Smoqued California Barbeque
128 North Glassell St.
Orange, CA 92866
Barbecue has always mystified me. Why is it always so much better in other parts of the country? I mean enough people in California have come from other barbecue rich parts of the US, so surely they could use their expertise to open a great barbecue joint like the ones we have seen in Texas, Kansas City, and the South. California is a wasteland when it comes to barbecue. Sure there are some good places, but they are far and few between. To show how bad it is in the Golden State, when we went to Florida earlier this year we had a layover in Dallas, coming and going. The barbecue that we had in the airport was way better than almost anything you could get in OC. When airport food is better, something has got to change.
The thing I find most frustrating about barbecue restaurants is the lack of consistency. Some places have really good tri-tip, but then their ribs are awful. The pulled pork could be excellent, but then the brisket is bad. Inconsistency gets kicked up to another level when you throw the barbecue side items into the mix. It seems a lot of restaurants out here like to specialize in one particular barbecue item, instead of doing all of their barbecue items well. I was really hoping this was not going to be the case when we visited the new barbecue kid in town, Smoqued California Barbeque.
Smoqued is located in Downtown Orange. It replaces Beach Pit BBQ, which are closing locations at a record clip. I haven't made it to Beach Pit yet, but now there are only two of them left. Smoqued has been open since September. On their website they claim to cook their meats low and slow in a wood-fired pit. We got here on a brisk December night around 5PM, and the place was buzzing with activity, but we did not have to wait for a table.
The vibe at Smoqued was pretty welcoming. The restaurant is dominated by brick walls and high ceilings that show off the wood beams above. Not as big as I had imagined, they maybe have twenty or so tables. The tables are pretty close together, and might need to be spaced out a little more. We kind of felt like we were eating on top of people. By the time we left, this restaurant was packed and had a wait at the front door. Enough about the atmosphere at Smoqued, let's check out the food.
After reading about one of my favorite, local food writers visit to Smoqued, I knew I would start my meal with the Chingaderas ($10.99) Over at Stick a Fork In It, the great Dave Lieberman wrote about this interestingly named appetizer, which you can read about here. I have never seen anything like this on any menu. Cream cheese jalapeno, wrapped in bacon, with shrimp and dates, then deep fried. Yes, you read that right, all of these items deep fried. When I heard about this appetizer I could not imagine it. I thought there was going to be too many big time flavors in this, that they would all cancel each other out. That was not the case. We got little bits of all the ingredients, all in different bites of this. The sweetness of the date, along with the brininess of the shrimp, the heat from the jalapeno, and the saltiness of the bacon, all came in different waves of this appetizer. We would definitely get this again, but be aware that there are only three of these to an order, so if you are here with four people or more, there could be some fighting as to how to divvy these up.
Starting up the entree portion of our evening will be my Dad's choice for dinner, the Smoqued Brisket Sandwich ($10.49). The brisket here is joined by caramelized onions and placed on a Challah Roll. The brisket was in bigger pieces than I had thought it would be, which made eating this sandwich a little more awkward. My Dad had mixed thoughts about this sandwich. He really liked the toasted Challah roll, and the caramelized onions, but he felt the meat lacked flavor and was too fatty. He did not detect a smoked flavor from the meat. He said he would get something else next time he was here.
Another parent another sandwich. Apparently my parents love to get sandwiches in barbecue restaurants. My Mom had the Smoqued Pulled Pork Sandwich ($9.99). This sandwich usually comes with cole slaw on it, but my Mom got it on the side here. She liked the taste of this sandwich, but would have liked the pork to be shredded a lot more than it was. She felt the meat was moist and had a nice mellow flavor, but the cole slaw was very bland. I tried it as well, and could not detect any sort of dressing on this. Tasted just like shredded cabbage.
Tacos at a barbecue restaurant? It does kind of make sense, and it was Katie's selection for dinner. The Street Tacos ($9.49) came three to a plate, and were filled with pulled pork, cole slaw, and avocado sauce. She was gracious enough to let me have half of a taco, and I was surprised how good these were. The pork was very moist, the cole slaw added a good crunch, and the avocado sauce was very smooth and flavorful. I also liked that they put plenty of peppers and pickled cauliflower on the plate, even though Katie is averse to heating up her food with them. With any sandwich or taco entree, you have the option of getting a side for $3 more, or just 99 cents off of the regular price. Big time bargain. Anyways, Katie took advantage of this by getting the Deviled Eggs with Smoked Bacon. She really enjoyed these deviled eggs. The bacon at Smoqued is one of their claims to fame, and she really enjoyed this different take on the breakfast staple, bacon and eggs.
