Smoke restaurant review…

…let’s just get to the food (I referred to the decor as “…the TGI Friday’s of BBQ.”). 

Nowhere was the catfish, oysters or gumbo they advertise. I asked the cashier what was in the boudin balls besides “pork and rice dressing.” At first, she said it was just pork and rice. “The dressing isn’t like stuffing? It doesn’t have any bread in it?” The confusion was visible on her face. I tried to clarify, with no luck, and ordered the pulled pork taco. “No tortilla,” I requested with a smile. Again,  visible confusion. I explained I am allergic to flour and couldn’t eat the tortilla. She also didn’t understand when S asked if any of the beers in the cooler were local. “…PBR is our house beer?” I opted for water.

We seated ourselves outside and took in the ambience. It entailed a good 10+ children running around, and being yelled at by their parents to stop running. I had the pleasure of informing S that yes, cornhole was a real game – family appropiate. While waiting for our food I sampled the three sauces, labeled “spicy,” “sweet” and unlabeled, but clearly mustard. “Well,”  I arched my eyebrow (not really. I wish I could do that.) “That’s a whole lotta nothing special.” The sweet and spicy tasted the same, except the spicy had pepper flakes in it. “I’d have a hard time believing these were house made – they have that corn syrup sweetness to them.” As my pork “taco” came sauced, I had no further use for them.

Our food arrived and, after I returned from asking for silverware back at the register, we dug in. Some kind soul in the kitchen thought to put my pork taco on a bed of (bagged) salad. The ramekin was full of sour cream, but the “fresh avocado” was the epitome of a dollop.  The pork was completely unremarkable. I just had nothing good, nothing bad, nothing to say about it. I’ve had cold baked beans out of a can that were more interesting than my taco’s side of them. A generically sweet, bland taste. It was almost insulting, the straight-up Sysco flavors we were getting…

S agreed about the abject mediocrity of the pork, further musing it had a “confit” flavor to it. Later in the evening, as we discussed favourite cuts, recipes, etc. I pointed out the meat was probably so greasy because it was reheated leftovers, hence the fatty, greasy “confit”-like flavor. He completely agreed. He said the fried squash was, again, nothing remarkable. On our way out after ordering we’d passed a kitchen worker coming in with a bag of it, frozen – so, also not house/fresh made. It did look more squash than batter, though; points for that.

K had the trio. Salty ribs, chicken and the same pulled pork as S and myself. I liked the collards alright – they, at least, seemed fresh – but K said they hadn’t been salted enough. He had nothing to say about the chicken. Neither ate their cornbread. The boudin balls weren’t spicy at all, more like hash and rice rolled into a ball and deep fried – a little too long. The spicy, stone ground mustard they came with was one of the best flavors of the meal – at least, one of the most flavorful.

We finished just in time to escape the entertainment (a guy with a guitar and amp and classic rock covers) to head back to town and assuage our disappointment with bourbon. End verdict: style over substance, connections over quality and a complete waste of a trip. I could see how families would definitely enjoy a restaurant where the kids can play outside and not fidget at the table, and I think it might be the only BBQ in Blythewood.

If you want BBQ around Columbia, my choice is Lil’ Pig*, S’s is Palmetto Pig and for some reason, K frequents Doc’s – all three of us amicable to Hudson’s.

*Why Lil’ Pig is my top choice:

Good and varied sides: I don’t like over-cooked, over-salted, mushy vegetables such as one usually finds on a buffet (esp. a BBQ buffet). Lil’ Pig has a great variety that never tastes like it was poured out of a 20 gallon can into a heating dish.

The meat: There’s a lot of it. In addition to the BBQ, there’s ribs, fried chicken, pork chops…probably one or two other things I can’t eat, and fried fish. I usually eat the fried fish, as it’s just a nicely-seasoned cornmeal rub (ie, gluten-free). The pork chops are also lightly breaded, as fried chops are wont to be, but the proprietor is pleased to cook you up some gluten-free ones.

Staff is constantly refilling the trays on the buffet, indicating food is cooked near-to “order.” Never had a dry, greasy fish filet cross my plate.

The BBQ: I’m not a sauce person. I think if you’re going to cook meat, cook good meat, cook it properly, and let it speak for itself. Lil’ Pig has vinegar, red and yellow BBQ on the buffet and, if you get there early enough, a whole pig on its buffet, laid out with a pair of tongs. IE, the aforementioned cook meat, cooked properly. You just grab the tongs, pick out what you want, and give it a tug. Gross, no? Also delicious.

We didn’t stick around for dessert at Smoke, so I don’t know what they have, but Lil’ Pig has good banana pudding and some sort of chocolate thing I can’t eat, due to the Oreos innit. The pudding also has Nilla wafers innit, as they know what the heck they’re doing, but there’s usually a little bit I can taste, untouched by cookie. I don’t even really like banana pudding, but I like their’s.


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One Response to “Smoke restaurant review…”

  1. S Says:

    Hard ride, soft opening. Listed as opening at 5:30 pm on a Website that promises a wide array of Louisiana–Mississippi Delta–influenced meats, seafood, craft beer, and a so-called “swine bar,” I rolled into a sleepy Smoke at 6 pm after a hot ride down from NC. First thing I saw was an outdoor bar surrounded by picnic tables. Sounds like a good place for a beer before dinner, but I’m, first, ignored, and then, told the beer was still warm. On a warm, spring, Friday night after work. The beer is still warm. Really?

    We walked into the dining room and things continued to diverge from the Web ethos that had lured me there. The first menu you see is a scrawled subset of the paper menus lying around. Neither proffer any seafood or much elaboration on the Cajun theme, and the chalkboard offers a scaled-down selection that either is or isn’t all they have to offer that night—hard to say. M asks about their signature Boudin Balls, and the front line cashier/waitress/hostess can’t offer a clue about what they’re made of. I ask for a local craft beer, and I’m told PBR is the house brew. Really?

    At this point things are getting a little tense between me and our darling waitress, so I buckle down and try to order. In my rush I don’t see the collards listed in the fine print but missing from the glaring chalkboard in front of me. My loss. I order the pulled pork, green beans, and fried squash.

    I’m getting wise (and fat) in my old years, so I ordered the small. I know how they eat in SC, and I’m starting to fear they’ll make up with quantity what has so far been missing in quality. Wise choice. I get a plate of BBQ that was fatty to begin with, and after sitting under heat lamps for hours, had taken on a greasy po’ man’s confit flavor. The green beans and fried squash tasted and looked about as local as that morning’s Sysco truck—the beans cooked to death and the squash wrapped in a tasteless wheat flour batter. Really.

    Smoke started in a lazy haphazard manner and followed through in like fashion from order placement to fulfillment. Claims of Cajun cuisine, fresh seafood, local meats, and craft beers were obfuscated, unclear to coworkers, and, ultimately, unfulfilled. Really.

    PS: While Palmetto Pig has my favorite BBQ *sides* in Columbia, no one’s pork has yet taken the Columbia honors.

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