I had such a moment in St. Louis last week as I faced off with a sandwich at Sugarfire that was not only cunningly christened bearing in mind the presence of 40,000 nerds, but would also be the impetus for my inner debate of great food v. health. I am getting old, after all.
If you remember as far back as two years ago, I was in Kansas City and I wrote about five days of meat-sweats summoned by steaks and marrow at Anton’s, burgers and fries cooked in lard at Town Topic, and of course the burnt ends and ribs at Oklahoma Joe’s.
Above all I’ve missed the Midwest BBQ joints, and as I have been in St. Louis for the past three years with our robotics team at championships, I should have waited patiently in line to get another taste. Alas, with kids in tow, that just was not to be. The lines were too long, and casual service restaurants always seemed to fit the bill.
Lo and behold, when I found out that there was a renowned joint, Sugarfire St. Louis, a mere block from the Americas Center, it was an obligation of mine as a human – as a chef – to sample their wares. It was on my third trek that I would meet head-to-head with the sandwich that almost beat me: “The Revenge of the Curds.”
A messy and dangerous sandwich comprised of pulled pork, house-crafted bacon, fried cheese curds and sweet BBQ sauce, this thing was a beast. There were points at which I doubted my own ability to eat the thing, and I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been. Out of the two preceding statements, I’m not sure which one I’m more ashamed of, but I ramble.
On my first visit I met the owner Dave who was gracious enough to walk me to his ole hickory smokers on the street; yes, on the street. He worked with the city and permitted a shipping container that houses two of the beasts that help the group to smoke an astounding amount of meat day-in and day-out. Permanently installed, it seems a gift from the heavens for a food-driven maniac such as myself.
Next on my “meet the crew” adventure, I introduced myself to Chad, the kitchen manager and it was good to talk shop. Hell, it’s always good to talk shop when you love what you do. I told him that I was going to bring some of the team by after we packed out and when we came in, I met Casey the pit master. Just like a craft brewery or a fine dining restaurant, it takes a solid team to pull off what they are doing at Sugarfire.
Now, if you decide to make this sandwich, and I recommend that you do unless you are a vegan (which I respect as require by societal law) then bear in mind that the recipe below is my variation, as I don’t like to share restaurant recipes without permission. But, I’ve written about homemade bacon before, and how many times have I bored you with barbecue sauce? Dig through, or check out Steven Reichlen, Ted Reader or any of the myriad pros out there.
As for the fried cheese curds, which are a big thing in the Midwest and up North, I’ve found it easiest to locate a chef who buys curd to make fresh mozzarella or if they sell poutine on the menu. Then, a simple breading station and short deep-fry will fit the bill.
It was the sandwich that almost broke me, but I championed it, and I’ll win again because that is the red, white and blue barbecue way. And now that your smoke pit is getting fired up for the season, make sure you call me when you make this beast.
Copycat Revenge of the Curds
for 4 people
24 ounce Pulled pork BBQ (recipe follows)
8 thick slices of Applewood bacon
12 ounce Fried cheese curds (see article)
Sweet St. Louis BBQ Sauce (see article)
4 brioche buns
Butter, as needed
1. Butter the buns and griddle until the faces are brown and crispy. The rest of the roll should be soft, so don’t use oven
2. Sauce bottom of the bun and stack pork
3. Follow with fried cheese curds and bacon strips
4. Soak all of this gloriousness with some more sauce. Done
Pauly’s Pulled Pork
Makes about 3 pounds
4-pound bone-in Pork butt
1/4 cup Kosher salt
1 Tbsp. Cocoa powder
2 Tbsp. Granulated garlic
1 Tbsp. Onion powder
1 Tbsp. Dried thyme
1 Tbsp. Oregano
1 Tbsp. black pepper
1. Don’t try this on a piece of meat smaller than 4 pounds. If you do, it won’t yield the same results
2. Combine all spices well and rub over pork butt
3. Smoke butt with a blend of apple, hickory and cherry chips at 195F for about 12 hours
4. Check pork. It should shred easily and leave you with beautiful crust outside and tender, succulent meat inside
5. Keep warm until ready to serve