Look: I can tell you that Hendricks BBQ sprawls across 17,000 square feet on two floors. I can tell you that this restaurant along St. Charles' historic Main Street is also slated to be a live-music venue and a moonshine distillery (neither is operational yet), that it seats some 600, that the upper deck of its patio affords a view of the Katy Trail and the parking lots alongside it so sweeping that even the parking lots themselves look majestic. I can tell you all this and more besides, but nothing conveys the sheer size of the place better than the moment when a server sets a slab of baby-back ribs thicker than your own forearm in front of you, and before your perspective can unskew itself, you think, "Is that all?"
It feels odd to call a cuisine as essentially American as barbecue not merely trendy, but glowing-with-radioactivity hot. Yet if you have any doubts, Hendricks BBQ provides the proof as well as the exclamation point. This is no barbecue joint or shack or roadside stand; it's the sort of showy production that in another decade would have been a corporate-clubby steak house or sleek pan-Asian sushi bar. Its owners aren't grizzled veterans of the barbecue circuit; they're physician Gurpreet Padda and Ami Grimes, partners in In Good Company, whose diverse restaurant portfolio includes Cafe Ventana, Sanctuaria and Diablitos Cantina. (Hendricks takes its moniker from Grimes' maiden name.)
At a glance the spacious dining room does look as if it were ordered straight from the 'cuetalog, with its forest's worth of weathered-wood paneling and pig-prominent décor. But the room's tall windows and dramatic vaulted skylight both brighten the space and give it a more contemporary feel than, say, the sprawling 17th Street Barbecue in O'Fallon, Illinois, and a series of paintings of blues musicians — commissioned originals, no less — balances the barbecue tchotchkes. Though the menu makes the sacrilegious claim that the ribs at Hendricks are "fall off the bone tender," pitmaster Matt Vanderbeck and Chris Lee, executive chef of Padda and Grimes' restaurant group, prove themselves adept at the arts of the smoker and Southern cuisine.
In other words, their ribs are succulent, yet you still must bite the meat from the bone — and then dig and scrape and suck to get all the morsels left behind. As it should be. Vanderbeck smokes both baby-back and St. Louis-cut spare ribs. The spare ribs are smaller but meatier. A mild dry rub gilds the pork's natural essence. The baby-back ribs have a stronger woodsmoke profile — a mix of apple and hickory, to be precise — and a charred sweetness to the meat.
The barbecue selections include slices of moist, gently smoky turkey and sausage links tinged with garlic. Beef brisket arrives in slices that showcase a vivid pink smoke ring. The meat is impressively juicy for the cut, its rich, smoky flavor spiked with black peppercorns. The pulled pork is properly tender, though my serving benefited from a hit of barbecue sauce to accent the flavor. There are four sauces available. The sweet sauce is thin and unmemorable. The hot is vinegar-sharp, though the actual heat level is moderate. The "House" is a conventional tomato-based sauce that carries a molasses sweetness and a mild tang. The "STL" sauce is my favorite, featuring malt-vinegar astringency and a lingering bite.
Once you decide which meat to order, you have to figure out how to order it. Individual meats are available à la carte in either a small or large portion (or a half- or full rack of ribs). If you want sides, you must also order these à la carte. If you don't share your sides — serving sizes range from easily shared to parsimoniously so — the price of your meal might surprise you. For example, a small portion of pulled pork with crisp sweet-potato fries and the tangy, bacon-studded baked beans will total $15. You can also order a platter with two or three meats of your choice, which includes smaller servings of two sides, for $18 or $24 respectively. Don't skip the sides altogether, though, and if you must limit yourself to just one, I recommend either the collard greens braised with onion and bacon, or the grits thick with Tillamook cheddar cheese. (The mac & cheese is appealing in theory, but floppy, overcooked noodles undercut the decadently rich cheese sauce.)
The appetizer selection reads like a greatest-hits list of Southern comfort food: barbecue shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, deviled eggs. If nothing else, splurge for the $2 order of fresh pork cracklings, which you won't be able to stop eating. The Southern-style buttermilk-soaked fried chicken, either by itself or smothered in peppery milk gravy and cheddar cheese atop a flaky buttermilk biscuit ("Chicken in a Biscuit"), is the highlight of the non-barbecue entrées.
Though the Hendricks distillery isn't up and running, the drink menu includes several examples of the new wave of artisanal moonshine, as well as a broad selection of bourbons and whiskeys. The beer list includes several local craft brews on draft (and Bud in a bottle and Stag in a can).
You won't have room for dessert, but when a measly slice of bourbon-sweet pecan pie appears in the middle of your big table in this massive restaurant, you can easily pretend you do.
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