WHY SMOKE: The menu is the first clue: coffee-cured beef brisket and fennel seed/sweet paprika chicken sausage. The decor is the second: distressed leather banquettes, white modular molding on the ceiling, campy ’70s-era portraits in gilded frames. Third is the location: North Oak Cliff’s Belmont Hotel, where its bar, with stunning skyline views, is the preferred address for Dallas’ hip happy-hour glitterati. But perhaps it’s the overheard comment from the woman seated at the next table that best reflected my first visit to Smoke: “All I know is that I expect a big plastic cup full of sweet tea when I eat barbeque and didn’t get it.”
Bingo. For you see, Smoke is far from just another barbeque joint. Yes, chef/co-owner Tim Byres knows his way around a smoke pit. He recently traveled the South, tasting smokehouse fare to perfect his menu of meats. The research shows: North Carolina pulled pork, Memphis-style dry-rubbed ribs, Texas beer-can chicken. But along with co-owners Chris Zielke and Christopher Jeffers of Bolsa fame, Byres has fashioned something truly unique. The restaurant’s cool factor is off the charts, while the food is both familiar and ambitious. Let’s call it smokehouse haute.
WHAT TO EAT: Carnivores will be happy with all the aforementioned meats, particularly the chicken sausage with its slow burn and flecks of fennel seed. Meats are ordered by the sandwich, half, or full pound on a cleverly designed Scantron sheet complete with No. 2 pencil. Sides are ordered the same way. Standouts included a chunky potato salad with chopped egg and barbeque pinto beans mixed with smoked sweet corn. Only the lackluster blue cheese, jicama, and cabbage slaw disappointed. It seemed watery and wimpy. Another letdown was the overly aggressive EB&D Loaded Up and Truckin’ burger: a Burgundy Beef patty topped with lettuce, tomato, house-smoked bacon, sharp cheddar, and a frittered poached egg all on a griddled honey bun. The beef and cheddar would have made a fine burger on their own; the egg and flabby bacon were simply too much. Byres rebounds nicely with his salads, featuring greens from Smoke’s own garden and local produce. Roasted mushrooms and pickled green beans tossed with balsamic-blackstrap molasses vinaigrette were a savory hit. And make sure to save room for dessert. Smoke’s homemade pies are big enough to share, with flavors such as rosemary-caramel-apple-pear, molasses-pecan, and mescal-key lime meringue.
Yes, Smoke is a deliciously unique hybrid. But lest you think it neglects the basics of Southern cuisine for foodie flourishes, I offer one last overheard comment from a fellow diner: “I’ve been eating fried catfish for 38 years and this is the best I’ve ever had.” Well said, sir, and well done, chef Byres.
THE LOWDOWNSMOKE: 901 Fort Worth Ave. 214-393-4141
THE FOOD: Gourmet smokehouse
THE COST: Average lunch entrée price $13
WHO’S THERE: Tim Flannery, Monte Anderson, Brandt Wood
FULL BAR: Yes
THE POWER TABLE: Table 29, a four-top next to the fireplace that overlooks the main dining room.