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Entries in Resaurant Review (9)


Review: A Fine Swine

Today, I had to run a few errands with my bride and we found ourselves in a rural community that we don't often visit, New Baden, IL.  As we entered town, I spotted a BBQ Joint that I haven't been to before.  So, after we completed our errands, we circled back and had lunch there.

As we parked, I saw 2 Ole Hickory smokers under cover near the front door and there was a smell of hickory smoker in the air.  Both, a very good sign. 

Right off, I noticed a couple of very unique things about this joint.  First, the counter was a converted off-set pit.  I thought that was a very cool touch.

The other thing I noticed is a live feed of a video camera mounted directly over a butcher block table in the kitchen where they are slicing brisket, chopping pork shoulder, etc.  I've never seen this in another BBQ joint and enjoyed watching the staff slice my brisket before brigning it out to my table.

All of this had my expectations pretty high.  I ordered sliced brisket with a side of house chips, and my bride ordered her usual pulled pork sandwich and BBQ beans.  At first glance, it all looked good.  There was a nice smoke ring on the brisket and it had been trimmed enough that there was a just the right amount of fat along one side of the slices.  

The BBQ was decent.  The pulled pork was good, but a little bland.  The brisket was tasty, but a little chewier than I prefer.  The house chips weren't much more than kettle cooked potatoe chips, and my wife described the BBQ beans as "the worst she had ever had".  In fairness, her comments reflect a personal bias.  That is a bias against beans with an overpowering flavor of molasses and apple pie.  They were unique and very sweet, but not my cup of tea either.

Here's how I'd rate my trip to A Fine Swine in New Baden, IL.

  • BBQ - B
  • Side Dishes - C
  • Atmosphere - A
  • Value - B
  • Overall – B+

If you find yourself in the area, I would recommend you give them a try.  i know I will the next time I find myself in New Baden.  

Here's how to find them:

A Fine Swine

423 Hanover St.

New Baden, IL 62265






Review: Fire-N-Smoke - O'Fallon, IL

I'm going to tip my hand right away and say this about my trip to Fire-N-Smoke.  I don't care if you trim your brisket before or after you cook it, but for the love of BBQ trim it before you serve it.  A litte fat on a brisket is expected, but this was waaaay too much.  Sorry for the rant, now let's talk about the rest of my visit.

Fire-N-Smoke opened recently in a location that has been a couple of different restaurants over the past few years.  Luckily for them, the shopping area round the location seems to have reached critical mass and there's enough traffic flow that they should be able to make a go of it.  Not to mention, the facility lends itself nicely to being a BBQ joint.


Like most BBQ  joints these days it seems, the menu is a giant chalkboard and orders are placed at the counter.  I was pleased to see that they seemed to have all of the bases covered, as well as having a long list of salads, sandwiches, etc.  I ordered the 2 meat platter (like I normally do when I'm trying a new place), and the Mrs. ordered her usual pulled pork sandwich with baked beans.


The food was delivered quickly and looked awesome.  I was pleased to seee a nice smoke ring on the brisket and see that the pork was truly pulled and not chopped.  The side dishes were served uniquely in individual sized pie tins, and the whole mess was piled on a large tray covered with butcher paper.  In the case of the platter, bread & butter also accompanied the meal.



The brisket was my favorite, despite my earlier comments about it needing to be trimmed.  The pulled pork was good, although it suffered a little from being re-heated.  The Mrs. liked the addition of cole slaw to the sandwich.  That's the way a pulled pork sandwich should be served after all.  The beans were good, if only dressed up canned beans, but the sweet potato dish was outstanding.  There was a thin sauce spread across the meat on the platter and a little bit on the sandwich.  My wife's only complaint was that she'd like to have had a little more sauce, though oddly enough there was no bottle of sauce on the table.  In this day & age, most places overwhelm you with sauce choices so it was odd not to find any at all on the table. Zip, Zilch, Nada.

I was a little surprised at the light crowd at 1:00pm on a Saturday, but I think Fire-N-Smoke should do just fine.  As I said, they definitely have a good location, although there is plenty of competition from other restaurants as well.

Here's how I'd rate my trip to Fire-N-Smoke in O'fallon, IL.

  • BBQ - B-
  • Side Dishes - A
  • Atmosphere - A
  • Value - B
  • Overall – B+

I'd recommend this place and I'm sure I'll eat there again.  Here's the specifics on Fire-N-Smoke.


Fire-N-Smoke Wood Fired Kitchen

1214 Central Park Dr.

O'fallon, IL 62269

Open 11:00am-9:00pm





Review: Gobble Stop Smokehouse

This is unique.  A BBQ joint that specializes in chicken & turkey.  You won't find pork & brisket on the menu at the Gobble Stop Smokehouse, just poultry.  And darned good poultry too.

