat compiled its list of the 15 Hottest Barbecue Joints in America, we would have been pretty miffed if nobody from St. Louis was included. We figured Pappy's, Sugarfire Smokehouse, maybe Bogart's. But Zagat chose to include the excellent, if new, Spare No Rib (2200 Gravois Avenue; 314-202-8244).
"We're a bit surprised, to tell you the truth, because we just started," owner Lassaad Jeliti tells us. "So to be mentioned in a national publication of that reputation and magnitude is very, very nice and very humbling. I didn't know about it till somebody from the Business Journal called me!"
Also represented were Atlanta, Dallas, Charleston, Austin, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Houston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver and even Portland. Zagat calls St. Louis "new school," but we'll let that slide.
"In the new school of St. Louis, smoked meats are accompanied by salads and Mexican food. Find ribs and pulled pork, but beware the fish tacos, which, while excellent, can hardly be called barbecue," Zagat writes.
When we first reviewed Spare No Rib back in March, we loved it:
The barbecue selection at Spare No Rib is limited to ribs and a few sandwiches. Don't expect a heaping slab on the ribs platter -- you get four -- but what they lack in size they make up for in taste. The ribs are cooked to the brink of falling off the bone and have a great smoky flavor. The sweet and savory rub tastes like cumin and cinnamon with a hint of coriander. I recommend the mustard sauce -- it has an exotic, perfumelike undertone -- and don't pass on the cornbread. It was so moist and creamy, I -- gasp! -- didn't need butter.
The large chunks of pork on the pulled-pork sandwich were soft, glazed with sweet and smoky sauce, and topped with coleslaw for a creamy, cooling effect. The bun caused me a bit of angst -- it looked so large that it might dwarf the sandwich (a pet peeve of mine). Instead, the flaky exterior gave way to a light, airy inside that cradled the pork.
"It's really nice. It did generate some buzz, which is great. We're just really happy," Jeliti says. "This is going to give us more confidence and a bit more reassurance that we're doing the right thing."
Jeliti opened Spare No Rib late last year with business partner Faysal Haloul and chef Francisco Lopez. It's a barbecue restaurant mixed with Mexican cuisine operated by a Tunisian native.
"We're just going to make sure we live up to that reputation. It's a great honor, to tell you the truth, so were trying to make sure we don't disappoint anybody that comes through our doors."
Gut Check is always hungry for tips and feedback. E-mail the author at Nancy.Stiles@RiverfrontTimes.com.
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