Smoken’ Joe’s Authentic Southern Barbeque

It's time to turn up the heat
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  October 10, 2007
1.0 1.0 Stars
THAT’S DA BOMB Jalapeño bombs are delicious eating at Smoken’ Joe’s.

Smoken’ Joe’s Authentic Southern Barbeque | 351 Washington Street, Brighton | Open Mon, 5–10 pm; Tues–Sat, 11:30 am–11 pm; and Sun, 11:30 am–10 pm | AE, MC, Visa | Beer and wine | No valet parking | Sidewalk-level access | 617.254.5227
Barbecue is slow food. You wouldn’t have told Otis Redding to sing faster, so take a hint from him and slow down the cooking. At least that’s the unsolicited advice I offer Smoken’ Joe’s.

There’s a lot that Smoken’ Joe’s does right: the meats have a smoky flavor; the sauces and sides are fun; the fried food and desserts are terrific; the music is classic soul; and the décor is none too fancy. The hole in the doughnut is that all the meats we tasted had the bland flavor and crumbly texture of pre-poaching. This is an excellent way to make soup, though it leaves the barbecue not only falling-off-the-bone tender, but lacking the juicy flavor of real slow-smoked (look for the red ring) barbecue. A quick fix is to pre-bake instead. Since Smoken’ Joe’s does have a smoker, the real fix would be to take the time to smoke at a low temperature.

That said, all of the appetizers were fun, especially the “jalapeño bombs” ($6.99). These are chilies stuffed with cheese, then breaded and fried; they are delicious at about one silhouette of hot. Three crab cakes ($7.99) have a sneaky bit of heat, and the mustard-y rémoulade sauce nudges it further on the chili meter. Cajun-grilled shrimp ($8.99) brings four large ones in the shell. Grilling makes them chewy, but they’ve been basted, so it’s worth fussing with the shells. You can even dip them in some Memphis barbecue sauce. The chili ($3.99) has both pinto and black beans and nice chunks of slightly smoky beef, but, unfortunately, uses a lot of tomato, in the Boston style.

The poached-flavor problem was again evident on the “Smoken’ Joe’s Sampler” ($18.99), which consists of ribs ($10.99/one-third rack; $13.99/half rack; $21.99/full rack à la carte), a smoked chicken quarter ($13.99 à la carte), and a heap of pulled pork ($11.99/ à la carte; $7.99/sandwich). The ribs were the best, because even poached ribs have a nice, fatty flavor. At least the sauces remained good. The Memphis variety is what you might expect as barbecue sauce. Hot Memphis adds Tabasco (a bottle of which is on every table). Honey barbecue looks like ketchup and tastes like honey. Alabama white is similar to a hotted-up ranch dressing. (It’s also the dip for the jalapeño bombs.) North Carolina mustard is vinegar-based, and there is also “Kansas City sticky.” Back to our platter, though: the chicken was decent, but the pulled pork really lost texture, since it, too, was poached. Shredded poached pork has the texture of oatmeal.

All dinners come with corn bread (yellow, fresh, and excellent) and two sides. My favorites were green beans, which tasted fresh, and potato salad with egg and onion. Macaroni-and-cheese had that processed-cheese flavor, and baked beans were good but sweet, again done in the Boston style. The cole slaw is average. And Wendy’s wicked dirty rice ($2.99/à la carte; $1 extra as a substitute side order) wasn’t dirty enough — no liver in the mixture. It’s a dark pilaf with meat, nuts, and raisins.

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