Barbecue joints are known for being rustic, but owners of Bully’s Smokehouse in Edwardsville are taking a different approach. The restaurant is in University Pointe II, a relatively new shopping center near Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Pendulum lights hang from high ceilings with exposed beams and fabric swatches. Walls are painted deep gold and burnt orange. Accents range from ironwork to contemporary flower arrangements. Waiters even light candles at night.

“We wanted it to be a little nicer atmosphere,” said co-owner Al Brinley, 56, of Maryville. “We wanted more than just a wagon wheel hanging on the wall.”

“It’s a place you can bring a date and not feel embarrassed,” added his wife, Clara, 54.

The Brinleys opened the restaurant in 2006 with their daughter and son-in-law, Candace and Shawn Orloski. They also have a Columbia location.

Barbecue is king on the menu. Pork steaks, ribs, shredded-meat sandwiches and other choices are served with four sauces: Midwest Sweet, Texas Tang, Carolina Mustard and The Heat.

“Our smoker operates 24 hours a day,” said Shawn, 38. “We only use green hickory. It comes all the way from Cape Girardeau. They don’t cut it until I order it. (The wood) makes it hold temperature really well. You get a lot of smoke flavor, and it keeps the food moist.”

Bully’s placed second for best barbecue in Sauce Magazine’s reader’s poll and third in the Riverfront Times poll this year.

“I think we’ve got the best pork steaks in (the St. Louis region),” Shawn said. “No one else can touch us. They’re 24 ounces, an inch and a half thick and fork tender.”

Sides range from green beans and hush puppies to baked sweet potatoes and fried corn on the cob.

The restaurant also serves steaks, fish, burgers, soups, salads, appetizers and homemade desserts. Shawn has won several awards for his chili in local cookoffs.

“Our food is super, super fresh,” he said, noting bread is delivered daily and chicken tenders are hand-breaded, not frozen.

“A girl from my Bible study makes our cheesecake,” Clara added. “They’re awesome, but I can’t guarantee that they’ll be here every week. She’s a busy lady.”

On a recent weekday, customers included five men from Stewart Painting who eat at Bully’s about twice a week.

Andrew Christian ordered the Texas beef brisket sandwich with potato salad ($7.39) and a bowl of chili. His boss, Steve Stewart, went for the half-pound Bully Burger and salad with homemade ranch dressing ($7.35).

“It’s the best barbecue in town,” said Andrew, 27, of Edwardsville. “It’s always good. You never have to worry about it being burnt or anything. And the chili’s the best around.”

“I guarantee if you come here, you’re going to get a good lunch,” added Steve, 41, of Edwardsville. “And since we come here so often, we know all the servers. We like to tease them.”

Clara and Shawn manage Bully’s. Candace is a dental hygienist, and Al is a welder for AmerenUE.

A drive-through window will open later this month in the old Dave’s Joe building on Illinois 159 in Maryville.

Customers at the Edwardsville restaurant can see hints of the Brinleys’ strong Christian beliefs. A sign on the window reads, “America, prayer is our only true hope.” The private party room is called “Praise the Lord.”

“We have a prayer box out (in the vestibule),” Clara said. “People can put names in there, and we pray for them. I try to pray every morning for the people whose names are in the box.”

On the menuAward-winning ribs — Half a slab, slow-smoked St. Louis style, served with two sides and garlic bread, $12.99 ($18.99 for full slab).

Southern-fried catfish fillets — Farm-raised, hand-breaded with seasoned cornmeal, served with two sides and garlic bread, $10.99.

Big Al’s nachos — Crispy tri-colored tortilla chips with pork and beef, chicken or chili topped with white American cheese sauce, $7.49.

Feast for four — Half-pound of Texas beef brisket, half-pound of Georgia pulled pork, a whole hickory-smoked chicken, full slab of ribs, eight sides and garlic bread, $55.49.

Cobb salad — Smoked ham, turkey, bacon and boiled egg with mixed greens, onion, tomato, homemade croutons and provel cheese, $8.49.