Barbecue and other smoked foods are making their way into fine dining faster than I can spit out liquid smoke. Often smoke is used as just another layer of seasoning, or maybe the barbecue is portioned and presented with a flourish on the plate. Not so at Provisions, the more casual half of The Pass & Provisions in Houston, where a hulking smoked beef rib is tucked into the dinner menu in between chicken saltimbocca and a whole lobe of roasted foie gras. I expected fancy, but was happier with what I was served.

Co-owner and chef Terrence Gallivan worked the wood-fired oven during my visit. This is where the individual plate short ribs from 44 Farms are roasted for service. Earlier they had already been smoked over post oak in a Klose smoker, a purchase made by the restaurant five months ago. The other co-owner and chef, Seth Siegel-Gardner, a Houston native, was particularly giddy about his new smoker, and got some beef ribs on it as fast as he could. “It’s been on the menu since we got the smoker,” he told me.

The preparation is simple: They start the ribs on the smoker with a dry rub, then a pepian sauce, also served with the rib, is slathered on during cooking. Gallivan describes the sauce, which is made with pumpkin seeds, as “a sort of Mexican curry.” It’s got just enough sugar and helps to provide a subtly sweet bark on the beef with a texture like the surface of a well-roasted marshmallow. Shards of pickled butternut squash are served alongside to give an acidic counterpoint to the rich slab of barbecue.

Siegel-Gardner told me he struggled with how to treat the rib at the restaurant. He wanted to honor the tradition, but knows his diners expect a little more than beef on a plate. “We’re never gonna compete with a barbecue restaurant,” he astutely observed. So adding a subtle twist or two was important, but Siegel-Gardner didn’t want to take it too far and lose the barbecue lovers. “The beauty and the problem with barbecue is the simplicity of it,” he admitted. I think they’ve hit their target nicely. The squash is reminiscent of pickles, and the sauce isn’t there to cover up poorly smoked beef. It all works together, but the rib is the star.

Provisions may be fine dining, but this rib doesn’t come at a premium. It was easily more than a pound, came with a side, and cost just $32, which isn’t much more than you’d pay at a barbecue joint. When I asked somewhat jokingly when they planned to open their own barbecue joint, Siegel-Gardner gave me a a grin and without any specifics he confessed, “I’ve always wanted to open a barbecue place.” It better have this short rib on the menu.

The Pass & Provisions
807 Taft St.
Houston, TX 77019