Summertime and the BBQ is cookin'

I love barbecue. Something about taking a tough piece of meat, adding heat and spice thereby transforming it into a moist, succulent inside with chewy caramelized exterior - it's food magic at it's finest. It's tough finding good BBQ at a restaurant in this city - everyone seems to love City BBQ. I used to love them when they only had the one store. Now, every time I've had their meat, it's been dry - and to my mind that is a cardinal sin. It's part of what happens when people get too ambitious and decide that they have to own an empire. I guess I am the type of person who would rather do one thing well than a dozen things badly...

So this past weekend I found someone who likes doing barbecue well. I almost don't want to tell you - I wanna keep all the goodness for me and mine. But being the generous soul that I am (and, as the hubby points out, I can never keep my mouth shut) I am going to tell you about Smackies.

Recently relocated to the old Jimmy Dean restaurant building in the Columbus Square Plaza, I had passed them by a couple of times on my way to Mi Mi's. (In fact, they are very close neighbors.)

After my experiences with other Columbus barbecue places, I wasn't really going to get worked up. But damn - it sure smelled good. Plus - I saw the sign out front that said they had a "Southern" buffet on the weekends. I figured that was a pretty good place to start. I like Southern food. It makes ya fat and sassy. And I need all the sass I can get.

After a morning in my garden (which is doing well, thank you for asking), Tony asked if I wanted to go out for lunch. I said yup and he suggested we try Smackies. Unfortunately, we got there about 45 minutes too early for the buffet. Fortunately, the waitress was really sweet. She got us seated and brought us some sweet tea. It was good tea and my hubby was happy. During our wait, we watched the kitchen staff bring out various equipment and prepared foods. It looked good. It smelled good. Damn I was hungry.
So the time came - the staff lowered the brisket and pulled pork into the steam table and BAM! we were off to the races.

On the buffet that day was homemade coleslaw, green beans, biscuits and gravy, scalloped potatoes (also homemade), mac and cheese (homemade as well), brisket, pulled pork, greens, fried okra, stewed tomatoes, chicken wings, fried chicken, waffles, peach cobbler, apple cake, plus lots of white bread. Gotta have white bread with barbecue.

First the sides: Loved the slaw. It was creamy with a little bit of a vinegar bite - the cabbage was still crispy. Awesome stuff. Scalloped potatoes - nice and creamy, potatoes done correctly. They had a little cheese in them, but not enough to make them compete with the mac and cheese. Speaking of the mac and cheese - creamy,mild and cheesy. The noodles were just the right constancy - not mushy, not hard.

OK - just to show I am being fair, there were some things I didn't like about some of the side dishes. The greens - while tasty - weren't cut up at all. Same with the stewed tomatoes. Tasted great - pain in the butt to get out of the serving trays and onto your plate. The biscuits were only OK - they were over mixed and didn't rise very well. My mother, the biscuit queen, would have been very upset. The peach cobbler had too much cinnamon in it - you couldn't taste the fruit at all. And lastly - the green beans were bland. I would say right out of a can and doctored up some.

Of course those are minor things... the real star was the pulled pork and brisket - along with the sauces that adorn them. The meats were moist and the burnt ends were mixed in for those of us who covet such treats. There is a bucket with three tomato based sauces brought to the table - Molasses & Cayenne, Whiskey & Hickory Smoke and Brown Sugar & Molasses. I was assured that all the sauces are made in-house. I liked the Molasses & Cayenne the best - it was sweet, tart and had a bite to it. The other two were a little too sweet for my taste, but I have a feeling most people would like those better. The hubby ate his BBQ without any sauce. That is a sign the meat was done right.

So my first impression of Smackies was - "Damn that stuff is good!" I can't wait to go back and try some of the dry ribs, which are not on the buffet. I haven't seen dry ribs in Columbus before. For those of you who don't know what dry ribs are: The are cooked with a dry rub, moistened with mop sauce during cooking and then finished with more of the rub seasoning before serving. The BBQ sauce is provided at the table for those who want it. Me - I like my "Cue" without sauce most of the time.

So get on over to Smackies then. I say try the buffet - see if you like it - then come back for more...lots more...

(Smackies is located at 5730 Cleveland Ave, Columbus, Ohio 43231 Phone 614-794-1600)

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I'm back from the grave....

May was a long long month...

