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Jul 31, 2011 09:20 PM

Smoke City bbq: NOT

I don't mean to offend on a personal basis, and I do appreciate that taste is indeed personal but anyone that thinks that Smoke City bbq is good genuine bbq, ate there when they were really really hungry, just has not eaten lately at Bludsoes, or Phillips or a lot of other good bbq places here in LA or in Texas, or in Kansas City et seq., or maybe has a financial interest in the venture or knows someone that is an investor. (Someone will question what I mean by "genuine". I can't define it but you know it when you see it, and eat it, to paraphrase the famous line.)

First, in my opinion, there is Bludsoes, which reigns as #1, there is Phillips which is #2, and then there is the rest.. But Smoke City was a whole different animal. It is like some corporate entity decided that "Texas bbq" was going to be the next fast food craze, and tried to emulate it first on a computer, than in real life. The look of the place, down to the fake coke coolers, belongs in Disneyland, as does the food. The pork ribs, which Jonathon Gold said "sucked", indeed sucked. They were of bad taste, and so salty, they were barely edible. The brisket, which others, Gold included, have fawned over, was over cooked, tasteless, and simply not even in the proverbial ballpark as a place like Bludsoes. The beans and potato salad were ok, but the slaw was of Ralphs bulk quality. Putting the slices of white bread on the tray, was laughable; again, some corporate execs idea of what a bbq place is supposed to do.

Let me say that the one positive is that the place is clean and the staff was friendly and nice.

Someone might say that we ate there on a bad night and to give it another try. But our experience was so bad, that we wouldn't think of giving this place another chance. Not when places like Bludsoes and Phillips are within driving range. Hope Smoke City did not sign a long lease.

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  1. Those things you criticize as corporate affectations are exactly what you'll find in central Texas joints that have been around for 100+ years. The slices of white bread, the antique coke coolers, the butcher paper instead of plates, the picnic benches, are all hallmarks of Hill Country barbecue joints like Louie Mueller's, Kreuz Market, Black's and so on.

    Smoke City might be aping the look and feel of those places, but they're copying those elements that make central Texas barbecue unique. The really old school BBQ places were meat markets that sold raw meats as well as smoked meats by the pound, on butcher paper. No plates, no utensils, just smoked meat seasoned with salt and pepper that you unwrapped and ate with your hands. You might get a few slices of white bread, but more often, those places gave you saltines and maybe a few slices of pickles.

    Tastes vary and to each his own here, but me personally - I liked all the meat at Smoke City: the brisket, served either "dry" (the flat), "moist" (the point) and the "cutters choice" (that part of of the brisket comprised of both) were seasoned with a minimal, salt & pepper rub, and smoked heavily. It's exactly how they do it in central Texas.

    We tried the hot links, shipped in from Kreuz Market in Lockhart. They were awesome. The turkey breast: moist, smoky, and perfectly seasoned. We tried the pastrami, which ain't Texas-authentic in any way, but it too was cooked very nicely. It wasn't steamed as in a deli, just smoked as far as I could discern, so the corned-beef-cure flavor was fairly strong.

    The baby back ribs were smoked w/o foiling which gives them a nice bark. I don't think they sucked. I thought they were very very good. No sauce at all on the ribs. If that's your expectation, then you're gonna be disappointed. They were a touch on the overcooked side because they were falling apart. That might have to do with the way they hold meats: wrapped in plastic wrap to keep the moisture inside, and held inside their Alto-Shaam to keep it hot. Again, I'm ok with that if I eat BBQ in a restaurant. I understand why they do it, and unless you're gonna smoke your own BBQ, you'll just have to live with the meat you're served.

    As far as the sides: what I tried I thought was ok, about on par with most places I've been to in Texas, which is to say, meh. They're not putting the same effort into the sides that they put into the meat, but that's par for the course. I'm ok with that too.

    Bottom line: I liked Smoke City a lot.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Professor Salt

      I don't have a dog in this fight, but I do wonder how much effort it takes to make potato salad and cole slaw.

      1. re: sushigirlie

        Going to a BBQ restaurant for the sides is like going to a sushi restaurant for the edamame. It's nice when they put in an effort, but it's not important to me personally. YMMV.

      2. re: Professor Salt

        No comment on the beef ribs? The ginormous, overpriced, insipid logs of neanderthal shtick?

        I love Wonder Bread (and the tchotchkes) as much as the next gent in Crenshaw, but $35 for whatever we got that day bordered rape. And they treated us like they were doing us a favor. Inglehood (or Atwater Village) cue or bust.

