UPDATE 5/13/07: Pictures in this post were taken on my second visit to Al’s today.
(Note to readers: I found Smokin’ Al’s web site after writing this post.)
After missing last week’s BBQ adventure I decided to get back to it today on the heels of last night’s foray into the blues community here in St. Louis. I found Smokin’ Al’s on several different web sites and after reading a few user reviews decided this was a place I needed to check out.
Smokin’ Al’s doesn’t have its own web site but if it did you would see their howling wolf logo over a background of vinyl red peppered table clothes with a little wood paneling mixed in. If Smokin’ Al was the creative type, he most certainly would pipe in blues music on his web site and it would be the same mix of rhythm and blues he plays in his restaurant.
(Note to myself: Take a camera next time goofball.)
If you haven’t gotten the picture yet then Smokin’ Al’s may be a place you want to pass up for the corporate stand down the road. I didn’t get the impression that Al cares what his employees wear nor if the correct table tents are displayed. Al cooks BBQ he likes and you eat it. It’s that simple. As a matter of fact there’s a definite distinction between a BBQ joint that cooks what they like and one that cooks what they think everyone likes. Smokin’ Al’s isn’t the later.
I have a lot of respect for a place like this. Smokin’ Al’s isn’t trying to be something else. They just put on their pants one leg at a time, fire up the smokers, and work on perfecting what they do each day. It certainly is a unique spot and one Smokin’ Al should be proud of. On to the food…
Smokin’ Al’s has pulled pork, ribs, brisket, chicken, rib ends, burnt ends, and snoot on the menu. Side items are typical as on any menu but not on your plate. I ordered the pulled pork plate that came with two sides (wolf beans and cole slaw were my selections) and added two ribs. The pulled pork was served over two thick slices of plain white bread with side items in their own containers. The ribs were stacked on the pork.
The pulled pork was marvelous. Although a nice smoke ring was evident, there wasn’t much smoke or wood flavor in the meat. Smokin’ Al’s uses cherry wood and that could explain the mild smokiness. The meat was moist and pulled. No chopping here. The texture suggested a long slow smoke at proper temperature. There was very little fat but just enough to leave some flavor.
The baby back ribs were great! The meat came right off the bone with no issue. They were very tender, moist, and melted in your mouth before you could swallow.
Smokin’ Al’s didn’t serve a vinegar based sauce but neither does he try to provide a dozen sauces for everyone’s taste buds. He offered two tomato based sauces. One mild and one hot. I honestly couldn’t tell much difference in spice between the two. The sauce was thin as if thinned by vinegar but most certainly was tomato based (Al’s site mentions vinegar as a main ingredient of his sauces). It did a good job of complimenting the pork. It didn’t overwhelm the meat.
The side items definitely fall under “unique.” Al’s wolf beans are not your standard BBQ or baked beans you may be accustomed to eating. The beans had the consistency of Cajun red beans. Pintos were the primary bean with black and navy beans. Not too spicy like a Cajun red beans and rice dish but the foundation was there. The slaw was not mixed with a mayonnaise based glaze. Instead the cabbage and carrot mixture was tossed in a cider vinegar reminding me of the sweet pickles my grandmother would serve in the summer time.
Upon blowing through my plate lunch I proceeded back to the counter to order up a small portion of brisket and two more ribs. The service is typical of many BBQ places where you order at a counter and when it’s ready they’ll holler for you.
I’ve never had brisket sliced as thin as paper, but somehow Al gets it that thin. A deep red smoke line existed on the brisket. It had a good taste, some mild smoke, was tender, and moist. The sauce had a different impact on the beef. The tanginess of the sauce and kick to the spice came out more on the brisket than the pork which was a welcome surprise for the beef.
All in all this was a good adventure. I like Smokin’ Al’s. It’s not a place I would drive 8+ miles to every day but every once in a while it would be a good investment in time to drive down for an hour or two, or better yet hit on the way to a Cardinals or Rams game.
I’m awarding Smokin’ Al’s 3.25 butts out of four. Sticking to your guns goes a long way in my book.