This is kinda how it went -

Work - bitch bitch bitch

Gardening - too much rain, bitch, bitch, too little rain, bitch, bitch, dead plants, bitch, bitch, bitch

Cooking - too busy, bitch, too hot, bitch, too damn lazy

Thank goodness that month is over - maybe I can get a fresh start on things...

To start June off on the right foot, I took a trip down to the North Market to meet up with some of my fellow bloggers and to buy some produce.

The Produce

First was some strawberries. I have been waiting a whole year for this. I can only hope that in the next couple of weeks we can get a big bucket of these beauties and make some first class homemade jam. I am sick of flavorless, overly sweet commercial products. I've almost given up on buying them...

Next - asparagus. These babies are slated for the grill tonight....

And lastly some Swiss chard - I have to confess, I had never eaten Swiss chard until two years ago. I saw some at the Farmer's market with it bright red stems and bought it just for the way it looked. Then I had to figure out what the hell I was gonna do with it. (Thank you Joy of Cooking - you saved my patootie once again!) I loved it so much I grew some last year but this year I decided I had more important things to grow and will just buy it fresh from the market.

The Bloggers

With summer coming into full bloom, I was really tickled to have Lisa, Dave and Lorence meet me at the North Market for a quick gab session. It amazing how many bloggers there are in Columbus now. I will be hitting my two year mark here in July. Dave's been making beer and grillin' since 2003, Lorence has been in his kitchen since 2005 and Lisa has been a widow for about two years now. (Becke over at Columbus Foodie keeps an ever growing list of bloggers on her site - so stop by occasionally to see who is joining the ranks.)

We had some tasty strawberries with Dave's wife and daughter while we talked about beer making, chemical additives in food, growing gardens, child rearing, among other stuff - I have to say, these guys are just pretty darn nice, intelligent and good looking to boot. If you blog here in Columbus and are interested in getting together sometime later in the summer, let us know. We don't bite much.

So after my inspirational visit to the market, I decided to grill out for the first time this season as well. It was awesome - the hubby said it was the most perfect meal I had made in months...and he doesn't gush over things easily...

So what hit the grill?

Thick cut pork chops, thinly sliced potato packets and fresh asparagus from the Farmer's Market. I like being to cook everything on the grill when the weather gets hot.

The chops I brined - with so little fat on pork these days it just drys out too fast. My brine for this recipe: 2 cups of water to 1/4 cup kosher salt, the juice of one lime, some garlic and onion powders plus some fresh ground pepper. I cheated big time and used about a 1/2 cup of hot tap water to dissolve the salt, then added the other spices. I then proceeded to top off the rest of the liquid with cold tap water. I tossed in the chops and refrigerated them for about two hours.

The asparagus-I stuck them on skewers, brushed them with olive oil and sprinkled on some kosher salt. Threw them on the grill while the chops rested. Awesome. I have decided to eat veggies as simple as possible these days.

The potato packets - I used to make these all the time. Not a new idea, I've seen them called hobo packets - and have also read about them being used in camping. The reason I decided to try them again? I got me a real cheap mandolin on the clearance rack. A whole $2.50. Damn near broke the bank. Sure its a cheap peice of crap, but take a look at how thin you can get things like potatoes...sweet!!
Here is how you make your potato packets.

You need:
1 large potato per person
A medium onion
oil - olive or veggie
non-stick spray (if you have it, not really essential)
Seasonings: seasoned salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne or anything else that strikes your fancy
heavy aluminum foil

Peel your potatoes if you like and slice them on the medium setting on your mandolin. That is about an 1/8" for those of you with mad knife skills.
Do the same to your onion.
Now get out a nice large piece of foil - make it wide enough to hold a double row of potato slices.
Coat with non-stick spray or brush on some oil.
Lay down a layer of potato slices slightly overlapping as in the picture.
Now top with some of the onions, and some of your seasonings.
Now another layer of potatoes. Top with more seasonings.
Now bring together the two long edges of the foil and roll them together to seal the edge. Roll up on of the short ends, and then dribble in about a teaspoon of oil into the remaining open end and seal the packet.

I usually put the packets on the grill first. They cook fast - the potatoes are done when the bottom layer is lightly browned and you can poke a fork into the potatoes.

That's about it - it's one of those "make it up as you go" kinda things.

Ok - time to put the nose back to the grindstone...