        1. re: TonyC

          Forgot about the beef rib. They were forgettable.

          Massive, long bone cut from the short rib. Lots of meat. Overcooked and mushy again because of how they held them. Seasoning was ok, though, and the smoke flavor was good and prominent, however.

          Overpriced? Have you ever priced out a rack of 3-bone short ribs? Even at wholesale, it's borderline criminal. At wholesale, a 3 bone rack of shortribs is $30 - 40.

          1. re: Professor Salt

            I liked the beef rib the one time I bought it, but I prefer the brisket. The brisket at Smoke City has always been fantastic and I also like their hot links.

            The baby back ribs, on the other hand, did suck the time I tried them.

      3. I think the pork ribs were fine. They weren't at all oversalted—maybe a bad batch. Not my favourite pork ribs but I don't love pork ribs anyway. The beef rib was... well, let's not mince words. If they'd cut off the meat from the beef ribs and told me it was the end of a pot roast I might have believed them. I liked the turkey, but it wouldn't occur to me to order turkey in a barbecue shack that specialises in beef. It was good, though—and I'd love to see them apply the same technique toward a pit ham.

        But the brisket was excellent, especially the "moist" brisket from the tip. I'd travel quite a distance for that brisket. I don't know that I'd drive past Bludso's for it, but if you're in, say, Pasadena, I'd drive the shorter distance to Smoke City. I certainly think it's better than Phillips, which has always been "it's okay for LA but it's not like the South."

        I loved the hot link. It actually had some texture rather than being an extra-smoky Hillshire Farms clone. I don't think I'd bother with the jalapeño hot link—the regular one was good enough.

        Finally, I think if they sold their pastrami to, say, Art's Deli on the down-low and Art's deli steamed it for an hour or two and then hand-sliced it and slapped it on rye bread, this board would be lit up by posts on "OMG THE AWESOME SMOKY PASTRAMI AT ART'S!"

        I don't care about the décor. I really don't. Good food can come from chintzy décor, viz. the very good country fried steak at Johnny Reb's, which, décor-wise at least, is the most overblown "down-home roadhouse" I've seen since Cedar Rapids. Prof. Salt is right—Wonder bread or its equivalents are pretty much what you get in Texas these days. Might be cut a little thicker for that "Texas toast" bread look, but it's the same thing.

        And no, I'm not remotely a shill, nor am I involved with the restaurant at all, nor had I heard of it until I was invited to try it as part of a dining group—I haven't even read Mr. Gold's review of it yet. I was, in fact, hungry, but I'd like to think that hunger doesn't blunt my critical faculties.

        9 Replies
        1. re: Das Ubergeek

          I have to second the pastrami. That was easily the most impressive item to me. I liked the moist brisket a lot and think at a certain point it's just splitting hairs and personal preference when comparing against some of the other top ranked LA briskets.

          But the pastrami, that first bite blew me away. I took some home for the wife, gently steamed it for a couple of minutes and it was just freaking luscious. I don't know if it's traditional, I don't really care. All I know is I like it a lot and I'd drive a long ways to get that pastrami.

          And I have been to Bludso's and Phillips lately. No I don't know anyone at Smoke City Market. But I do like Smoke City's moist brisket and links in addition to the pastrami. So I guess my tastes must just suck.

          Smoke City Market
          5242 Van Nuys Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 91401

          1. re: Jase

            i was particularly blown away by their moist brisket. had bludso's a week before that so the comparison was fresh in my mind.

            wasn't all that impressed with the pastrami. must have been just me. i did like the beef ribs a lot too.

            1. re: cdub

              In my limited experience, I don't think their pastrami is the same as jewish deli style. So I can see why some people wouldn't care for it. I liked it from the standpoint of the juicyness of the meat, good balance of meat and fat and then spicing that came with it. I liked the thick hand carved slices too.

              1. re: Jase

                i guess when i had it, i was expecting something along the lines of their brisket but with curing beforehand. langers but smoked is kind of what came to mind. it's definitely not deli pastrami.

                1. re: Jase

                  i decided to try the pastrami again and it was really good. no where near langers but since this is close to home and better hours, it's something worth getting. i saw the guy slicing some for someone else and decided to give it another shot. their moist brisket is really good and consistenly good. i've been happy every time i have ordered it.