I headed over for lunch today after spotting it on Google Maps recently.  I found it in an older shopping plaza, like a lot of good BBQ joints these days.  It's a pretty unassuming place, but behind the counter they're making some magic!

I ordered one of the house specialties, smoked chikcen wings with a side order of BBQ beans at the counter.  A short while later, they delivered a plate of 8 large, meaty wings with sliced white bread, my side of beans, and a side of BBQ sauce to my table.

The wings were meaty, and smokey, and delicious!  They were lightly seasoned and smoked to perfection.  After the first taste, the sauce and sides were nearly forgotten.  However, I did get around to trying both.  The beans?  Well, they were jazzed up beans from a can.  And the sauce?  Probably right out of a bottle.

But I didn't care.  Did I mention how good the wings were?  And the folks running the place were super friendly and took great care of not only me, but the other lunch patrons as well.

Here's my score card for the Gobble Stop Smokehouse:

So here's how I'd rate Hill Country BBQ:

  • BBQ - A

  • Side Dishes - C

  • Atmosphere - B

  • Value - A

  • Service - A
  • Overall - B+

If you get to north-west St Louis county, you can find them here:
(314) 878-5586





Review: Hill Country BBQ, New York City

I caught a wiff of wood smoke while I was still more than a block away, and my mouth began to water.  You see, I've never eaten BBQ in Texas so this opportunity to eat at Hill Country BBQ in New York City was as close as I've been.  

When work took me to the city, I began to scout for one of the BBQ joints that have sprung up there that I've read about.  Then, I realized that Hill Country BBQ was only a dozen or so blocks from where I was staying.  Immediately, I began to plot a night to myself when I could make the walk for dinner.

Hill Country BBQ - 26th St & 6th Ave - NYC

Hill Country BBQ is a tribute to the central Texas markets that began serving BBQ over the counter, by the pound, wrapped in butcher paper, and served with saltine crackers.  Just like those markets turned BBQ joints, Hill Country serves the BBQ the same way; over the counter and by the pound.

The meat counter at Hill Country BBQ

The menu consisted not only of beef, but also pork, chicken, and sausage from Kreuz Market in Texas.  At Hill Country, you order your meat at the counter and specify the amount (by weight) that you'd like or in the case of ribs, how many bones.  I opted for 1/3 lb. of lean brisket (that's cut from the brisket flat, but you can also order "moist" brisket cut from the point) and a single pork rib.  They cut the meat, weighed it on a butcher scale, wrapped it in brown butcher paper, and handed it over with a half sleeve of saltines.

Then, I headed over to the counter where they served sides.  Sweet Potato Bourbon Mashed caught my eye so I ordered that and a side of green bean casserole.  The server was at my table when I got there and my order was complete with a glass of sweet tea.

I'll cut to the chase and say that the food was excellent.  In fact, this is probably the best brisket (from a restaurant anyway) that I've eaten.  The pork rib was pretty good.  A little tougher than I expected but it had a great flavor.  And the sides?  Fuggetaboutit!  I could go  back and just eat side items.  The sweet potato dish was amazing, and I loved the comfort food style green beans.  There were plenty of other sides as well as desserts, but frankly I can't eat that much.

Really, the only negative comment I have about my experience at Hill Country BBQ is the cost.  I mean, I know I was eating in New York City, but brisket at $26/lb?  That seems excessive.  While I thoroughly enjoyed my experience, my dinner (for only me) was ~$39.  That's with nothing from the bar or dessert.

So here's how I'd rate Hill Country BBQ:

  • BBQ - A

  • Side Dishes - A

  • Atmosphere - A

  • Value - C

  • Service - A
  • Overall - A-

No doubt about it, this is one of the best BBQ joints I've eaten at.  Frankly, I didnt' expect that to be the case.  If you get to New York, here's where you can find Hill Country BBQ:

30 West 26th Street
New York, NY 10010

They also have locations in Brooklyn and Washington, DC.



Review: Bogart's Smokehouse

Over the past month or so, I've become aware of a new BBQ joint in St. Louis called Bogart's Smokehouse.  Now all I really need is an excuse to go eat BBQ so when one of the owners dropped me a line here at Grill & Barrel asking me to pay them a visit, I had all the excuse I needed.


I didn't annonce myself, but I showed up this afternoon on my way home from work.  I timed my visit to be just after the lunch rush since I'd heard that they do a crazy amount of business at lunch time.  Even at 2:00pm, there were no empty tables inside to be had.  I figure that's a good sign.

I was met at the door by Mike Macchi, one of the partners, but I kept a low profile, stepped to the counter, ordered a combo plate, and took up a seat to sample the fare.  What I got was a plate piled high with brisket & pulled pork on an open hoagie roll, pit beans, and a side of pork rinds.  


