In February of 2011, a new barbecue joint opened in the Soulard neighborhood south of downtown St. Louis - Bogart's Smokehouse. It is basically an off-shoot of one of my all-time favorite barbecue houses - Pappy's Smokehouse (click here to see my entry on Pappy's). When we were in St. Louis to see some Cardinals games this past summer, we were down in Soulard on a Saturday and noticed a line of people out the door and around the building at Bogart's - and it wasn't even noon yet! I put Bogart's on my "Restaurants to Try" list and I finally had a chance to go there for lunch earlier this fall.
The main force behind Bogart's is barbecue legend Skip Steele. Steele was the driving force behind Super Smokers, one of the leading barbecue places in St. Louis for years. Steele sold his share in Super Smokers in 2007 and moved to Las Vegas to work in a short lived barbecue joint in the Rio hotel and casino. When Mike Emerson, Brian Scoggins and John Matthews opened Pappy's Smokehouse just west of downtown St. Louis in 2009, they were able to coax Steele back home to become their chef and pitmaster.
In late 2010, Steele and Scoggins, along with Pappy's catering manager Niki Puto and Michael Macchi - a restaurant veteran who got his "second wind" in the business working at Pappy's - left there and began to develop their own barbecue place in Soulard. From the first day they opened, business has been off the chart.
Like Pappy's, Bogart's is open Tuesday thru Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and they close at 4 p.m. Tuesday thru Thursday, or 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday night. Unless they run out of food, like Pappy's has been known to do, then they close.
Bogart's Smoke House is located at the corner of Lafayette and 9th Street in Soulard, just across from the Soulard Market Park and down the street from the back end of the Soulard Farmer's Market. (see map) I was able to find a parking spot across the street from the restaurant. It was a nice, yet cool, fall day and a few people were seated outside on the picnic tables on the south side of the building.
It was after the lunch rush when I got into Bogart's and found the menu board above the cash register. The line was moving fast with a number of people getting orders to go. The decor on the walls of Bogart's was a funky mesh of historic photos, signs and even a deer head. It's nothing fancy, but good barbecue shouldn't be fancy. Tex-Mex music provided by Alejandro Escovedo was playing in the background. I immediately liked the vibe of the place.
There's no combination dinners to order at Bogart's, save for either a half slab or a full slab of ribs with 1/4 pound of meat. I wouldn't really call that a combination dinner, per se. And the main plates - with your choice of either turkey, brisket, pulled pork, burnt ends, and even pastrami - come with two sides. (Update - I didn't see this on the menu on the board, but I see on the menu on Bogart's web site that I could have picked two different meats. I'll have to check on that the next time I go.)
When I got up to the counter, I was greeted by an outgoing young guy who asked if my order was to-go or to eat there. I told him it was to eat there and I wanted the brisket plate. He said, "You get two sides, baked beans?"
His voice trailed off and I said, "Yeah, baked beans."
Then he said, "Potato salad?" He was definitely pushing me in some direction, but I soon figured that the baked beans and the deviled egg potato salad were probably the most popular choices for sides considering the other choices were applesauce, cole slaw, barbecued pork skins and chips. The deviled egg potato salad was interesting enough to me. Just like Pappy's, Bogart's doesn't sell beer - which I really enjoy with barbecue - but it wasn't a deal buster. I just got a cup of water.
I found a table along the wall and it was about five minutes later when a guy came out from the kitchen area behind the counter and called out my name. I was served a paper-filled basket filled with a mound of shaved beef brisket, the juices flowing from the meat. Small four ounce styrofoam cups were filled with the baked beans and the potato salad. And if someone wanted to make a sandwich out of the abundance of brisket in the basket, a bun was added.
Cutting off some of the brisket to give it a try, the first bite was wonderful. The meat had a nice pink smoke ring around the edge, there was a bit of a crunch with the bark on the outside.
I'm a sauce guy, but the meat was so good that I was tempted to not use any of the sauces they had in squeeze bottles on the table. They had a sweet and smoky Kansas City-style sauce that was tabbed "Sweet Maegan Ann" sauce. The hot sauce was called "Voodoo" sauce. There was also a Carolina vinegar sauce and a barbecue sauce made with pineapple juice on the table. I poured a bit of the sweet and smoky sauce on the paper in the basket and dipped part of the bun into it. It was an interesting taste - sweet and smoky, definitely. The "Voodoo" sauce was next. It wasn't as hot as you'd expect. For someone like me, who likes spicy food, it had a bite, but it wasn't overly spicy to me. Mixed together, the two were excellent.
The Carolina vinegar sauce was a little bland to me. It could have had a little more of a peppery taste to it, but it probably would have been good to someone who likes a vinegar sauce. I don't particularly care for a vinegar sauce. And, quite frankly, I didn't even try the pineapple sauce. The combination of the sweet and smoky sauce along with the "Voodoo" sauce was good enough for me.
Like the meat, the baked beans were very good on their own. When I added equal amounts of the sweet and smoky and the "Voodoo" sauce to them, they became excellent.
And a quick word about the potato salad at Bogart's. It, too, was very good. I don't usually care for deviled eggs all that much, but the taste combination with the potatoes was spot on. It was some of the best potato salad I've ever had.
Overall, it was superb brisket. And there was a lot of it for $12.99. It was almost too much for lunch and two people could have easily shared the meal with the two sides. I just had appetizers that night because I was still full from lunch.
Since my initial visit to Pappy's, I've been back a couple of times. I thought it was the best in St. Louis and it may well be. But I was mightily impressed with what I had at Bogart's Smokehouse. I'll have to go back to Bogart's a couple times to make up my mind which is better. And it probably isn't something that I will be able to gauge, no matter how many trips I make back and forth. While Pappy's is a "can't miss" when it comes to barbecue in St. Louis, Bogart's is right there with 'em.