THAT’S DA BOMB Jalapeño bombs are delicious eating at Smoken’ Joe’s.
Barbecue is slow food. You wouldn’t have told Otis Redding to sing faster, so take a hint from him and slow down the cooking. At least that’s the unsolicited advice I offer Smoken’ Joe’s.
|Smoken’ Joe’s Authentic Southern Barbeque | 351 Washington Street, Brighton | Open Mon, 5–10 pm; Tues–Sat, 11:30 am–11 pm; and Sun, 11:30 am–10 pm | AE, MC, Visa | Beer and wine | No valet parking | Sidewalk-level access | 617.254.5227|
There’s a lot that Smoken’ Joe’s does right: the meats have a smoky flavor; the sauces and sides are fun; the fried food and desserts are terrific; the music is classic soul; and the décor is none too fancy. The hole in the doughnut is that all the meats we tasted had the bland flavor and crumbly texture of pre-poaching. This is an excellent way to make soup, though it leaves the barbecue not only falling-off-the-bone tender, but lacking the juicy flavor of real slow-smoked (look for the red ring) barbecue. A quick fix is to pre-bake instead. Since Smoken’ Joe’s does have a smoker, the real fix would be to take the time to smoke at a low temperature.
That said, all of the appetizers were fun, especially the “jalapeño bombs” ($6.99). These are chilies stuffed with cheese, then breaded and fried; they are delicious at about one silhouette of hot. Three crab cakes ($7.99) have a sneaky bit of heat, and the mustard-y rémoulade sauce nudges it further on the chili meter. Cajun-grilled shrimp ($8.99) brings four large ones in the shell. Grilling makes them chewy, but they’ve been basted, so it’s worth fussing with the shells. You can even dip them in some Memphis barbecue sauce. The chili ($3.99) has both pinto and black beans and nice chunks of slightly smoky beef, but, unfortunately, uses a lot of tomato, in the Boston style.
The poached-flavor problem was again evident on the “Smoken’ Joe’s Sampler” ($18.99), which consists of ribs ($10.99/one-third rack; $13.99/half rack; $21.99/full rack à la carte), a smoked chicken quarter ($13.99 à la carte), and a heap of pulled pork ($11.99/ à la carte; $7.99/sandwich). The ribs were the best, because even poached ribs have a nice, fatty flavor. At least the sauces remained good. The Memphis variety is what you might expect as barbecue sauce. Hot Memphis adds Tabasco (a bottle of which is on every table). Honey barbecue looks like ketchup and tastes like honey. Alabama white is similar to a hotted-up ranch dressing. (It’s also the dip for the jalapeño bombs.) North Carolina mustard is vinegar-based, and there is also “Kansas City sticky.” Back to our platter, though: the chicken was decent, but the pulled pork really lost texture, since it, too, was poached. Shredded poached pork has the texture of oatmeal.
All dinners come with corn bread (yellow, fresh, and excellent) and two sides. My favorites were green beans, which tasted fresh, and potato salad with egg and onion. Macaroni-and-cheese had that processed-cheese flavor, and baked beans were good but sweet, again done in the Boston style. The cole slaw is average. And Wendy’s wicked dirty rice ($2.99/à la carte; $1 extra as a substitute side order) wasn’t dirty enough — no liver in the mixture. It’s a dark pilaf with meat, nuts, and raisins.
The Smoken’ Joe sandwich ($8.99) brings a good portion of brisket. It’s poached again, but brisket stands up better to the poaching process. Plus, it had a nice, smoky flavor, so this was still fair country eating. A brisket platter is $12.99, and one of “burnt ends” — probably an even better bet — is the same price. The hamburger ($7.99) consisted of good meat on a nice bun, but it came well done when we ordered it medium-rare. You can also get fried catfish ($13.99) but not fried chicken, and there’s absolutely nothing but side orders for damn-Yankee vegetarians.
Smoken’ Joe’s has a short but choice list of drafts, including Samuel Adams Boston Lager ($3.75/12 ounces) and Octoberfest ($3.75). Both were clean and cool, though with barbecue, the edge goes to the fuller-bodied Octoberfest. Non-alcoholic options include lemonade and Harpoon root beer. Desserts are made by Petsi Pies of Cambridge and Somerville. They aren’t huge, but they are choice. Tops was the Key lime ($4.49) with the true wild-lime flavor, lemon-chiffon color — never eat a green Key lime pie — and graham-cracker crust. But there was nothing wrong with the slightly chunky sweet potato pie ($3.99) or the Bourbon-chocolate pecan pie ($3.99).
The room is a simple storefront with white-laminate tables, red walls, a blond-wood floor, and framed photos and concert posters of blues and soul greats. In keeping with that theme, the music is all soul, and mixes some obscure Curtis Mayfield songs with some well-known hits by Sam & Dave.
Servers at Smoken’ Joe’s are both attentive and charming, and offer helpful opinions about matching sauces. The crowd is young and doesn’t know barbecue, but they’ll get into the real stuff over at SoulFire on the other side of Allston/Brighton, if not on treks to the great Southern revivalists of Cambridge and Somerville, or the African-American traditionalists of Dorchester and Mattapan. Adjustments must be made for this restaurant to succeed, but so much else at Smoken’ Joe’s is authentic that I am optimistic they will re-que, so to speak.
Robert Nadeau can be reached at RobtNadeau@aol.com.