Phil’s BBQ looks the part with a flashing neon sign, smiling pig smoke house, and plenty of ceramic pigs in the store. I was really looking forward to this one as I had read about plenty of accolades handed down to Phil going back numerous decades.
And Phil is proud of those awards. The certificates from local St. Louis magazines and newspapers are prominently displayed throughout the restaurant. Most awards are “readers-choice” but there were a few critic awards as well. Just in my booth alone were two “St. Louis Best Ribs” awards from 1989 and 1991 gazing down on my orange vinyl covered table.
The environment in Phil’s is informal and casual just as a down-home BBQ joint should be. There are no counters to order from here. You find your table and a server promptly takes your order. It’s a comfortable setting where the order of the day is get dirty while you eat. Wet naps come standard on every table.
Phil’s menu is diverse, maybe too diverse. There is an assortment of St. Louis favorites with traditional BBQ fare. Phil offers plenty of fried foods all the way from fried ravioli to fried catfish. As a matter of fact I found myself wondering if I had stumbled into three restaurants in one as Phil has an assortment of pasta items on the menu too. When it comes to smoked meats Phil serves up two styles of pork ribs, pulled pork, chicken, bratwurst, pork steak, and common items such as hamburgers.
My order today was the three-meat dinner coming with three side items, yet I only wanted two. The order was pulled pork, baby back ribs, and a leg quarter with potato salad and baked beans. About five minutes after ordering I noticed on the menu that meats “are served wet or dry.” I thought to tell the waitress “dry” for me but then again wanted to see what Phil would throw at me.
Well, he didn’t throw anything at me. He hosed me down with it. Prior to my meal being served the server brought over a plastic bib and insisted that I wear it because “you’ll need it.” When my food arrived I could see why. My three meats were swimming in sauce. So much sauce that I couldn’t tell what meat was actually under it. I removed my shorts and jumped in skinny.
Through my snorkel and mask, I quickly uncovered the pulled pork. It was actually pulled and chopped and with so much water content in the meat I guess that it is stored in a hot pan while awaiting a plate. The restaurant was slow while I was there and my assumption is that they don’t have the business to support from the smoke to the plate. Still, the pulled pork was the better of the three with nice flavor.
The chicken surprisingly was dry. Even with all the sauce it was swimming in, the meat was dry and tough. It did pull away from the bone well however and a good portion had come off in the sauce while making its way to my table.
“St. Louis’ best ribs” were about the worst ribs I’ve eaten in my life. The ribs were so tough and dry that I had a hard time cutting the ribs apart with a steak knife. (BTW: This has to be the first BBQ joint that I’ve eaten at where you are actually served a steak knife with your meal.) It was almost as if the ribs were unpacked and placed right over a hot fire. I would be surprised if the ribs were cooked in anything under 425 degrees for an hour.
The side items were ok. The beans tasted canned. The potato salad was a mustard based salad and was simple, pretty good. Three slick slices of white bread were also served with the dinner.
Phil’s BBQ certainly scores some points with me for tradition, environment, and service (my server had to be Phil’s mother still working at age 90 or something to that effect – she was great!) but the absolute failure to meet those lofty expectations set with all the accolades earns Phil a low score.
I think if Phil spent more time perfecting his trade rather than sailing on past accomplishments his BBQ would be great. Cutting back on the menu to focus on where the passion really lies might help too. Here’s another tip: Set a goal to serve your ribs without a knife.
Phil’s BBQ = 2.5 Butts