And for the second consecutive year our Best Barbecue Joint is... Bogart's Smokehouse (1627 South Ninth Street; 314-621-3107)
For too long now, barbecue pedants have had to explain that the term "St. Louis-style ribs" refers to how the slab is cut, not how it's cooked, that St. Louis doesn't have its own "style" in the way that, say, Kansas City or Memphis does. (Like KC, but sweeter, is the most they'll grant.) But rather than grouse about a lack of respect or wallow in self-doubt, it's high time St. Louis embraces its lack of a distinct barbecue identity. Without an arbitrary, geographically imposed idea of what meats should be smoked and how, not only can our city enjoy the best of all worlds, dry-rubbed or basted, sauces sweet or hot or vinegar-piquant, we can also allow the mad genius of Skip Steele to flower in full. At Bogart's Smokehouse, Steele follows his whims, not others' rules, and the results are superb. Witness ribs finished with an apricot glaze, which the kitchen caramelizes with a propane torch; prime rib, long vanquished to the special Sunday or holiday dinner, are here smoked with onions; smoked pastrami (yes, pastrami!). You can, if you like, enjoy a more traditional meal of pulled pork or beef brisket. That's the beauty of Bogart's and the new era of St. Louis barbecue: Anything is possible, and everything is delicious.