Restaurant review: Smokehouse Brewing Company cooks up a new name, new menu items

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From the June 26, 2014 edition

Don’t call it the Barley’s with barbecue anymore. After sharing a name and business interests with its Arena District sibling for nearly two decades, Barley’s Smokehouse and Brewpub’s owner (back in 1992, he helped co-found this groundbreaking make-craft-beer organization) has severed ties with Barley’s and rebranded as “Smokehouse Brewing Company.”

Lest fans worry this “Barley’s”-less Smokehouse has drastically changed its ale-and-barbecue focus, patrons are greeted with the word “SMOKE” spelled out in beer caps near the hostess stand. Still, the old status quo hasn’t been wholly preserved.

Along with its take-it-easy patio and familiar interior — a rambling and woody space where friends, families and dates spread out in roomy, padded booths and view sports on unobtrusive TVs — now a beer barrel-anchored communal table contributes extra seating and interest. The biggest alterations, though, are ingredient upgrades and additions to a henceforth biannually changing menu.

Fantastic fresh beers assist weighing the new options. SBC smartly retained its great brewmaster, and unlike the maniacally hopping, newer crop of Columbus craft breweries popping up like summer dandelions lately, SBC’s balanced beers aren’t priced for maximizing profit. Bargain hunters should plan on $6 samplers (a you-pick-’em quartet of five-ounce glasses), upsizing pints to 20-ounce pours for only $.50 more, and exploiting happy hour (4-7 p.m., Monday-Friday), when housemade beers are $3.50.

To soak these up, I targeted SBC’s just-released offerings — though I also gnawed on their deservedly long-famous ’House Smoked And Grilled Wings (10/$10, but $.60 apiece after 4 p.m. on Mondays and all day Sundays). Teasing out a similar theme was a nightly special Buffalo Chicken Soup ($5). It was meaty, salty, spicy, smoky and so surprisingly cheesy and thick, it would’ve made better sense as a dip.

I’m not convinced the Texas BBQ Brisket Bean Dip ($8, served with tortilla chips) makes complete sense, but its oddly compelling Tex-Mex-collides-with-a-cookout flavors had my table finishing it. Loads of sour cream and smoke-scented meat rested above attractively scorched cheese with sweetly barbecue-sauced refried beans underneath. Pro-tip: splashes of “Gates of Hell” house hot sauce tie it together better.

New sandwiches showing off breads from local artisan Dan the Baker have been unveiled. Dan’s beautifully crispy-yet-chewy petite baguettes embrace SBC’s worthy take on once-all-the-rage Banh Mi. SBC’s winning version has pickled onions, Sriracha mayo, smoky ham, kicky pulled pork, cilantro and strips of jalapeno and carrot.

Smoked Barbacoa Three Way ($16) is SBC’s most elaborate new platter. Three little pigs — tender pulled pork, grilled hammy shank atop tangy red cabbage slaw, plus seared and barbecue-sauced pork belly — join good pickles and a grassy-noted, pilaf-like barley “risotto” with asparagus. Decent stuff, but sauces for the shank and pulled pork would improve it.

SBC touts Ohio Proud chickens now, and a big one must’ve provided the partially deboned, great-tasting breast/wing of the Double Dip Buttermilk Fried chicken ($14). Amorphously clumped in tons of crunchy batter, mine came with dense mashers, top-notch peppery country gravy and grilled-to-gummy corn “cobettes.”

Experiencing meat fatigue? Dan the Baker’s lovely and puffy, toasted poppy seed roll houses the pleasantly earthy Quinoa Hummus Patty ($10). My seared but dryish “burger” was helped by a rich and garlicky tzatziki sauce and served with crispy housemade chips.

On another occasion, those chips were cold and half-raw. And too often waits for plates were unduly long. So SBC’s new rollout shows room for improvement.

If you’ve got room for dessert — and more meat and more beer — the unbridled Bacon Beer Slide ($7) combines vanilla ice cream, ale, caramel sauce and a chocolate-dipped pigmeat stick into a boozy, you-can’t-get-that-at-Barley’s! sundae.

Photos by Meghan Ralston