When David Stidham leaves his restaurant in New Baden, he carries the odor of smoked meats with him wherever he goes.
“Mmm, you smell good,” a woman told him recently at the checkout.
“You must like barbecue,” he told her.
David, 50, spent years developing smoke and flavor profiles for his award-winning briskets, pork and chicken. His meats earned him Illinois State Champion honors in 2015; and he was sixth place overall at the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational (in Lynchburg, Tenn.) that same year.
He’s now opened A Fine Swine in New Baden, just down the road from his parents’ home. His brother, Doug, works with him as well and on a Friday afternoon was prepping the smokers for an expected busy weekend.
“This place is meant to be barbecue,” David said. The interior has wood plank walls and stone floors in the dining room. “It’s just not positioned to be a pizza and wing joint.”
He’s leasing the building at 423 W. Hanover Street for three years, and has an option to buy it.
Open only four weeks, he’s already thinking of an expansion, starting with patio tables on the lawn out front in the spring.
He says customers are raving about the Championship Pulled Pork ($3.95 for a quarter pound, $6.95 for a half) and Competition Ribs ($15.95 for a half-rack, $25.95 for a full), as well as the smoked chicken ($5.95 for a leg quarter or $9.95 for a half chicken) and Texas Brisket ($5.25 for a quarter pound, $9.95 for a half pound.) Sides include french fries, baked beans with brisket, and a sweet cornbread mini loaf with honey butter (each $3.25). There’s nachos, sandwiches, desserts, a kids menu, and a beer and wine bar.
David’s competition background pervades everything at A Fine Swine, from the light smoke that greets visitors at the front door, to the championship smoker in the dining room and the staffing requirements. Someone is at his restaurant 24 hours a day so that the chicken, pork and beef are all served fresh no matter if it’s lunch or dinner. The overnight pitmaster is putting brisket into the smoker at 1 a.m., so it’ll be fresh and ready for the day’s dinner crowd.
“It’s a lot harder to do it that way,” he says, with the chicken alone requiring brining, airing and smoking that takes a total of 22 hours.
“Every day I have people say that’s the best bone-in chicken they’ve ever had,” he said.
His competition reputation with a friend of a mutual friend inspired Brandon Quarles to drive an additional four hours from a funeral in Ohio back home to Sequin, Texas, just to try a meal.
“There are five 5-star barbecue restaurants in our area (in Texas), and I’ve never eaten barbecue this good in my life,” he said.
Brandon got the sampler, which has pulled pork, a chicken quarter, ribs and brisket ($18.95) as well as the Southern-style slaw, loaded baked potato salad, creamy mac and cheese and baked beans. He didn’t add any sauce to the meats, saying “didn’t need to. The flavor profiles were so good.”
David uses different woods for different meats: pecan and cherry smoke the pork and ribs; hickory for the chicken, and post oak brought in from Austin, Texas for the beef brisket. He’s particular about the cuts of meat, using only certified Angus prime for the beef brisket. He uses premium pork as well with the racks of ribs being at least 3, more often 3 1/2 pounds, he says.
But coming back to Southern Illinois from Wisconsin, where his wife and sons are still living until the family’s home is sold, he had to add one thing to the menu: pork steaks. It went on the Wednesday menu after the first night, when the restaurant sold 60 meals in 2 1/2 hours.
John Esenhower recently introduced his wife, Dawn, to the restaurant. John had been there several times already, trying brisket and pork. On Veterans Day, the Wesclin educators tried the ribs.
“The food is really good,” he said, appreciating that A Fine Swine is a “new and close and different” restaurant.
A Fine Swine
Location: 423 W. Hanover Street, New Baden
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m Tuesday through Saturday and to 2 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.
Information: 618-588-5141, www.afineswine.com
David Stidman has won a number of barbecue competitions around the country. A sample from the professional barbecue circuit:
▪ 2015 Illinois State Champion
▪ 2015 Wisconsin State Champion
▪ 2015 Sixth place overall at the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational, including third place overall for sauce
▪ 2013-2016 Grand Championship Sauce in 19 states