Sugarfire Smokehouse is a hot new barbecue chain, one of the top three-rated barbecue places in the St. Louis area. There are now 14 branches, and the chain — network would be a better word — has spread from Missouri to Illinois, Kentucky, and Indiana. Nancy and I went to the Downtown St. Louis location for an early supper the evening after our AVA 10k state capital walk and a memorable breakfast in Springfield, Illinois.
I usually prefer the original location of a chain, but the downtown location was just around the corner from our hotel, the Hotel St. Louis * (motto, “where historic (me) meets hip (others)”). It was a Saturday and there was a National League playoff game (Go Nats!), and you really don’t want to be on the highways on a Saturday night after a playoff game.
As it happened, our timing was perfect. The Alabama game and the Nats-Cards game ended almost simultaneously, we had a five or six block head start on the crowd at the stadium, and the glow of having our teams win both games put the wind at our backs.I will insert that St. Louis fans always display amazing sportsmanship. How often do you see home fans applaud a visiting pitcher who’s beating them? That’s class.
We glowed our way over to Sugarfire, got in a short line, and ordered. You order meat(s), which they put on butcher paper on a metal tray, and move along as you select sides cafeteria style. You can pick up a local bottled soft drink, or order a soft drink or beer just before you pay and receive your completed tray. There’s a separate station where you can get a variety of sauces in those little bitty cups.
I ordered a two meat plate with pork and brisket, and selected green beans, scalloped potatoes, and German potato salad as my two sides. And I got one of each of their sauces. And a local IPA (I couldn’t get more detail on the brand).
Let’s focus in on the meat.
The pork was very good, tender, flavorful, and smoky. As you can see, it contains a good bit of outside meat. And the brisket was good as well. It looks a bit dry in the photo, but it was not. It had a good flavor with a nice spicy outside bark. I ate the meat without sauce. It was good enough to do that. I did try the sauces and, frankly, none of them exactly made my eyes light up and my stomach say “Howdy!” But none was a flavor killer, as almost all commercial sauces are and, as I say, the meat doesn’t need sauce.
The scalloped potatoes were a delight. Do you know how long it’s been since I had scalloped potatoes? Decades? I may actually need to make some. And the German potato salad was tasty, the potatoes having been properly cooked. The beans had been blanched and then sautéed. They were flavorful, very tasty and vaguely reminiscent of the green beans at Demetri’s, but when I’m in a barbecue place, I want the green beans to be cooked with lots of side meat. It’s how I was raised.
Nancy ordered salmon, which they smoke at Sugarfire, with slaw and green beans.
The salmon took longer to get than the meat orders, but Nancy was able to untangle some minor disorganization quickly. She liked the salmon a lot. It was nicely seasoned, had good flavor, and avoided that salmon dryness. She particularly liked the green beans (she grew up in the North) and also liked the very fresh slaw.
Let’s talk a bit about the setting. It’s a cavernous space with long, communal tables, which are a plus from my point of view. You can see a small portion of the post-game line that sprang up hard on our heels after the game, and that stretched down the block. It’s a popular place.
A lovely couple from Little Rock sat across from us. Like us, they do a lot of walking-related travel, only they prefer more strenuous (read, uphill) walking. (Perhaps I should say more strenuous that I like. Nancy has hiked half of the Appalachian Trail.) We were able to eat and converse with our new friends without shouting. I like communal tables. You usually meet someone interesting, and often someone memorable, like Joe Champion or the philosopher at Snow’s; and outside of DC, no one ever brings up politics. Or if they do, they change the subject once you look aghast and start choking.
Nancy and I enjoyed Sugarfire. They know how to make barbecue, and the sides are very good. It has a lively, convivial atmosphere, even after a home team loss, and it’s very convenient if you’re staying downtown. I wish I’d been able to try the sausage and the ribs. They also have less orthodox offerings that are every popular. They won “best Sandwich” at the World Food Championships with a “Cuban Reuben,” which they say was “a culinary brain baby of some late night thinking.” It sounds more like the brain baby of some late night hallucinogens, but, as it turns out, they do not add sauerkraut: they just add pastrami to a Cuban sandwich. It’s a cousin to the must-try Crown Burger.
Definitely try Sugarfire, and let me know how you like the sausage, ribs, and Cuban Reuben. It’s a great place to eat.
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*I didn’t want to bring this up while we were about to talk about eating, but the Hotel St. Louis has electric toilets. They have a seat warmer. They also automatically self-clean whenever you get anywhere near, and have a bidet, uh, fore and aft. They also have a television built into the bathroom mirror, something we came across in Chicago a few years ago. You can turn on the news or whatever while you’re shaving and the news appears in the middle of the mirror. Perhaps you may not want to watch the news while you’re shaving and have a razor at your throat, but it’s a fun feature for brushing your teeth and combing your hair..