Any BBQ restaurant that has me in their seats critiquing their food is already at a disadvantage.
I am one of those kids who grew up on one particular BBQ restaurant, Russell's Barbecue in Elmwood Park. Every single BBQ place I try gets compared to that standard. In some ways that's hardly fair, because Russell's has been around since 1930. But in other ways, I just want to get some great BBQ that I don't have to drive more than an hour to pick up.
For this reason and more, I was rooting for to be that place. Really. I wanted it to be fantastic. In fact, I was so excited I went there when their doors were open, but they were not. I walked in on their training intending to have lunch.
Now that I have eaten there, here is what I think. The food was good. That's it.
But before we dive into the details, let's cover the things that Smoky's got right.
I arrived for my Dining with Dawn luncheon early. My dining companion Victoria Greene and I had had to reschedule from a previous week and we changed the time and I had forgotten. I sat down and ordered a water, but told my waiter, who I later learned was BBQ Bill (that's what he said his name was), that I may have the wrong time. I alerted him when I left and said I would be back in an hour.
When I arrived an hour later, BBQ Bill comes over with a fresh glass of water with lemon. He remembered my drink order. I was terribly impressed. I am always a good tipper because I waitressed all through high school and college, but this guy was amazing. And he continued with the top-notch service the entire time.
The second thing that Smoky's got right was the interior. Readers will remember this building once housed The Hot Skillet. As much as I loved the food there, the interior was terrible. Smoky's is minimalist, with cool BBQ decor on the walls. There is outdoor seating that looks really nice and the flow of the restaurant seems to work.
And one last thing they get right - they have a huge social media presence. While Greene and I did not choose the restaurant because of this, she was the perfect person to discuss it with. Green is one of the founding members of the
She and I dished on Facebook and Foursquare and Twitter while we dined on our BBQ.
I ordered the BBQ chicken and rib tip platter. The chicken was very good. The mild sauce on the table was good. It wasn't as smokey as the one the chicken was cooked in. I realize I prefer my sauce less smokey than most people, so I would not steer you away. The problem was with the sauce on the ribs.
The table has two sauces, a hot and a mild. I don't like spicy food. But the ribs seemed spicy and I think they were cooked in the hotter sauce. Maybe it was a fluke. Smoky's is new and I don't want to write them off yet. But I hope that's not the norm. Because if it is, I would never order the ribs again.
Platters are served with two sides, and for one of the choices I picked sweet potato fries. These were fantastic.
Greene ordered the pulled pork platter. She chose mac and cheese as one of her sides and she raved about it. She also said the pork was very good.
As we ate, each of us pulled out our phones and checked in. I did so on Facebook, she on Facebook and Foursquare. She explained to me that Foursquare is not only an application that allows you to check in, but also one in which businesses offer specials to their customers who check in. I downloaded the free app to my phone as we sat there. She also gave me tips on Twitter, which I am learning to love.
Greene owns her own business - Victoria Greene Productions - which provides social media strategies and services for businesses.
I would try Smoky's again. What they lacked in cuisine (and again, it may have been a fluke), they more than made up for in customer service. I think they are new and are learning. But what I appreciate is that they admit their mistakes publicly (they had a food shortage on opening day and admitted to it on Facebook), and they make an effort to get better.
I may never find a BBQ restaurant I like as much as the one from my childhood, but I am willing to give Smoky's another whirl.