Friday, October 5, 2012 / 12:35 PM
Writing about food may be an exercise of the intellect, but tasting the brisket at Ron Buechele’s new Capitalist Pig barbecue lunch spot is purely sensual. At last night’s soft opening at Mad Art, the art gallery/event space onto which Buechele is grafting this new enterprise, the smell of sweet smoke wafted through the crowd punctuated only by random (and frequent) moans of pleasure. .
Wow -- think of the best Texas-style barbecued brisket you’ve had, bursting with salty succulence and dripping with the juices that are the reason you are a guilty, guilty, carnivorous, barbecue-loving, multi-napkin-using animal. Buechele’s Certified Angus beef brisket is slathered with a coating of dried and powdered chiles and salt and pepper, then “rested” overnight so the flavors may infiltrate one another.
After being smoked over hickory wood, the brisket’s coating becomes a savory black “bark,” as its called, that offsets that succulent meat (below left). You could put sauce on it, but, then, you could also put Cardinals caps on the figures in Rodin’s The Kiss, too, if good taste eludes you. Sauce is for mediocre ‘cue, not this.
And sweet Porky Pig, look at them ribs (above right). That interior is the sought-after, graduated rosy-red color and the exterior is brushed with a blackberry-based glaze and blowtorched (just like the ribs at Bogart’s, just up the street, where they use an apricot glaze), producing an aesthetic char and chewy texture.
We ain’t done, son. The pulled pork isn’t, it’s chopped (below left), a texture Buechele says he prefers. It’s made with assistance from a sweet-tea brine and a 17-spice rub the Mad Art owner developed. The organic chicken (below right) is brined, split, salted and peppered, and smoked at a high temperature so as not to dry it out, he said. It’s juicy as can be.
Buechele’s underlying secret is the simplest thing in the food world, and also the hottest: He’s doing it up organic-local-heirloom/heritage style, and making as many of the ingredients in-house as he can.
The pork is sourced from Berkshire pigs, he said, when available. “Berkshire is a registered hog,” he explained. “You can trace the hog you buy all the way back to the original herd from 300 years ago in England.” The ribs all come from a heritage hog like the Duroc or the Hampshire.
He said he’s researched the pigs’ living conditions, and purchases the animals raised in low-stress farms. “You actually get a pH balance that yields a sweeter meat from the unstressed livestock,” he said.
His efforts to source cruelty-free and local beef and chicken are similar. Even the applewood, cherrywood, and hickory woods he uses come from an arborist in Eureka.
“Nobody else is doing sustainable, artisan barbecue,” he said, “at least not within the city limits.”
This commitment ties in with the motto he’s printed on the menus, too. They read, “Capitalist Pig: Let’s Start the Revolution.”
The barbecue sauces include (clockwise from top) the House sauce (made with liquid smoke that Buechele actually creates himself from condensation collected above the smoker, along with hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and cider vinegar); the Mustard sauce (his twist on a Carolina-style sauce); and the Sweet & Smoky (made with ketchup, vinegar, onions, and other no-tell spices).
The jewel in the crown, though, is surely the Blackberry Ancho barbecue sauce (top left), dark and thick like the plum sauce at a Vietnamese restaurant. It’s made with house-made blackberry jam, ancho chiles, and other goodies, and it would taste great even if you ran out of ribs and decided to dunk raw carrots into while standing in the kitchen. (Hey, these things happen.)
Buechele’s sides can get pretty creative, too. The unorthodox crispy potato salad (below left) is made with unskinned potatoes that are parboiled, diced, crisped in the convection oven, mixed with a fresh dill / fresh tarragon / caper / Dijon / house-made mayo dressing to order, and served at room temperature. The crispy cole slaw, like the potato salad, is not drenched in sauce but tossed lightly. “White bean” baked beans (below right) are made with pinto beans, house-cured salt pork, molasses, and a touch of Fitz’s Root Beer.
Buechele promised that in addition to the basic “four proteins and four sides” he’ll be doing off-the-menu monthly and seasonal specials in the future. At last night’s soft opening, he showed off a taste of what’s to come: a sinful maple-bourbon porkbelly, braised greens clotted with pork bits (both below), porcetta made with pork shoulder rather than pork loin, and house-made, crisp, sweet-and-sour pickles. He also plans to sell brisket and pork by the pound.
Capitalist Pig is, for now, is a restaurant with no seats. It’s carryout only (and Buechele welcomes phone-in orders), but the owner says he will eventually dedicate a few tables within the Mad Art space to the restaurant. Buechcle says he envisions “ramping it up slowly, from carryout to online orders to delivery to a small area for dedicated seating.”
Those who know Buechele can pretty much guess how this all came to pass – by dint of hard work and research, which is how he transformed an Art Deco-style police station into an art gallery/event space in the first place.
“I’ve been prepping for Capitalist Pig for a year,” he said, “with research, experimentation, and blind tastings. It’s also the culmination of a lifetime of eating out and forming opinions, especially at all the restaurants I’ve tried since I met my partner Jane [Tomich]. Sometimes we would be eating out, and I would look at something on my plate, and just start thinking, ‘what if I smoked that?’…”
It doesn’t hurt that he and his staff have been catering for large functions at Mad Art for some time.
Buechele (at left, dishing maple-smoked white cheddar and gruyère mac and cheese) also noted his personal history of working for various area caterers and restaurants, and what he calls his “penance” – trimming bread, peeling beans, and performing other grunt work “endlessly” to help create large meals with his Sicilian family as a child.
His new enterprise is enabled by a staff that boasts current and former employees of Brasserie by Niche, the Royale, Mangia Italiano, the Shaved Duck, and Duff’s.
Traditionalists may balk at some of Buechele’s unorthodox innovations, but, he said, there is no American region that can claim any kind of definitive right to real barbecue tradition.
“There’s always been some type of barbecue, in every culture,” he said. “Whether you’re talking Asians, Central Europeans, Americans, everybody fixes up some kind of roasted meat, and though the smoked, Southern-style barbecue has been the gold standard in the U.S., you can go further back and find so much more. I’m looking at barbecue as a culinary method, but that’s just a starting point.”
The starting point for Capitalist Pig’s neighborhood customers might just be the aroma from the smoker drifting through the streets. Once you smell that smoke, you’re like Bugs Bunny, helplessly drawn through the air to the source of the magic.
It can be a dirty magic, though. The notebook I used to write down my impressions from the Capitalist Pig is dotted with grease stains, and I could not be more proud. Those aren’t grease stains, really – they’re souvenirs from a Disneyland of meat.
The Capitalist Pig
Enter on the Lynch Street side of Mad Art
Open Mon - Fri, 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Carryout & phone-in orders only
Open for business beginning Monday, Oct. 8
Update: In a mass email sent not long after publication, Buechele announced that the opening had been postponed due to a difficulty sourcing sustainable meat.
Update #2: As of October 22, Capitalist Pig is once again open.
capitalistpigstl.com (in development)
On Facebook: The Capitalist Pig
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