I sampled each of the four sauces that were on the table.  They were all uniquely named and uniquely different.  There was what I'd call a St. Louis style sauce called Sweet Maegan Ann's.  It's a sweet tomato based sauce.  Mad Maddie's Vinegar sauce is a thin vinegar based sauce as the name suggests.  Pineapple Express is a thin sauce that unmistakably has a hint of pineapple flavor.  And the sauce that I like the best, VooDoo Sauce.  That's a thinner sauce with a peppery kick.


So how's the food?  The pulled pork was some of the best in St. Louis.  I really enjoyed the taste and texture, and the VooDoo sauce was a great compliment.  The brisket was very good, though I wasn't a huge fan of the rub.  I couldn't tell if the rub was applied pre or post cook, but there was a beautiful smoke ring and it was very tender and flavorful.  And the pit beans?  Some of the best BBQ beans I've had.  I learned that they cook the beans on the pit with the brsiket for 12 hrs.  They were smokey, peppery, and really tasty.


As I was wrapping up my lunch, one of the partners stopped by my table and we began to chat.  Mike gave me the background on the relationship between Bogart's & Pappy's (one of my Top 5 BBQ Joints in St. Louis).  It turns out that the 4 partners who own Bogart's started it up with Pappy's blessings.  They still work with Pappy's, but they now have a chance to do their own thing as well.  That's a pretty sweet deal, and Pappy's deserves a tip of the hat for being open to helping their folks spread their wings a bit.

Mike took me out back and showed me the Ole Hickory & Southern Pride pits that they're cooking with.  We chatted about the pits and he let me peek at the butts that were finishing up on the Ole Hickory.  


All in all, I enjoyed my visit and will definitely return to try the other items on the menu.  Here's how I'd rate Bogart's Smokehouse:

  • BBQ - A
  • Side Dishes - A
  • Atmosphere - A
  • Value - B
  • Overall – A

Bogart's is definitely worthy of a stop if you're in the St. Louis area.  They're in the Soulard neighborhood between Busch Stadium and Anheuser Busch Brewery, and right behind the Soulard Farmer's Market.  I think I'll be revising my "Best in St. Louis" list to include Bogart's.

Here's their address:

Bogarts Smokehouse

1627 S. 9th Street

St. Louis, MO



Review: Bandana's BBQ, St Louis

I’ve delayed writing this restaurant review for a long time.  I can’t explain why, but I guess it’s because it feels so overly commercial that I don’t place it in the same category as most BBQ joints.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s an honest-to-goodness BBQ restaurant, but it just feels like they are trying way too hard to be “authentic”. 

Bandana’s is a St. Louis based BBQ restaurant that has franchised to roughly 25 locations in 3 states and growing.  I’ve tried at least 6 of their locations and I can say that they’re very consistent.  But with that consistency, comes a lack of authenticity.  This is evident in the way the place feels when you walk in the door.  From the wash tub light fixtures to the handkerchief curtains, it’s obvious that they’re executing on a theme.  It's like walking into an Applebee's or a TGI Fridays.  You know that it's supposed to be kitschy and cool, but it just doesn't feel authentic when there's one on every corner.

But enough about how the place looks and feels, how’s the BBQ you might ask?  Well, it’s just okay.  In at least one of their locations, I’ve seen the pit and they are sure enough cooking on site.  However, I wouldn’t say that the results are great.  I find the ribs to be too tough, ditto the brisket, and the pulled pork is hit or miss.  On the other hand, I do enjoy their side dishes.  I like their baked beans, green beans, corn, and especially the garlic bread that accompanies every lunch or dinner plate.

Another area where they’ve done a nice job is in their selection of sauces.  I can’t say that it's necessarily an original idea, but they have a six-pack of sauces on every table.  Each sauce is designed to capture a different regional form of BBQ.  From a thick, sweet Kansas City style sauce to a mustard-based Carolina sauce, they offer a taste for just about everyone.  The only anomaly here is their Chicago Style sauce.  I never knew that there was such a thing as “Chicago Style” BBQ, did you?

Here's how I'd rate Bandana's BBQ:

  • BBQ - C
  • Side Dishes - B
  • Atmosphere - C+
  • Value - A
  • Overall – B-

Banadana's has done a nice job of making BBQ affordable and accessible to a lot of people.  I just wish the food was a little better. 




Review: Flavors BBQ

With a new day, hope springs eternal. And, after yesterday's failed excursion I was hopeful that I'd find better eats at a place called Flavors in South St. Louis.

Before I got to the door, I spotted what appeared to be a Southern Pride cooker out back and I could smell the smoke. That's always a good sign.

When we walked in, I found what is quite possibly the nicest BBQ joint I've ever been in. All that was missing was white table clothes and fine wine. This place was very nicely decorated and spotless. I wouldn't have been surprised If I'd been handed a fine Italian or French menu, but I was really happy that what I got was pure BBQ.

