This post is going to be slightly different than my normal restaurant review. The reason for the change is favoritism. Smoky Oak Taproom is my favorite chow joint on the island and features such an extensive menu that one visit does not do it justice. So yes, I'm telling you up front that I LOVE Smoky Oak, but that doesn't mean you should stop reading. In fact, somewhere in this blog are the winning numbers for the Mega Millions Jackpot.
The first thing you notice when you step into Smoky Oak isn't the fact there is half a car on the wall, nor the chiseled good looks of The Most Interesting Man in The World staring at you. Even the sight of 40 craft brews on tap isn't enough to capture your attention. Entering Smoky Oak means stepping into a haze of vaporized pork and beef goodness. The first tickling at the back of your nose from the airborne meat sends your salivary glands into overdrive. That freight train you hear is your stomach aching to gorge itself on the smoked carcass of some beautiful piece of meat.
I'll skip a review of the outside deck (large enough for cornhole) or the rest of the interior (looks like a BBQ joint that has been there twenty years), but I do have to get you there. Smoky Oak is a locals joint. Well down Camp Rd in front of the James Island Town Hall, it is far enough away from Folly Road that you don't have to worry too much about the black sock and sandal crowd. That doesn't mean the parking lot is going to be empty. This place stays full, especially during football and trivia, though their live trivia host is not the best (but that is a story for another blog).
Starting with the appetizers, I'm sorry to say I've only tried one, the Stuffed Jalapenos ($9). Even The Girl, notorious hater of all foods spicy, likes these. Whereas most stuffed jalapenos are filled with cream cheese or cheddar, battered, and deep fried, these devilish delights embrace the BBQ mentality to turn out an app covering all 4 major food groups. 1) Spice. They carve out some truly massive jalapenos for stuffing. 2) Shellfish. They then stuff said jalapenos with crabmeat. You read that right, crabmeat. 3) Pork. They then wrap the crabmeat stuffed jalapeno with applewood smoked bacon. 4) BBQ. They then take the pork wrapped crabmeat stuffed spice bag and throw them in the smoker. If you don't order these, you are not my target audience.
I am an admitted wing nut. I haven't tried the Smoky Oak wings. I'm sorry, but there are just so many great things that I want to eat over and over on this menu. My first sample was the Cuban ($8) slow roasted pork, spicy ham, pickles, roasted garlic aioli, spicy mustard, swiss on cuban bread, served with a side (I'll go ahead and say order the fried okra whenever they say pick a side). This is an inspired take on the classic cuban, with the pork giving a hint of smoke that melds with the garlic aioli into a Mighty Morphing Power Ranger of taste. The bread is crisp and perfectly pressed, and it provides a stable if slightly messy platform for the sandwich. All together a great choice.
For the longest time the go to dish for The Girl has been the Regular Pulled Pork Sandwich Combo ($6). I always advise going for the regular on the sandwich or the platter unless you are training for a competitive eating world record, as the portions are Ruthian in size. The veritable mountain of pork on even the sandwich ensures that you will not leave on an empty stomach. The Pork is served naked with your choice of Red Rib sauce, Chipotle BBQ, Carolina Mustard, and Hopped up Vinegar. I'll leave the discussion of why mustard sauce is an abomination for another column. The pork itself is nicely smoked, with subtly sweet and earthy undertones. Though I have had, and made, better pulled pork, Smoky Oak delivers a sensational plate of Que.
My dinner of choice is usually regular Beef Brisket ($9). The problem with reviewing the platter is my thesaurus fails to give me enough synonyms for massive, for that is what it is. This is brisket in the Southern Texan style, with a deep rich smoke ring and fork tender. If you have ever been to No Name in Pasadena Texas, you would be familiar with this plate of beef love. Pile it atop the cornbread muffin, drown in red sauce, and let the happiness ensue.
Sometime in the course of a week long Smoky Oak binge I decided I wasn't in the mood for Que. I said to myself, why not a burger. Then came my burger. I may never order brisket again. A 10 oz hand patted disk covered completely in bacon, charred and beautiful. The rich woodsmoke taste mingles with rib juice and God knows what else to seal in the flavor of one of the best burgers you will ever find.
If at this point you have room for dessert, there is something wrong with you. Order more meat and enjoy it. This restaurant is a meat destination. It is a haven for locals. It is everything right with hole in the wall dining. It isn't the white table clothes and truffled gilt of Downtown. It is James Island.
Ambiance 3/5 (Stay away on Trivia night)
Overall, 21 out of 25. An everyday feast without fear of failure.
PS, the winning Mega Millions numbers for 1/07/2011 will be 4-22-42-46-53-20, Hope you read this in time.
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