We live a far piece from the supposed epicentre of continental culture, which has its good and not-so-good aspects. When it comes to food/restaurant trends, we’re often a step or two behind the zeitgeist of the moment.That said, when it comes to American barbecue, Edmonton has been in the mix for decades. As in the case of so many cuisines, we have hard-working immigrants to thank for that. Smokey Joe’s, a west side institution for years, came here via its namesake, an unforgettable character from Oklahoma who worked the tables like a southern ward healer, with a massive gold star of David dangling from his neck. It was the real thing — Joe even imported his wood from the mother church down south, as it were.There have been many culinary and commercial ups and downs in that storied, complicated milieu since Joe’s faded from the scene. That includes Smokehouse BBQ, which began as a food truck and then opened up an agreeable brick-and-mortar place on 124th St. some years back. It lasted for a while, through variously quite-decent and barely-acceptable kitchen iterations, depending on who was cooking. And then, it disappeared, as restaurants do.It took a while for some of us east-siders to discover that Smokehouse had moved world headquarters farther west from 124th to an unassuming (!) and somewhat mysterious strip mall unknown to your correspondent and two lifelong (west-side) Edmontonians in my party. We weren’t even sure what the neighbourhood is called, which is kind of cool. (Turns out it’s located in the Mayfield neighbourhood.)It’s almost always a good thing to report about a local business that survives a bump and re-emerges elsewhere, as is the case here. It’s also a one-night-a-week venue for local musicians playing original material, which is terrific and valuable. And I see their truck in the parking lot, which offers (in theory) a palatable moveable alternative to the burger-and-fries same-old.
Smokehouse BBQ, located at 15960 109 Ave., offers southern-style barbecue in Edmonton’s west end Mayfield neighbourhood.
It was a chilly, semi-wet-and-miserable Wednesday night when we chose to revisit Smokehouse, and unlike the alleged summer evening, business was not brisk. The room is pleasant enough, with a huge (lone?) star on one wall and that signature duded-up chopper in a corner, along with an attractive bar and a tiny stage to the rear. The knick-knacks are well chosen and add to the jolly vibe.Our server, a total pro throughout, took our drink order — a modest selection of fairly-priced beers, wine and cocktails — as we selected a couple of appetizers from the menu, which reels you in nicely.We opted for the “house specialty,” the bacon bomb ($13.95) and battered cauliflower florets ($13.95). Each was quite tasty, especially the aptly-named bacon bomb, which might just live up to its moniker if one chose to consume this bacon-wrapped pork meatloaf stuffed with more bacon, pickled jalapeños, cheese and BBQ sauce on a regular basis. As a splurge, it’s pretty nifty and also appears as a main course, which you might consider. The cauliflower was respectable too, finding a sort of sweet spot in the breading, with an appropriate chipotle mayo dip.“Sorry, but we don’t have any ribs tonight,” announced our server. Say what? Now, this doesn’t compare with the time in Edson when we were informed at a Chinese restaurant that they had run out of rice. True. Or, there was another time in Edmonton when an alleged, now mercifully-defunct, Mexican café didn’t have any avocados.But in a barbecue restaurant with a classic meat menu (pulled pork, chicken, brisket, sausages), the lack of St. Louis-cut pork ribs (beef ribs only on Fridays and Saturdays) available on a Wednesday seemed odd, and a touch offputting. Ribs are prominently featured (“nobody does ribs like us”) on their website.So we opted for the Southern fried chicken sandwich ($15.95), half-pound Carolina pulled pork platter ($13.95) with pit beans ($3.95), parm and garlic fries ($4.95) and Texas brisket sandwich ($16.95), along with a little cast iron skillet of cornbread ($3).The results were mixed. On the positive end, the sides (sandwiches come with fries) and cornbread were uniformly very good, although the management might want to consider offering greens (collards, and certainly kale, spinach and green beans are easy to procure) and a side salad for those of us who don’t want to cap off an evening in west Edmonton with a trip to the Mazankowski.It wouldn’t be fair to denounce either the chicken or beef brisket sandwiches. But I won’t lie to you — they were fine, if unexceptional and served on pedestrian buns. We were a bit disappointed. And the pulled pork — strange, since this simple dish is now ubiquitous — was an outright waste of time, and not so easy on the eyes, at that. And vinegary Carolina BBQ is my favourite. It must have been an off night. The array of house-prepared sauces helped, but the hackneyed lipstick on the pig analogy seems to fit.The desserts — sticky toffee pudding ($5.95) and chocolate pecan tart ($6.95) were OK, but nothing to get too excited about.All that said, Smokehouse is the kind of community spot you’d like to have in your neighbourhood. It’s not the best ‘cue in town by any stretch, but it covers a lot of bases in a feel-good kind of way. You hope this local independent keeps on smokin’. Smokehouse BBQLocation: 15960 109 Ave.Dinner for two without liquor: $50 and upContact: (587) 521-MEAT