High-end joint with low-end offerings
‘Smoke’ in the name but not the meat; set aside these sides
Smoke BBQ Brew Venue started life in 2015 as a cheffed-up barbecue bistro called Smoke: The Restaurant up north on Sonterra Boulevard. In 2016, it expanded to St. Paul Square, with plans to go even bigger.
But the winds and name changed, the chef packed up, and now the restaurant is down to just the location at St. Paul Square, where it turns out Texasstyle barbecue and a few highminded plates in a space cased in dark wood, rough brick and an elegant staircase like a highend steakhouse with sports-bar TVs.
Grand champion: It’s hard to pick a winner in a barbecue restaurant where the “smoke” begins and ends with the name. I didn’t taste good pit smoke on any of the five meats for this report.
But at least the half-rack of baby back pork ribs ($14) wore a nice paprika-forward spice rub over a light bark, and the pearly white meat carried the right tension on the bone — neither fall-apart nor chewy — even if the taste had more in common with oven-roasting than pit-smoking.
The trinity: The other two parts of the barbecue trinity fell hard from grace, first with pale, grocery-grade sausage in a tough casing ($5 a link), then with hard-cooked brisket ($18 a pound) wearing a uniform of
dull brown and barely a sheen of bark or fat, even though I asked for marbled. It was part of a three-meat plate called the Pit Master, an underprovisioned board of chicken, pulled pork, brisket, two meager sides and an odd bowl of brisket chili that seemed like regular beans with brisket tossed in, because it registered zero on the chili spice scale.
But I digress. Point is: That plate was $19. That’s fine for top-grade barbecue these days, but this was not that.
More from the pit: With its shaggy golden coat of spicerubbed skin, I hoped for better chicken than a tough, dry leg and thigh ($6). Pulled pork ($12 a pound) had the right idea: flossy white meat feathering out from knots of bark like barnyard anemones. But it tasted as much like turkey as pork, with no smoke, no mop sauce, not even salt and pepper.
Poutine ($10) with tater tots, chopped brisket, chipotle mayo and a fried egg should be something to celebrate, an off-the-wall barbecue dish to praise for its rogue charm. But it just gathered and concentrated Smoke’s shortcomings in one dish of dried-out brisket, served lukewarm with an egg that had hardly even begun to set.
Sides: At $3 apiece, I expected more than shallow dishes of cafeteria-grade sides. But it got worse. Flavorless pinto beans, mushy coleslaw, boxy shells and cheese with an alien chile afterbite, hard-cubed potato salad and creamed corn that tasted like … vanilla?
Sauce: A decent sauce can smooth out the rough spots. Not all the way, but Smoke’s Carolina red brought a sweet-hot vinegar bite, while the basic table sauce sugarcoated the hard truth.
The pork ribs and Carolina red sauce get the highest grades. Clockwise from top left are pork baby back ribs, potato salad, house barbecue sauce, Carolina barbecue sauce, creamed corn, coleslaw, chicken, pulled pork, macaroni and cheese, pinto beans, sausage and brisket.
Poutine with brisket, tater tots, a fried egg and chipotle mayo didn’t live up to its promise.