By SUSAN ERICSON
Yes, there’s Lino’s Café on Shrewsbury Avenue, which despite PieHole’s efforts somehow doesn’t get the notice it sorely deserves. And still we heard the mantra, the whine, the plea: “Red Bank needs barbecue.”
Well now, in the space at West Front Street and Rector Place most recently occupied by Delfini’s Gourmet Catering, Local Smoke BBQ slips in with the requested goods.
On a recent midweek visit, What’s For Lunch finds adults and teenagers filling tables and grabbing take-out. “The smoked wings are by far the best we’ve ever had,” says customer Amy Broza, a devotee of Local Smoke’s Neptune location.
Well, that’s an endorsement we’re here to put to the test.
Owners Eric Keating and Loren and Steve Raab changed the space from a deli to a sleek, modern restaurant with avocado-accented walls and rustic reclaimed wood components. The resulting vibe is fast food joint meets comfortable and charming interior.
Our cravings were instantly satisfied with an appetizer of slow-smoked jalapeno poppers. Front-end manager Zoe Sorrentino explains that the jalapeno, already a fairly tame chili pepper, is made even more so by removing the seeds and membranes. Stuffed with cream cheese and pulled pork and then wrapped in spiced bacon, it’s then smoked for 45 minutes.
The result is a complete lack of Scoville-detecable heat from the pepper, making this dish appealing to the most timid palate while imparting a full-on smoky bacon flavor that stays with you.
We also tried the Texas brisket sandwich ($8),with the meat chopped instead of sliced and piled high on a roll that sops up some of the BBQ sauce. The first bite elicited a moan of complete satisfaction. It is tender, moist and savory, with a smoky essence that sits on your lips like a flame-kissed afterthought. A squirt of astringent, pucker-provoking Carolina sauce raises the flavor profile to extraordinary.
An array of condiments in a basket give you an opportunity to taste Local Smoke’s original thick and sweet barbecue sauce; a thinner vinegar-based North Carolina sauce that award winning pitmaster Steve Raab says is a Piedmont-style sauce; and a newer spicy sauce he’s trying out that we didn’t find very spicy at all. Should you want more heat, though, just grab one of the two commercial hot sauce options from the basket.
Side orders at $3 each were worth it. Stewed in a peppery vinegar-laced brew, the collared greens with bits of pork have complete southern integrity, while the macaroni and cheese is a joyful ode to childhood. Both are a nice counterpoint to the strong, smoky meats.
The fried pickle side dish, a southern snack staple that’s shown up recently on local pub menus, is not to be missed here. Thick, diagonal slices of tart dill pickles are coated with crunchy breading and then deep fried. Dip it in the accompanying ranch dressing and you get a memorable mouthful that is crispy-crunchy-salty-creamy and tangy.
With two other locations in New Jersey, Red Bank reaps the rewards of experience. Open just a few weeks, Local Smoke BBQ has worked out its kinks and makes good.
Local Smoke BBQ is open from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, and until 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.