By Hope S. Philbrick
Behind the bar up on a shelf alongside bottles of booze sits a little toy Spam truck. This is no quirky meaningless little tchotchke, it’s a nod to the roots of Smoke BBQ in Charleston, South Carolina.
Chef Roland Feldman, who now owns and operates Smoke BBQ with his brother Michael, first ventured into restaurant ownership with his friend Chef Joe Wolfson when they bought a food truck that was previously owned and operated by the Spam Corporation. They focused on barbecue, gained a following of fans, and though after eight months Joe decided to pursue other opportunities, Roland stuck with it eventually trading in the truck for a brick and mortar restaurant.
A Charleston S.C. native, Roland graduated from Johnson & Wales University in Denver, Colo., and has worked alongside several of the nation’s leading chefs. His fine dining approach to barbecue sets Smoke BBQ apart from Southern-standard barbecue restaurants.
“Barbecue is a craft and labor of love,” he says. “I felt that applying some techniques I gained from the fine dining world could elevate barbecue.”
Mission accomplished: This is some truly impressive barbecue.
Don’t let the words ‘fine dining’ put you off: Smoke BBQ is a casual eatery where you can stroll in and grab a seat at the bar after a day spent touring the city on foot without having to return to your hotel to get all gussied up first. Come as your true hungry self.
Come waving your foodie flag, too. “We take great pride on our locally-sourced and house-made fixings,” says Roland. Take time to appreciate the little things, since even the ketchup made using house-smoked tomatoes shouldn’t be taken for granted.
“We smoke our own pastrami, we cure our own bacon,” Roland says with the genuine enthusiasm of a guy who likes to cook as much as he likes to eat. “We ferment our own sauerkraut. We make our own pickles in house….” the list of what happens on-site goes on and on.
While fine dining techniques are employed at Smoke BBQ, “there’s only so much you can take barbecue out of its own element; if you take it out of its element you take away a part of it,” says Roland.
Chicken wings are one example of how ingredients are pampered: “We brine our wings, then we smoke them, then we confit them—cook them in their own fat with aromatics for several hours—and it basically renders the perfect interpretation of a wing,” says Roland. One bite confirms he’s not overselling the wings: They define perfection, tender and moist but not greasy, full of flavor only enhanced with sauce.
“It’s just food but it glows a little brighter because of all of that love and technique,” says Roland. “And also the composition, too. One thing I learned in fine dining was balance. Sometimes I eat in restaurants and the food is salted really well but a drop of lemon juice or another acid would make it do a dance on your tongue. Or maybe it’s acidic but salt would have made it roll around. Or it just didn’t have that proper injection of fat to give you the platform for the acid and salt to work on. That’s what I learned in fine dining: How to make food sing instead of just taste good. I don’t want to plate food with tweezers, but I know how to cook.”
He sure as heck does know how to cook. Dishes at Smoke BBQ dance and sing.
Order whatever piques your interest. You cannot go wrong with anything on the menu at Smoke BBQ. The only mistake would be to miss it.
487 King Street
– Photos © HSP Media LLC
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