It was a benign fate that led us to Belleville, Illinois, and the excellent BEAST Craft BBQ. Our project of completing those AVA 10k walks in every state capital drew us to St. Louis over the Columbus Day weekend. We arrived in town in the early afternoon and headed northeast to Springfield, Illinois. Actually, we headed southeast for 30 miles to Belleville, Illinois.
Belleville is the home of BEAST Craft BBQ, what many people think serves the best barbecue in the St. Louis area. After my first barbecue-centric trip to St. Louis, I’m inclined to agree. Here I am with the resident genius of BEAST, David Sandusky. The restaurant motto is All Killer, No Filler.
That’s me on the right. If I’d stood on the far side I’d look slimmer; but this is a fearless blog, ever faithful to the truth. We arrived at BEAST Craft at about 2:30 on a cold and rainy afternoon.
BEAST Craft is welcoming inside, with two pleasant dining areas.
You walk up to a counter and are greeted by a friendly young lady who very helpfully explains the menu on the blackboard behind her.
They erase items as they run out, and they do run out — they’d erased an item or two before we arrived. (I’d go early for supper.)
Nancy ordered sensibly: smoked turkey with some slaw and potato salad.
Now, that’s some good smoked turkey. You’ll notice that the turkey is served on a tortilla. Nancy used some of the turkey and the tortilla and a touch of the Standard sauce for an improvised taco. She loved it, and she liked the slaw and the very rich, very tasty potato salad.
I was a bit overwhelmed. I thought about ordering a lot of stuff — a taco, a hot link, a snout (I’ve never had a snout other than the one God gave me), some Wagyu brisket, and a rib or three — but I limited myself to a small (1/4 pound) Duroc pork and some burnt ends with potato salad and Bacon Mac (macaroni and cheese with bacon).
I had an Excel Lemonade to wash it down. The Excel, oh so rarely among lemonades, didn’t need three lemon wedges to make it flavorful. Actually, all of the BEAST Craft soft drinks are from Excel, a presumably local company with a retro look, and all are made with pure cane sugar. If you don’t know the importance of pure cane sugar to a soft drink, you are blessed with an opportunity to raise your life’s happiness to a whole new level. Try a Mexican Coca Cola or a Dublin Dr. Pepper to see the difference.
What will really raise your life’s happiness, though, is the pork. Someone spent a lot of time raising that pig, and their work paid off. The pork was very flavorful. Delicious. And look at that picture. Isn’t it pretty? the pork was tender and moist, with a nice smoke flavor. I hope that that pig appreciates the pleasure it gave to me and so many other people. Talk about a successful life. And hats off to Brother Sandusky for bringing out the best in that pig.
The burnt ends were good. They cook the briskets, trim cut and chop the burnt ends, add some of their sauce, and re-smoke them. They pack a lot of flavor, and the caramelization of the cooking and the concentration of the cooked sauce give them an almost candy-like taste. Now, I’m not a big candy fan, except for Reese’s Cups and Snickers Bars, of which I just bought 100 for Halloween, safe in the assurance that we wouldn’t have more than 20 trick-or-treaters. But I liked these, and you would like them even more. They are packed with flavor, and I can imagine people going back for more. And more.
As I said, the potato salad is rich (sour cream?) and flavorful. And the macaroni and (lots of) cheese with bacon is sinfully delicious. I felt like checking the Commandments after I ate it, but didn’t. Oh, and you probably noticed some home-made pickles in the photos. These were much better than the usual run of home-made pickles. They reminded me of the ones you get in kosher delis. Or Claussen pickles, you know, the ones that you find in the dairy aisle.
BEAST Craft has three sauces — a vinegar sauce with some sweetness and much less pepper than in North Carolina; a Texas Chainsaw sauce with some heat (but not a lot) and a light sweetness; and the Standard Sauce, which is well seasoned, and not really hot or sweet. All are okay, but the meat doesn’t really need the sauce. It’s very high quality meat — Duroc pork and Wagyu beef — and they are cooked so well that they don’t really need any sauce.
This is very good barbecue served in a very pleasant setting. Although the meat is very high quality, the meals aren’t that expensive. I guess it helps to be in Belleville rather than St. Louis.
We left Chef Sandusky working his four big Old Hickory Smokers with one hand and, with the other, cooking 500 gallons of really good-smelling chili for the Belleville Chili Cook-off, one of a baker’s dozen of annual events in Belleville. There’s always something happening in Belleville. If there’s no formal festival, BEAST Craft is a food festival in itself.
If you’re in or near St. Louis, make a beeline to Belleville and BEAST Craft. It’s well worth the trip.
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