High-end joint with low-end of­fer­ings

‘Smoke’ in the name but not the meat; set aside these sides

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Taste - By Mike Sut­ter STAFF WRITER msut­ter@ex­press-news.net | Twit­ter: @fed­man­walk­ing

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.

Mav­er­icks: N/A

Pho­tos by Mike Sut­ter / Staff

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.

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