by Ian Froeb
The Gut Check One Hundred is our accounting of the 100 dishes in St. Louis that you must eat right now. These are the best dishes at the newest restaurants and the newest dishes at the best restaurants. These are the 100 dishes that define St. Louis dining in 2013. Our list culminates this fall when the Riverfront Times Best of St. Louis 2013 names the "Best Dish" of the year.
Hendricks BBQ (1200 South Main Street, St. Charles; 636-724-8600) is no mere barbecue shack. It's a massive enterprise along St. Charles' historic Main Street, a live-music venue and moonshine distillery as well as a restaurant. Yet in spite of Hendricks' sprawling size and varied attentions, pitmaster Matt Vanderbeck lavishes the restaurant's barbecue with the care and craft that have marked the St. Louis barbecue renaissance of recent years.
The ribs are a standout, succulent, yet you still must bite the meat from the bone -- and then dig and scrape and suck to get all the morsels left behind. As it should be. Vanderbeck smokes both baby-back (half-rack $14, full $22) ribs and St. Louis-cut spare ribs (half-rack $12, full $20). The spare ribs are smaller but meatier. A mild dry rub gilds the pork's natural essence. The baby-back ribs have a stronger woodsmoke profile -- a mix of apple and hickory, to be precise -- and a charred sweetness to the meat.
You don't need sauce for these ribs, but if you must there are four available. The sweet sauce is thin and unmemorable. The hot is vinegar-sharp, though the actual heat level is moderate. The "House" is a conventional tomato-based sauce that carries a molasses sweetness and a mild tang. The "STL" sauce is my favorite, featuring malt-vinegar astringency and a lingering bite.
Is there a dish that you think belongs among the Gut Check One Hundred 2013? Let us know!