When my wife suggested we go out for BBQ the other night, my first thought was, "In Louisville? What for?"
As a Louisvillian by birth, and someone who loves this city with a fierce conviction, I can honestly say Louisville is a below average BBQ city. In a place where great things are happening, establishments that serve good "low and slow" meat are few and far between.However, on this night my desire for that slow cooked goodness got the better of me. On went my shoes, which are soiled with dirt from the BBQ meccas of Texas, North Carolina, and especially Memphis, and out we went, to The Smokehouse BBQ at 5414 Bardstown Road in Fern Creek.
My normal expectation when entering a new BBQ joint is low. I have been burned so many more times than satisfied, and I find it impossible to be optimistic. On this night, though, my expectations were slightly raised due to the positive comments we heard while making our way to the door. Smokehouse is similar in atmosphere to many other BBQ restaurants: nothing fancy, just a comfortable atmosphere to enjoy your comfort food.
We entered and were promptly seated and attended to by a friendly host and wait staff. It wasn't long before our drinks and appetizer were sitting in front of us. My wife ordered the Bottlecaps, a fried jalapeno appetizer served with a strong spicy sauce, which she enjoyed.
Not being much for pepper-based dishes, I chose to focus on the five BBQ sauces that awaited taste testing. The first step of any BBQ experience involving sauce is to sample away to find the one or two sauces you are going to devote your carefully prepared meat to. I must say, Smokehouse's spread of sauces did not disappoint, all five sauces were worthy of consideration, but for this guy, sweet sauces always prevail, and the house sauce beat out the other four. Many BBQ snobs would have you believe that a great piece of meat doesn't need sauce. I think this world has room for both philosophies, but there is something magical about a piece of meat so good, it requires nothing to perfect it.
It wasn't long thereafter that our entrees arrived. We both had the two-meat platter, mine of sliced brisket and pulled pork, hers of ribs and chicken. Each platter came with two sides. I chose the baked beans and mac and cheese, she the sweet potato fries and green beans. Platters come with the choice of cornbread or BBQ bread, we both chose the cornbread. All the sides were above average except for the sweet potato fries, which my wife thought could be better seasoned. The cornbread was average, not bad, but certainly nothing to write home about. Cornbread is open to interpretation, and this version takes the sweeter path with a cake-like consistency.
Now on to the star of the show: meat. The first thing I noticed about the meat was a lack of smoke ring. This place is called the "Smokehouse," so there is a certain expectation with that name. Smoking is darn near an exact science: The longer you smoke, the bigger the smoke ring which, in this case, was almost non-existent. Not a good sign, but smoke is not the only factor in good meat. I dove right in to the pulled pork, first without sauce to get just the meat flavor. Although fairly tender, the lack of smoking was readily apparent in just a few bites. But, I already knew the pork could be salvaged with the tasty BBQ sauces sitting on standby. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for the brisket, which no amount of sauce could fully save. Although I appreciate the thick slicing over the more common method of thin slices or chopping, the flavor and tenderness just weren't there.
As for my wife's entree of ribs and chicken, it was similar in quality to my pork: enjoyable but not memorable, and severely lacking enough smoking time. I must give an honorable mention to the dessert selection, in which we participated with the chocolate cobbler. It wasn't anything special, but tasty nonetheless, and I wouldn't mind trying some of the other desserts on the menu.
In the end, Smokehouse BBQ was exactly what I expected: an average BBQ establishment in a below average BBQ city. It is neither the best nor worst BBQ in Louisville. However, when taking into account the whole package of great service, good side dishes, an above average dessert menu, good sauces, and reasonable pricing, I would have to say this place should be on your radar when you have the need to get a quick BBQ fix without breaking the bank. If I were to return, I would definitely avoid the brisket and put more emphasis on the sides, which were the highlight of the meal.
BBQ is all about the meat, and Smokehouse can and should do better, but as a whole, this restaurant gets good marks on everything else, and if you don't mind saucing up, you can have an enjoyable meal here.
Photos: Kachina Shaw