The barbecue scene in San Francisco has long been a grim one; engaging me in an endless cycle of hope and disappointment, of broken promises and unmet expectations. At last, AT LAST! That terrible, dark, period of hopelessness has come to an end. I have found the light at the end of the smoker.
On paper, Smoekstack does not read as though it would be the one. The kitchen is run by Dennis Lee, who’s been known up to this point for his awesome Korean stoner food over at Namu Gaji. Apparently, Lee traveled to our country’s BBQ meccas; Kansas City, Memphis, and Texas, studied their methods, and returned to San Francisco with the intention of creating a “best of” hybrid, not only of the three different styles, but with the added twist of his own Asian cooking influence. That screams inauthentic, I know. By all accounts, one would think this would be yet another failed attempt at both BBQ and fusion. But one would be wrong.
Smokestack shares a 10,000+ square foot space with Magnolia Brewery, a long time San Francisco beer institution located in a somewhat tiny space on Haight street. The two come together in their new space on 3rd and 22nd, in the Dogpatch, in a space that is exhaustively rustic. It’s all wood, copper and glass, with communal picnic tables that were made from acacia trees that used to stand outside Magnolia on Haight. They were going to be chopped down either way, so they were put to good use and incorporated into this new space. The walls are peppered with exposed pieces of 1930’s newspapers, the flooring was apparently laid, then in some parts, ripped up, for wear and tear’s sake, the beer lines are concealed within the air ducts that run along the ceiling.
The concept, for the diner, is serve yourself. One side of the room is Magnolia, the other Smokestack. It’s not the best set up for the solo traveler, as you would have to get your drink, then stand in line for food, which is all good and fine, but you would then have to locate a seat once you have everything you need, which would totally suck if there were nowhere to sit, and there you are with a tray full of food and drink in your hand, looking and feeling like a jerk. Also, if you’re me, you’d be done with that drink by the time you got your food, and then you would have to leave said food at the table and go wait at the bar for a drink again. So that part is a bit of a bummer. Luckily, I was there with three other people, so we were able to delegate table holding, booze attaining, and food gathering tasks.
We decided to work a rotation; one person would hit the food line at a time, and return with their choice, a surprise, for the group. My first task was booze procurer, so I began my night over with Magnolia. The bar is a beer and whiskey lovers dream, with twenty something brews on tap and a whiskey list so long I lost count. They also serve a deliciously crisp rose, one that complements smoky meat extremely well, and a short but well thought out selection of craft cocktails. We started with the Funston’s Diamond, a tasty little number composed of pistachio infused Portugese brandy, sherry, Appleton rum and banana bitters. A perfect call to my tummy that it was time to get serious.
It was also up to me to keep us hydrated, and I did adore the water station, with one spigot for sparkling, one for still (sparkling on the left, still on the right), along with real, substantial glasses as opposed to those little plastic hokey numbers. It’s the little things.
While I was on liquid detail, our first food runner was in line selecting a tray of apps
She returned with a basket of chopped up pork bits, along with what I believe was the oft written about thai sausage, and two buttery, flakey, delicious house rolls from nearby Marla bakery. A little disclaimer. The menu at Smokestack is said to change daily, if not hourly, and, I was last up to get food and a bit off my game if you know what I’m saying (wink wink) so I forgot to note what exactly was on offer that day. For the most part it’s pretty obvious, but, I don’t know exactly what the deal with the pork was, or if that was, indeed the thai sausage.
At any rate, thai or not, that sausage was rockin’. It was spicy and dense, with the perfect ratio of greasy to dry. Our table was set with three large squeeze bottles containing various condiments; a mustard, a vinegar, and a bbq. The sweet mustard sauce, in concert with this sausage, was truly a thing of beauty. The pork was pretty good too, but not something I need to go back for.
Our next food scout came back with this:
We were really getting into the thick of it here. I am 100% a brisket girl. I love it braised, I love it smoked, I just…LOVE it. We have a complicated relationship though, because terrible brisket has sent me home with a face full of bitter tears on too many occasions here in the city. Also, burnt ends just gets me where I live. To me, they are a must have if they are on offer, which typically in these parts, they are not. Again, how do you call yourself BBQ when you don’t offer burnt ends? What IS that? Well, that’s a place that makes a brisket with no bark. And Smokestack, my friends, is NOT one of those places. This brisket was masterful, heavenly, stuff. The long thick slices were smoky, fatty and creamy, pink ringed (though the smoke ring was liiiitle sparse on this round), melt in your mouth, properly barked…this time, it was tears of joy tumbling down my cheeks. Finally.
The beans were legit, with hunks of pulled meat and bacon/pork belly, a nice and wet version which I prefer. Those curry lemon cucumbers were a zesty little treat as well, refreshing and bright.
Tray number three, smoked ham, a bottle of kimchi, and potato salad:
I was wild about that smoked ham. First off, I’m not sure if any other BBQ place in San Francisco even offers ham; just the fact that it was an option was a big plus to me. Smokestack’s was sweet and smoky…throw in a dollop of that mustard sauce and you’ve got yourself a nice little mouth party going. It came cut into perfect little bite size pieces and it was not at all messy; it would make for a good communal snack/starter to go with some crisp, Magnolia beer. I know people are starting to turn on Kimchi, because it is just everywhere, and it’s the darling of every trendy, hipster menu in the city, but, that’s because it’s delicious! Also, as I mentioned before, Dennis Lee’s Asian influence is part of the deal, and it’s not like he’s trying to force brisket dumplings down our throats or anything. You can just buy yourself a jar of delicious and revitalizing kimchi should you so chose. We did, and I was better for it. A little moisture and crunch was a welcome thing in that forest of meat. I really enjoyed the lemony potato salad, but it did need salt, and salt was not provided.
And then, stuffed as we were, it was my turn to go grab us some dessert. This was my chance to explore what was going on over in the hot and cold cases. Just look at that crusty brisket, and the bright pink smoke ring on those ribs.
But my mission was dessert. My options were these little cookies
Or a strawberry tart. I went tart, of course. It was very light and not overly complicated. Just a really perfect crust filled with some mascerated strawberries and some fresh whipped cream. Delightful.
2505 3rd st. San Francisco, CA 94107
Bar until 2AM Thursday, Friday, and Saturday