Salt + Smoke

The dual culinary movements of barbecue and whiskey continue to gain traction around town. Case in point: Salt & Smoke in the Delmar Loop, which incorporates both of these tasty trends to fine effect.

Salt & Smoke formerly was Nico, the 'little brother' to Soulard's Franco, before switching over to a BBQ concept earlier this year; and the current incarnation retains its predecessor's upscale vibe, definitely less rustic than many of the BBQ joints we've visited of late--no rolls of paper towels on the table here. The food, though, stays true to the heart and soul of barbecue, though elevating some of the dissomewhat. A good example is the Fried House Pickles ($5), a variety of sweet and sour battered bites served with some flaxseed mayo for a bit more complexity than the usual deep-fried dills.

The menu has plenty of choices, from sandwiches to full plates. The best way to get as much of a menu overview as possible is through one of the Bestie Combos, which offer two meats for $14, three for $18 or four for $22, plus two sides and a Cheddar Bacon Popover (also available as an app). We got a couple of the two-fer combos in an effort to sample as much as possible. The complete tally of food brought to the table: fried jalapeno bologna, pulled pork, brisket, pulled chicken, garlic and herb fries, pit beans with smoked bacon, sweet pepper potato salad, coleslaw and the aforementioned popover. The only problem: Where to start? A pretty good problem to have!

The sides definitely were superlative, all of them pretty stellar in their own right, though the standouts were the pit beans and the popover. If you're looking for sugary, syrupy baked beans, look elsewhere. The pit beans are smoky and savory, with just a touch of sweetness for balance. Bacon has for too long been used as a fix-all for dishes that lack any discernible flavor to begin with. The cheddar bacon popover, though, uses bacon judiciously to add a bit of (dare we say) salt and smoke to the rich cheese and flaky pastry. These popovers, and a maybe couple of beers, would make a fine lunch all on their own.

We were told the fried bologna is smoked for 12 hours before making it to the plate, and it's definitely miles away from the version we whipped up in the dorm back in the day. The jalapeño in the bologna is subtle, providing just a bit of bite on the finish. It's a nice alternative to the more traditional sausages that are usually served up. Too often, the pig takes precedence at barbecue places, and other meats can get short shrift. We're happy to report this isn't the case at Salt & Smoke. The pulled chicken was juicy, tender and flavorful--quite possibly, the best chicken we've had at a local BBQ place.

Whiskey-wise, we found the spirits list at Salt & Smoke to be pretty well-curated; and it encompasses a lot more than just bourbons, like our favorite Irish whiskey, Red Breast 12-year.

We were certainly sad to see Nico go, but Salt & Smoke is all set to be a new favorite.

-- 6525 Delmar Blvd., 314-727-0200,

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