As the wife of an Alabamian, I know that occasionally The Better Half will get a barbecue craving. It’s okay. It’s a darn good thing that I like barbecue, because after we went to smoQ the first time, less than two weeks later he wanted to go again. And, in fact, we liked it so much that we’re going again tonight (with another Alabama ex-pat and her husband). Three times in about two weeks? And it’s in Springdale? That should tell you something.
smoQ is in the old Karlo’s Bistro space near the Springdale 18 Cinemas. It’s owned by Pete Zimmer, who opened Funky’s and partnered with Gary Burbank to produce Burbank’s (you’ll notice a few Burbank’s menu items on their menu, for example. Now, if he’d put the potato soup from Funky’s on the menu…) and Chef Brett Miles, formerly of DeSha’s. Zimmer spent a lot of time in Memphis and Mississippi researching barbecue, and pictures from his travels decorate the entire place. smoQ will smoke anything– they have smoked desserts, smoked-and-fried chicken, smoked tomatoes, smoked chicken in their chicken and dumplings, and smoked peach tea. “If it’s legal, we’ll smoQ it!” is their motto. It’s obvious.
First up? A look at their drink menu. Their bartender, Lindsey, spent some time at Tales of the Cocktail in July (it turns out that we were in some of the same sessions, which she pointed out in a comment recently) and I noticed a few of my favorite discoveries were some of hers as well. The menu includes an egg nog made with Cat Daddy, and a smoQin ‘rita, made with smoked salt, Dewar’s, tequila, triple sec, and fresh-squeezed juices. I think they could up the smokiness factor with a smokier Scotch, but it was a very smooth, good margarita. It’s rare to find a barbecue place that serves beer, much less cocktails, so it’s a welcome addition. Speaking of beer, they serve only craft beers, no macros– so no Bud or Miller.
We decided, the first time, to start with an appetizer: pulled pork potato skins. They were okay– the pulled pork was nice, but there was a bit too much potato, and not enough crispiness to the skin. It was the only dud of the meal– glad we got it out of the way early.
The first Saturday we went, there was a special on ribs– either St. Louis or Baby Back. The Better Half chose the St. Louis, and they were fantastic– just off the smoker, with a beautiful, sticky-sweet-savory crust, great seasoning, and that pretty pink smoke ring. They were also fall-off-the-bone tender, and the rub made sauce superfluous. Just look at them! Every entree comes with two sides, and that whole slab of ribs was falling off the plate. The sides were collard greens, tender, well-seasoned, and not cooked to the point of mushiness as well as some amazing, stone-ground grits. They had great texture, plus a good serving of cheese, bacon, and garlic. We liked them so much that when we went back, we both got them as a side. There were plenty of leftovers (which made an excellent midnight snack).
I decided on pulled pork, with a side of hickory chips (their own, freshly-cooked potato chips) and mustard slaw. I really enjoyed both the Carolina-style mustard barbecue sauce and the Memphis-style sauce (the “hot” sauce wasn’t bad either, but I preferred the other two). The pork had lots of nice, crispy ends, plenty of moist inside, and a good, smoky flavor that was complemented by the sauces. The chips were great–very fresh and crisp, and the mustard slaw was house made. This is a major pet peeve of mine– cole slaw at barbecue restaurants that comes out of a tub. Effort, folks! This is fresh and not too sweet or mayonnaise-laden, with a spicy pop of mustard.
Our excellent server talked us into dessert: smoked peaches and cream. The peaches were, as it is the dead of winter, not fresh, but the smoky flavor with the smooth vanilla ice cream was really nice. This would be absolutely stupendous with fresh peaches, but I don’t know that I’d order it again out-of-season.
So, last Saturday, we start the “what will we have for Saturday lunch?” debate. “smoQ,” decided The Better Half, and enticed me further by promising a Jungle Jim’s trip (where I purchased no end of random Asian flavorings for some cooking projects later this week). We drove up to Springdale and explored the fried side of the menu. No appetizer this time, but we did nosh on the cornbread. Okay, folks, this isn’t cornbread– it’s more like sweet, yellow cake (edited: there is butterscotch inside. It’s dessert!). I really wish that someone would do real, savory cornbread, but most cornbread in Cincinnati is sweet (as Cincinnati, as a whole, really likes sweet things).
The Better Half made a beeline for the fried catfish, which is apparently all-you-can-eat on Fridays. He loved it– great breading, moist fish, and huge portions, served with a remoulade sauce instead of a more traditional tartar sauce. You can also get the catfish with Cajun seasoning instead of fried for a healthier option. He got fries (apparently, it’s some sort of law that you must have fries with catfish– who knew?) and more grits. The fries were OK (crispy and golden and simple, which is fine by me).
I went with the chicken and waffles. The chicken was smoked, then fried, and accompanied by a pecan waffle. The waffle was good, but more cinnamon than pecan flavor; the chicken was outstanding. They were moist, succulent breast portions– sort of a chicken finger shape– with a light, fluffy crust. My sides were grits (yeah, we really liked them) and sweet potato brulee, which is essentially the old Burbank’s sweet potato casserole, if you’d had it before (sweet, lots of cinnamon, quite good and popular with good reason).
I think that my tweet, right after our first meal, sums it up best:
I can’t account for their brisket (as I am contractually obligated by Alabamian law to abide by the credo: “if it ain’t pig, it ain’t barbecue”), but the pork? Awesome. The sides? Great. The beverage list? Fabulous. It’s the best, all-around barbecue experience in town. You can experience it half-price at lunchtime through February, convenient if you work nearby. I’ll definitely be back–and I’m getting some of those ribs for myself. No sharing! On the weekends, there was a diverse crowd: families, couples, black, white, and a baby shower going on in their private room. Service seemed prompt for everyone, and I overheard them dealing with a nut allergy in a very positive way (folks, you have to tell your server if you have an allergy before you order).