Restaurant review: Smoked on High
“Barbecue and chandeliers” sounds like the memoir of a country music star, but it's my thumbnail sketch of what to expect at Smoked on High.
Open since August in a still-being-refurbished Brewery District house with a porch and a courtyard patio, Smoked on High has a Victorian-era setting and those decorative lighting fixtures, but it's more quaint than fancy.
Yellow metal tables like you might find in a diner, plus well-used wooden communal tables like you might find in a high school lunchroom, plus a carved wooden staircase like you might find in an old movie join exposed-brick walls and a pine-plank floor in the modest-sized dining area. Because the chandeliers are joined by stronger lighting sources, it's as bright as a coffee shop inside.
Getting food is generally fast and easy, thanks to cafeteria-style service and a small menu with four smoked meats and three sides. For owner Max McGarity, who has food-truck roots from two other businesses — Buckeye Back Ribs and Papaya BBQ — this represents a case of staying with what you know.
And McGarity clearly knows his barbecue. All the meats I tried here, which are advertised as locally sourced, were impressive.
A server informed me that both the brisket and the pork shoulder are cooked “low and slow” over oak and hickory woods for about 15 hours before being sliced to order for heaping sandwiches. Both meats feature an intensely dark, seasoned bark that, along with no small amount of fat, is incorporated with the meat when piled onto a big and puffy, cornmeal-dusted roll.
Served with pickles and pickled onions on the side, these are delicious sandwiches, and you can't go wrong with either. If pressed, I'd give the edge to the pork ($6.50), if only because it costs less than the brisket ($8).
Like all serious barbecue, the brisket and pork are full of flavor as-is, so sauces are best applied sparingly. Three house condiments are offered: the tangy, Carolina-style “Gator,” which has a hint of sweetness to balance its bold mustard and vinegar notes and goes great on the pork; the semi-sweet “Pucker,” a thick-and-spicy sauce that tastes like it's spiked with sriracha and is best on the brisket; and the tomato-based “Sweet Whiskey,” which is perfume-y and has a whiff of cumin.
The latter is designed for the two smoked meats not sold as sandwiches: Pork Spare Ribs and “Chicken Drummies.” The Drummies ($5.50 for 2), which are drumsticks so big they might be called “gongsticks,” are coated in an aromatic herb-and-spice rub that lends them a jerk chicken-style flavor, albeit without the fiery chili heat.
The spare ribs are among the best around. My half-slab order ($14) featured bones so huge and meaty that it was enough to leave two people with shiny smiles and very shiny fingers.
Any meat or sandwich can be served as a “platter” for a $3.50 surcharge. The extra cost entitles diners to an innocuous cornbread muffin and a more memorable serving of fresh, black pepper-livened slaw that strikes a nice balance between sweet, creamy and zippy.
“Max N Cheese” is available as a substitute side on platters ($1) or a la carte ($3). It's soft macaroni flavored with plenty of melted cheese and an unusual profusion of herbs. I only wish it had a sauce. And I wish combo meals were offered with half-and-half meat servings that enabled diners to easily play a delicious game of compare and contrast.
But if your wish is high-quality barbecue enjoyed in a fun setting with a cold bottle of beer, such as a Lone Star ($3) or a Land Grant ($6), Smoked on High will make that wish come true.
Smoked On High
755 S. High St., Brewery District