STL Rib House: A World Champion’s Super Smoky Ribs Debut Again in St. Louis
For the past few weeks, a noteworthy change has been happening at a restaurant you’ve driven past a thousand times but maybe never noticed. The standard fare at the Highlander Pub and Grill (visible on Oakland Avenue from I-64, south of Forest Park, next to the Hampton Inn) is making way for barbecue from one of St. Louis’ patriarch grillmasters. The signage hasn’t caught up yet, but the smoker is most definitely full fueled.
What Terry Black brings to the crowded local barbecue scene isn’t a new-fangled approach. He smokes everything with apple wood, unassisted by gas, and finishes it up with sauces that may taste a bit familiar to fans of Super Smokers BBQ. That’s because Black founded the chain 20 years ago. Its sole remaining location is in Eureka, which is a bit of a haul—but the new venture is practically underfoot for visitors to the central corridor of attractions like zoo and science center.
The menu starts off with burgers, smoked briefly and then grilled for “the best of both worlds.” The next category is BBQ—and while it’s true that pretty much every dish on the whole menu has some kind of smoked meat in it, the dishes in this category deserve a spotlight. There’s the St. Louis ribs, marinated and dry-rubbed, then rotisserie-smoked over apple wood and finished with sweet sauce. There’s the baby back ribs, also dry-rubbed and rotisserie-smoked; the shrimp, marinated, smoked and sautéed; the candy salmon, marinated, covered in brown sugar and smoked; and my personal favorite, the smoked prime rib, dry-rubbed and smoked to medium-rareness, then sliced and served with horseradish and aus jus dipping sauces.
More may be coming—for example, the owner has mentioned burnt ends and whole hog roasts in media interviews. Our server was careful to point out that the menu was still in flux for the next few weeks as the transition from the Highlander to the STL Rib House winds down.
My vegetarian son is an easy sell for barbecue restaurants because they nearly always have a tasty mac and cheese variation for him to try. He gave this one a thumbs up too, even though he had a hard time placing the flavors—not surprising, because the sauce turned out to be a blend of Velveeta, Provel, Cheddar and mozzarella.
His brother, who got all the carnivore genes, hardly ever has room in his belly for anything besides the meat. He made an exception for the sweet potato fries, swiping a steady stream off my plate throughout the meal. Instead of salt, they’re sprinkled with sugar, a surprising enhancement to their crispiness and fluffiness. Our server told us they’re her favorite thing on the menu too, and had the Saturday special of smoked prime rib not been so outstanding, we might have agreed with her.
Baked beans are another classic barbecue side, and these fit the bill, with chunks of pulled pork and a rich, sweet sauce. The potato salad gets its kick from Miracle Whip, which may explain why we found it to be an acquired taste. The white chili, on the other hand, wound up on several plates thanks to a bounty of smoked chicken in a thick cumin-flavored base.
A few favorites from the Highlander menu remain, including pub pretzels, potato skins, garlic cheese bread and fish and chips. Many others have been barbecueified via the addition of pulled pork, chicken or brisket from the smoker—like the nachos, chicken philly, turkey wrap, quesadilla and baked potato.
The Highlander’s owner, Bill Liebe, is still along for the ride; Black, with his world championship cred from a Memphis in May victory in 2000, is the managing partner. Black’s reputation will keep STL Rib House on the map for serious barbecue fans.
Tips for a top-notch experience at STL Rib House
Top dish: The perfectly pink STL ribs, marinated and dry-rubbed, then rotisserie-smoked over apple wood.
Popular pour: Hops, citrus and apple cider all pair well with barbecue—and the bar offers variations on all of them.
Best place to perch: With 12 huge TVs, the wide-open dining room offers views of every game pretty much everywhere.
Insider tip: Go for the Saturday special of smoked prime rib—it will be the highlight of your week.
Where to go
STL Rib House
5656 Oakland Ave.
Hours: Sun.-Thurs. 11am-11pm, Fri.-Sat. 11am-1am