                  1. re: cdub

                    Cool, glad you liked it. I haven't had Langers in a couple of months so my memory if fuzzy. From my recollection, Smoke City's cure is just different. Both are just two different kinds of animals to me and I like both a lot.

                    I was never consistently happy with Phillip's brisket and stopped getting it years ago. But I liked Smoke City's moist brisket.

                    1. re: Jase

                      Jase, the manager of the Phillips BBQ Centinela (the son of the senior Phillips) told me their sliced beef is tri-tip and not brisket.

                      I'm going to have to try the brisket at Smoke City. I like the brisket at Bludso's and Big Mista.

                      Centinela Cafe
                      4800 S Centinela Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90066

                      Phillips BBQ
                      11748 Central Ave, Chino, CA 91710

                      1. re: Norm Man

                        Norm Man,

                        Thanks for the Phillips intel. That would make sense then. I like my tri-tip rare. The beef I got at any of the locations at Philips was always dry and somewhat stringy to me. At best I'd think it's not bad. But more often I'd take a few bites and be annoyed.

            2. re: Das Ubergeek

              I'm truly sorry I did not try the pastrami since I love pastrami. Perhaps my view of the place would be different. But first impressions are often hard to get over.

            3. I don't know authentic Texas Hill Country BBQ, and I've never been to Bludso's. That being said, I like Smoke City's brisket (dry and moist). I even like their beans (and my wife likes their mac & cheese). I've never tried any of their ribs.

              So, while I can't compare it to many places, I like it, and it's just over a mile from where I live, while Bludso's is over 30 miles. I may not think it's "good genuine bbq," but I think it's "good bbq" (well, the brisket is anyway).

              2 Replies
              1. re: hhewitt

                Here in the SF Valley, I'm on the same "it's the brisket" band wagon as most of y'all. I think it IS overpriced but damn, for the makings of a smoked brisket sandwich, not much else cuts it. Significant is that (for those of us on THIS side of the hill) Bludso's is a two-hour round trip (on a good day) away whereas Smoke City is 15 minutes. Strikes me as a no-brainer.

                1. re: Steve2 in LA

                  I agree with the logic. In fact, it was because Bludsoe's was a longer drive for us, that we ended up trying Smoke City.

              2. not for nothing and I don't have a dog in this argument but if you are going to refer to Jonathan Gold, don't make things up to boost your point. He actually says it's really darn good, the only thing NOT being good is the pork ribs, that he claims are bad in every TX bbq joint anyway.

                Don't believe me - here's the link


                Here, I'll quote him to prove his point: "This is Texas barbecue and nothing but Texas barbecue: thick slices of brisket, salty and fatty, cooked long and slow with the heat from smoldering oak, then sliced and served au naturel. These are crackly, peppery, coarse-ground sausages smoked in hanging loops, hot guts that look like hot guts. These are beef ribs thick as Bibles and black as sin, a solid pound apiece. What Smoke City needs to get right, it does"

                Hey, sounds like a winner to me - I'm there.

                3 Replies
                1. re: dharmathug

                  "Here, I'll quote him to prove his point"

                  If quoting someone actually proved their point we would have A LOT fewer arguments around these parts... ;-D>

                  1. re: Servorg

                    true - it just seemed the OP only posted the 1 negative, so I was posting the positives. On second read, the OP did say Gold liked the BBQ but did not agree. So, yeah. Your point!

                    1. re: dharmathug

                      yes, I did quote Gold accurately. Gold liked the brisket as I stated; I just couldn't understand why. He did not like the ribs as I stated and with that I am in full agreement.

                2. My parents are in town, so we tried Smoke City the other day for lunch. My dad and I shared the brisket (dry) and my mom had a turkey sandwich. I guess I have to agree with the other posters--get the moist brisket, as the dry stuff is frankly that--too dry. I kept having to add sauce and hot sauce (more towards vinegary than hot) to eat it. The flavor was good and it had good smoke, but not much char on the outside. I haven't been in years, but I remember liking Dr. Hogly Wogly's nearby more.

                  As for the turkey sandwich: it's just turkey on a roll. In fact, it's sliced turkey with a split roll on the side. That's it. I guess this is authentic, which is fine; just be forewarned in case you were expecting the fixings.

                  Total damage was $32 (pound of dry brisket, turkey sandwich, small potato salad (good), and two IBC Cream Sodas), which isn't bad for three people to eat lunch and have a little brisket left over. For dinner, it's definitely a good deal, as long as prices aren't raised.