We were down in St. Louis a couple summers ago for our annual Cardinals baseball weekend and while our wives were shopping in the Delmar Loop, my friend Scott and I were seated at Blueberry Hill having beers and bloody mary's. I looked directly across the street from Blueberry Hill and saw a place that I hadn't noticed before - a place called Salt + Smoke. I asked the bartender about the place. "Salt and Smoke," he replied in the phrase of a question. "Yeah, that just opened about a month ago. It's basically a barbecue and bourbon place." He said it was very good.
Earlier this year, I had called one of my dealers in St. Louis to let him know that I would be down to see him. He said, "Hey, I went to a barbecue place the other night with a friend of mine and I think it may be the best barbecue I've ever had." I asked him the name of the place and he said, "Salt and Smoke. It's in the Delmar Loop in U City." When I asked if it was the place just across from Blueberry Hill and he said, "Yep! That's the place!" We immediately agreed to head there for dinner a couple nights later.
The official name of the place is Salt + Smoke, but everyone seems to forget there's a plus sign in the name and just calls it Salt and Smoke. In any event, the restaurant is owned by Tom Schmidt who also owned Franco, a popular French-cuisine restaurant that closed earlier this year that was located in the Soulard neighborhood of St. Louis. Schmidt had run Franco for 10 years before deciding to close the restaurant to focus on Salt + Smoke which was growing in popularity by leaps and bounds.
Pictured right - Tom Schmidt (Photo courtesy Riverfront Times.com)
Salt + Smoke actually started out as Nico, a Mediterranean-themed restaurant that Schmidt opened in 2012. At both Franco and Nico, Schmidt - along with Executive Chef Jon Dreja - would cure their charcuterie in house. Not thinking that Nico was working out after a couple of years, Schmidt decided to do an about-face and transform the restaurant into a an urban barbecue joint. Nico closed in June of 2014 and a week later Salt + Smoke opened in the same spot. Dreja was the original pit master and Chef Haley Riley was in charge of the kitchen. Riley is now both the head chef and pit master at Salt + Smoke. All the meats served at Salt + Smoke are smoked and cured in-house.
We got to Salt + Smoke around 6:30 that evening. My dealer and I we were escorted to a table in the middle of the dining area. The restaurant was dimly lit and pictures that I took of the place didn't turn out very well. I was able to get a picture of the liquor stock behind the bar, even with the Edison lights glowing in the shot. It was an impressive array of bourbons and whiskeys. (Click here to see the liquor and beer menu.)
Our server for the evening was an outgoing guy by the name of Tim. He took our drink orders as we took a look through the food menu. I ended up ordering a Schlafly Kolsch beer, one of the better Kolsch's I've had. My dealer ordered the same.
When Tim brought our beers to us, my dealer immediately ordered up a couple appetizers - the smoked chicken wings and the burnt end toasted ravioli. They take burnt ends from the brisket, wrap them in breaded ravioli shells and flash fry them. They were served with a mayo-based sauce that had a bit of a peppery bite to the taste. I thought they were just all right.
The wings were large and meaty with a great smoky flavor to the meat. I'm not big on smoked wings, but the ones they have at Salt + Smoke were very good. This was a nice start to the meal.
In addition to the appetizers on the menu at Salt + Smoke, they have a number of sandwiches including a pulled pork sandwich, a smoked trout sandwich, a falafel burger for the vegetarians in the crowd, a fried jalapeño and cheddar bologna sandwich, and - of course - a brisket sandwich. Main entree plates include pulled pork, brisket, pulled chicken, and St. Louis-style ribs. I ended up getting the three meat combo - brisket, pulled pork and ribs. I got two sides with the platter and I selected baked beans and, on the recommendation of my dealer, I got the white cheddar cracker mac. A popover roll came with the meal.
My dealer got the brisket and the pulled pork with a side of the creamed corn and the white cheddar cracker mac. He put some of the peppery white barbecue sauce on the pork before I was able to get a picture. In addition to the white barbecue sauce, Salt + Smoke also had a sweet sauce - My Sweet Bestie - that had a nice sweet and smoky flavor to it, as well as a mustard-based sauce - Mustarolia - and what turned out to be my favorite, the Hotangy that was exactly as it is named. Adding a bit of the Hotangy with the sweet and smoky sauce was a nice combination.
The brisket was heavenly. They had a nice bark on the outside of the meat with a nice smoky flavor. The brisket was moist and tender. It was simply excellent. The ribs were thick, meaty and tender with the meat easily pulling away from the bone. The rub they use on the pork ribs was a nice combination of salty with a bit of a bite. The pulled pork - although very good - was my least favorite of the three meat items I had.
As you can see in the pictures, they don't scrimp on serving sizes at Salt + Smoke. I was able to sample some of the beans, which were very good. The white cheddar cracker mac was excellent, but it was very rich. I think I had maybe three bites of the beans and mac & cheese because I was trying to concentrate on the excellent barbecue. By the time I threw in the towel, I was stuffed. It was too much food. Too much GOOD food.
For a city that for a number of years had a couple three good barbecue joints to choose from, over the past few years there have been a number of great to world-class barbecue places pop up in the St. Louis area. Salt + Smoke just adds to that ever growing number. The brisket and ribs were some of the best I've had. The pulled pork was very good, but not as good as the ribs or brisket. The sauces were interesting, the burnt ends toasted ravioli and smoked chicken wings were good to excellent, and Tim's service was efficient and friendly. It would be so tough to say which barbecue joint in St. Louis is at this juncture, but Salt + Smoke definitely is in the conversation.