My lunch mates ordered up the pork plates and I went for the brisket. What we received were huge portions of the respective BBQ dinners with 2 sides for less than $10. Quite a value!

The pork was very good, some of the best in town. The brisket was close, but the fact that the fat cap wasn't trimmed either pre or post cook meant that I received quite bit of fat on my brisket slices. Other than that, the meat was very good.

The side dishes were a mixed bag. My lunch mates really enjoyed a baked potato as a side dish, but being a purist I went for baked beans. What I got resembled a doctored up can of pork and beans. I wish there'd been a little more love and care in the side dishes as there was in the BBQ.  Additionally, there was only 1 sauce on the table and I'd swear that it was Original Sweet Baby Ray's in a nondescript bottle.

Here's how I'd rate my trip to Flavors BBQ

  • Atmostphere - A+
  • BBQ - B
  • Sides - C
  • Sauce - C
  • Value - A
  • Overall - B

I really enjoyed my visit.  I'll definitely go back, but Flavors BBQ could be a couple of sides and an original sauce away from making my list of the best BBQ joints in St. Louis.

Oh, and they did have sweet tea!  ;-)

Flavor's BBQ

(314) 533-1288

4317 Manchester Rd
St Louis, MO 63110



Review: Lambert's Cafe, Home of the Throwed Rolls

Okay, so it’s not a BBQ joint strictly speaking.  But, they do serve BBQ along with lots of other stuff cooked like mama used to.  It had been a few years since I’d eaten at Lambert’s Cafe but a recent family road trip afforded me the opportunity to share this unique place with my wife & kids.

If you’ve ever driven through the state of Missouri, you may have seen the billboards for Lambert’s Cafe.  Their tag line is “Home of the Throwed Rolls”.  And they literally mean “throwed rolls”.  Patrons of Lambert’s know that when you’d  like more bread (in this case, yeast rolls the size of a softball) you need only look for the server pushing the cart of rolls fresh from the oven.  It’s not necessary to wait for them to make their way to your table.  Simply hold up your hands and be ready to catch a roll tossed in your direction.

Lambert’s serves a variety of entrees all cooked in a down home sort of way.  Everything from fried chicken, BBQ ribs, & frog legs to salads served on a bread plate the size of a hub cap.  And it’s all good.  Most entrees are served with your choice of 2 side items, but Lambert’s is also known for their generous servings of “pass-arounds”.  A constant parade of servers dish up macaroni & tomatoes, fried potatoes, black-eyed peas, and fried okra to anyone who’d care for them.  This along with the generous portions, and you should never go away from Lambert’s hungry.

Lambert’s has three locations; Sikeston & Ozark, MO and Foley, AL.  They’re so popular that you may have to wait a bit for a table, but trust me it’s worth it.



Review: Plush Pig BBQ Saloon

plush-pigDue to changes in traffic patterns I recently altered my route on my commute to work, only to discover a BBQ restaurant that I’d previously overlooked.  The crazy thing is that this place is only a few blocks from my office.  So, today a co-worker and I ventured out in single digit temperatures to have lunch at the Plush Pig in St. Louis, MO.

Now in an urban environment, I didn’t really expect to find great BBQ.  This is partly because I didn’t smell the smoke as I approached the front door.  However, when I opened the door my spirits lifted because there was the unmistakable aroma of wood smoke in the air.

The Plush Pig is similar to a lot of BBQ joints these days.  Wood floors, corrugated tin, and knick knacks on the wall seem to be the de facto décor.  A large board prominently displays their wares.  It’s not as extensive as some places, but they certainly had plenty to offer.  Pulled Pork and Texas Brisket were available as lunch specials so I ordered up the brisket plate. 

When I eat BBQ at a restaurant, ordering is always a critical point in my assessment of the place.  There’s only one correct answer to the question I always ask.  But I tentatively inquired about whether they had Sweet Iced Tea and again my spirits were lifted when I received a positive response.

As I said, I ordered the Texas Brisket lunch plate.  This was served with corn on the cob, choice of one side (I chose BBQ beans of course) and a piece of grilled sweet bread.  I’d prefer that they not apply sauce to the meat when serving it, but it was minimal and had a good flavor.  Additional sauce was on the table for those that prefer a healthier application.

I have to say that everything on my plate was very tasty.  The brisket was sliced thin and had a nice smoke ring.  The portions were generous and the prices were reasonable.  You can bet I’ll be dining here again and if you find yourself in St. Louis or Columbia Missouri, I’d highly recommend the Plush Pig if you’re in the mood for BBQ.

Here’s my report card:

  • BBQ - A
  • Side Dishes - A
  • Atmosphere - B
  • Value - A
  • Overall – A-