Don’t get put off by the fancy fixins—the barbecue is true.
If this review had come out a week earlier, we’d be talking about Smoky Rose’s not-so-smoky brisket and pulled pork that tasted oven-roasted. It can take a while for restaurants to settle in, and this Dallas joint found its groove after ditching the expensive cabinet smokers the Smoky Rose launched with six months ago. With a new monster offset smoker straight out of Austin, you could almost call it a legitimate barbecue joint.
Well, sort of. Pitmaster Michael Sharp prefers different nomenclature. “It’s a chef-inspired smokehouse,” he explains, smiling as if he’d repeated the tagline a thousand times. Chef Dave Gauthier stood next to him, and provided his take on my question: is the Smoky Rose a barbecue joint? “I think so,” he said. “But we want to appeal to the masses in every way possible.” That means having a well-stocked bar and a $12 signature cocktail, a wait staff, and even valet parking during the dinner hours. It means offering a cheeseburger, chicken salad, and a garden crudite plate alongside brisket, ribs, and homemade sausage.
That might be off-putting to barbecue die hards, but there’s no need to feel threatened by crudite—at least it comes with a scoop of better-than-average pimento cheese. But if you’re in desperate need of some carbs in your appetizer, add a tray of the smokehouse chips, or maybe steal some tortilla chips from the satisfying brisket queso plate.
A surprise favorite from the smoked side of the menu was the salmon served with toast points. Crisp fried capers provide some crunch to the tender, juicy meat that is hot-smoked. The smoked chicken, meanwhile, has been good since their first week of service. A half bird, available only at lunch, was served uncut, retaining a reservoir of juices under the flavorful skin. It’s the only barbecue item done on an XL Big Green Egg using lump charcoal, which you can spot alongside a shiny Pitmaker smoker in the screened-in pit room to the left of the restaurant entrance. A week-old offset smoker from Austin Smoke Works, made from a 1,000 gallon propane tank with a firebox the size of a washing machine, gets its own room in the back.
“It’s the best brisket I’ve ever cooked in my life,” Sharp said as he pulled meat out of his new smoker. He’d already been working for twelve straight hours when I visited in the late afternoon. I’d been to the restaurant a half-dozen times and hadn’t planned to eat much, but I had to try the stuff coming out of the new pit. Sharp brought out slices of tender, smoky Certified Angus Beef brisket (they’re smoking about twenty per day). Both the lean and moist slices were juicy, and the simple salt and pepper seasoning was just right. On previous visits, the pork shoulders smoking beside the briskets leaned heavily on a crutch of sauce and jalapeño slaw that came on “The Charlotte” sandwich. The new version, with just a dash of vinegar sauce, needed no further adornment. As for the sweet pickle garnish, they might be fine on a fried chicken sandwich, but I’d prefer dill pickles with barbecue.
Rudolph’s Meat Market in Dallas blends and stuffs a special recipe sausage for Smoky Rose. There’s a version with and without jalapeño, but both are a beef and pork blend, with the original providing plenty of kick from cayenne. That spicy punch seems to be a trend for the rest of the menu. Although the brisket and pork improved tremendously, I liked their old version of pork ribs that were light on the pepper with a hint of sweetness. My young son was none to happy to find that they’re now adding a considerable amount of barely ground black pepper to the rub. In fact, despite chef Gauthier’s goal of appealing to the masses, much of the menu isn’t great for kids. Sausage, queso, beans, and ribs, which are usually safe bets, are all spicy. Jalapeños come in the slaw, and the wait staff even refused to leave the dusting of barbecue rub off of the fries and house-made chips.
My daughter ate most of the smoked salmon appetizer for her dinner, while my son dug into the steak. It’s a different cut every month, and tenderloin was the choice for June. It’s lightly smoked, then grilled (but not quite to the medium rare that I ordered) and served with cheese grits and spinach. The Niman Ranch pork chop, which was dry and overcooked, was a poor value at $32 compared to the generously sized $35 filet.
Ultimately, it’s the recently great barbecue that provides the biggest identity crisis for Smoky Rose. It’s a slightly above-casual sit-down restaurant with a full bar and an expansive patio. Barbecue hounds looking for their brisket fix will likely be put off by waiting behind the Range Rover in the valet line, and cocktail-sipping couples looking for a steak or the Smokehouse Cobb won’t know or care about the difference between the lean and the fatty brisket (they might prefer it chopped into the queso anyway). Smoky Rose is designed for the latter, but the quality barbecue is aimed straight at the former. Maybe just come for lunch when you can park your own car.