Readers of this blog know that when I got to a barbecue restaurant, I almost always get a combo meal of meats to sample. This is the best way to sample a little bit of everything. At Smoqued I got the Choice of Three Meats ($21.99). I selected the beef jalapeno sausage, beef brisket, and baby back pork ribs. All three meats were pretty good. I liked the sausage,, but did not get a lot of the jalapeno flavor from it. The casing was well made and the inside of the sausage had a rich, meaty taste. The brisket was very tender and had just the right amount of fat on it for my taste, although I can see how some people would not like this much fat on their meat. The baby back ribs were very solid. The meat cleared the bone, with just a little tug. The rub was pretty good, and added a good amount of flavor.
Another thing I liked about the meats at Smoqued was that they came out without sauce. I like the option of adding my own sauce to barbecued meats. At Smoqued they had three sauces available on the table. Their Backyard BBQ, the California Gold, and the spicier Hab Raz. I actually liked all three of these to a different degree. My favorite was naturally the Hab Raz, which was a, you guessed it, habanero/raspberry concoction. This combination worked well together. The sweet raspberry and the spicy habanero kept each other in check. I am hit and miss when it comes to mustard, and I assume that the California Gold sauce must be mustard based, but it was still a solid and unique sauce. I probably liked this one second best. The Backyard BBQ was okay, but did not strike me as anything special. I liked that all of these sauces were different from each other, so you could experiment with what went well with each type of meat.
I guess I got a little side tracked here, but with my dinner I also got to choose two side items to try. I went with the Amazing Mac and Cheese and the BBQ Beans. The macaroni and cheese was good, but nothing set it apart from others I have had. The cheese coated the noodles well, and the bread crumbs on top were a nice touch. The beans were a different story. I liked the uniqueness of them. These are not an overly sweet baked bean, they are more robust in flavor. It appears that they use two types of beans in here, and the consistency of this was more like a soup. Not a bad side item.
It used to be that you could only get cookie skillets at BJ's, but that is not the case anymore. It seems like almost every restaurant we go to has a version of this dessert on their menu. At Smoqued they call theirs the Chocolate Cookie Skillet ($6.99). This is a pretty standard version of this dessert. The cookie was a little under cooked, but that helped us eat this easier. The chocolate fudge sauce could have been thicker. This sauce was just a basic chocolate sauce. I did think that they put plenty of ice cream on this, and I was thankful for that since we were eating with my Dad, and he has a tendency to hog all the ice cream. Just kidding big guy.
I left Smoqued liking it, but not loving it. There were some hits, (the meats, the chingaderas, the tacos, and the beans), but there was also some misses, (the mac and cheese, the big hunks of meat on the pulled pork sandwich, and the dry cornbread that I forgot to mention that came with my meal). The one thing that bothered me the most about this restaurant was the serving sizes, for the amount of money they charge. If you look at my plate, and ask yourself how much this plate costs, you would never guess it was over twenty dollars. Four ribs, a sausage link, and two strips of brisket does not work out to twenty dollars. Yes, side items are included, but even these were on the small size. The mac and cheese came in a six inch skillet, and the beans were not served in a very large container either. I know that barbecue is a very labor intensive food to make, thus the higher prices, but the servings could be bigger for what you are paying. Also, a side item for a ten dollar sandwich would not be too much to ask for. They do give the option of getting a side item for 99 cents less than the original price, but even that is too much for two deviled eggs. The service was pretty strong on the night we were here. Jericka was our server, and was running around making sure things were running smoothly for us and a good majority of the restaurant. We will be back to Smoqued. I liked the California spin on their barbecue, and I am looking forward to seeing how this young restaurant grows.
Out of five grapes, (because before the orange groves took over in Orange, the farmers most successful crop had been grapes used for raisins), five being best to zero being worst, Smoqued California Barbeque gets 3 grapes.
To find out more information about Smoqued California Barbeque, click here: http://www.smoquedbbq.com/Default.aspx