On Holy Smoke's menu there's a caveman-vintage artistic depiction of what must've been the era's latest breakthrough in the culinary arts: It's a primitive guy poking a stick stuck with meat into a fire, wienie-style. And it's a very fitting picture.
Opened just a couple of weeks ago in the North Market, Holy Smoke is the most recent restaurant incarnation of Columbus' once-pioneering barbecue sensation known as Yoho's. Yes, meat lovers, there was real barbecue in Columbus long before the City Barbecue empire put its well-regarded stamp on it 16 years later.
Yoho's started smoking meat, low and slow, out on Westerville Road in the early '80s, and though the operation lasted a couple of decades, it drifted into the catering-only business over the past three or four years.
But with a new agreement between Yoho's descendants and CaJohn's fiery foods, Holy Smoke has risen from the ashes. Or maybe I should say hickory embers. Either way, it's a smoke-and-fire marriage made in hellaciously pronounced flavors.
I popped in for a few bites and noticed that Holy Smoke is taking advantage of some innovations that have happened since the termination of the Cro-Magnon epoch alluded to on its menu.
So while the meats are still smoldered for 16 hours over hickory, it's done at the Holy Smoke catering location and then the stuff is trucked into the North Market and reheated in the micro-zapper for sold-here sandwiches ($6), but it's also available by the pound ($11) for homestead reheating.
If you're still reading, and therefore not one of those self-proclaimed purists/experts who loathe any microwave usage and comically compare the barbecue Columbus has to offer with the very best in the world, well I can report that you can get some memorably good meat at Holy Smoke.
I should also note that the meat comes pre-sauced, and though it's a damn delicious sauce - super tangy, slightly spicy and with a mere hint of balancing sweetness - personally I like to apply my own, so I'd advise asking for it on the side.
Meat-wise, I liked the tender smoky stuff in the following ascending order: lean, mean and bold chicken; fatty, i.e. even more flavorful, pulled pork; and best of all, the beef brisket.
Side-wise, the distinct slaw is a fresh and crunchy cabbage mix heavily doused in a thick and sweet celery-seed dressing. The saucy and sweet-side baked beans (with bits of brisket) are also well worth a try.
For "all the way" and "over the top" folks, I highly recommend the sloppy love fest known as the Three Wise Men. It's a quickly disintegrating soft little hoagie bun piled up with that potent slaw, the irresistible pork and some of CaJohn's great hot sauce. Best eaten with a fork, like a lot of the stuff here, it ain't pretty but it packs a hell of a flavor wallop.