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Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Smokey John's Bar-B-Que (Dallas, TX)
About a month ago I went to the Smokey John's location on Gaston full of anticipation, only to find the building demolished. Their website currently still lists both the Gaston and Mockingbird locations, so I'm not sure what's going on exactly. Undaunted, I decided to drive over to the Mockingbird Smokey John's for lunch today.
According to the signage out front, as well as above the single cafeteria line you go through for both businesses, Smokey John's shares their space with something called Ruth's Famous Tamales. I was immediately reminded of an episode of The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon, concerned for his dry cleaner's lack of focus on a singular craft, says, "Did you notice the sign on his counter? He's not a full-time dry cleaner. He also makes keys." Giving Smokey John's the benefit of the doubt, I assumed that the same people weren't cooking both the barbecue and the tamales, but it was still a little concerning.
I had originally wanted to sample Smokey John's beef sausage, which is one of the only sausages they make in-house (the other being their garlic beef sausage). Unfortunately, they were out of both varieties of beef sausage, even though it was only 11:15 in the morning. They import their pork sausage from Snook, Texas, so I guess that alternative would have to do. Smokey John's 5-meat "Full House" was pretty tempting, but I decided not to over-order and instead opted for a 3-Meat Plate of ribs, pork sausage, and brisket, with potato salad and sweet potatoes on the side.
The sweet potatoes were nice and soft, with a great taste of cinnamon and sugar. They were also cooked really well, crumbling apart in my mouth. The potato salad had good flavor, and was creamy and crunchy at the same time. It could have used a little more in the spice department though. My main complaint with the sides is more with their plating rather than with the flavors. The sweet potatoes are served along with all of their underlying juices from the pan, which inevitably spilled over into the potato salad. This kind of ruined the bottom portion of my potato salad, so I just ate the top half and left the rest to wallow in the sogginess.
I started my meat trio with the sausage, which had a great, audible snap to the casings. It was only slightly smoky, and most of the flavor I found was from the cracked black pepper. Part of the sweet potato juices had also made their way onto my sausage slices, which was actually a really tasty collaboration. The cinnamon and sausage together tasted more like a breakfast link, a surprise that I rather enjoyed. The pork sausage might not have been homemade, but at least they cooked it well.
The brisket came in much thinner slices than I usually receive at barbecue joints. I had asked the knife man to make my brisket fatty, and although the brisket had some good fat to it, it was definitely a leaner cut than I was expecting. It had a nicely seasoned crust, but sadly the crust was the only part of the brisket with any smoke to it. I was pretty disappointed with the overall lack of flavor here.
For some God-forsaken reason, Smokey John's cuts their spare ribs in half, separating the rib bone itself from the rib tip (or, as Texas Monthly's barbecue editor Daniel Vaughan affectionately calls it, the "knuckle"). The two bifurcated ribs that came with my combo plate looked really sad, as if half of the meat had been removed and/or fallen off. The meat itself was tasty enough: slightly sweet, though not much smoke. The modicum of meat on the rib bone was cooked well and was very tender. The meat on the rib tip, however, was rather tough and hard to chew. I don't want to unfairly slander Smokey John's, but the ribs seemed like they might have been reheated from the day before. I hope not.
I'm sad to say that the sweet potatoes were my favorite part of this meal. Maybe I should have ordered some of Ruth's tamales instead.
UPDATE (July 1, 2015): Today I received a message through my Yelp account from Brent Reaves, co-owner of Smokey John's. Mr. Reeves apologized for the less-than-stellar food I'd eaten at Smokey John's over two years ago, and he invited me back to the restaurant for a free meal. My wife and I had also relocated to Nashville more than a year ago, but better late than never I suppose. Were I still in the Dallas area, I'd consider giving Smokey John's another try, but it wouldn't be pre-scheduled and it certainly wouldn't be on the house. Nevertheless, I appreciated his apology and I wish them the best of luck.
Smokey John's Bar-B-Que
1820 W. Mockingbird Ln.
Dallas, TX 75235