The Smokehouse Barbecue & Brews returns to the far right side of the United States Pavilion. Picnic tables surround it, which means you may have a rare opportunity to sit down with your food.
For some inexplicable reason, the popular Beef Brisket Burnt Ends Hash has been replaced by a Beef Brisket Potato. The Zin also hails from a different winery.
Pulled Pig Slider with Coleslaw – $6.75
This is about what you would expect with the tender, flavorful pork perched atop the soft bun that’s topped with a crunchy, if not forgettable, slaw.
Given the price and the current portion, it’s difficult to give this two thumbs way up, but it’s a “safe” option that serves as a filling snack if you’re in the market. They’re quite popular.
Shredded Beef Brisket with Smoked Potato, Chorizo Fondue, and Green Tomato Relish — $6.50
While I described the Burnt Ends Hash that we were served last year as “a complete joke,” it had been one of our favorite dishes for several years. Now the Hash is out and the Potato is in. The good news is that the lean Brisket still enjoys a delicious smoky quality and a nice meaty bite to each piece. The cheesy Chorizo Fondue adds a nice amount of spice, but the bland, undercooked potato didn’t seem to do much other than tone down the other flavors. It does end up being a decent amount of food for the money in what ends up being a glorified Potato Skin.
Beef Brisket Burnt Ends and Smoked Pork Belly Slider with Garlic Sausage, Chorizo, Cheddar Fondue and House-made Pickle — $7.50
The key to the burnt ends is the caramelization of the sugar in the sauce, which gives the dense meaty bites a little bit of a crispy exterior before giving way to the juicy, soft, chewy, interior. While I didn’t have much luck on my first go-around, my second, third, fourth, and fifth Sliders were all delicious.
The Smoked Pork Belly is much thinner, softer, and more delicate than the Burnt Ends and it’s what you see doused in the cheese fondue inside of the bun. Our two bites of brisket serve more as a side dish. The good news is that the pork is very good – a more intense bacon flavor enhanced by the creamy cheese fondue. The bun is good too – crispy around the edges but soft on the inside – it does a nice job of containing everything. We’ve got some bonus items up top with the very garlicky sausage and the acidic, thick slice of pickle. With so many things going on, it’s likely that you’ll enjoy at least a couple of the components. While the price may be on the high side, there is a ton going on here and it ends up being a filling dish.
Warm Chocolate Cake with Bourbon-Salted Caramel Sauce and Spiced Pecans — $4.25
The cake is as ooey-gooey as ever with a fluffy, light base that is not unlike the great toffee cake over at Liberty Tree Tavern, this time with a sweet caramel sauce tempered a bit by some hints of bourbon and spiced up with the nuts. The cake has a pronounced, but not heavy-handed, chocolate flavor. It’s a big slice for the money and would be a “must buy” if it were perhaps just a little more unique. It remains one of the better safe bets.
Boneshaker Zinfandel – $6
Available for around $15/bottle at the grocery store, the $6 price isn’t a terrible value in the grand scheme of things for this juicy, bold red wine that’s heavy on jammy blueberry and vanilla with just a touch of spice. It pairs incredibly well with the barbecue.
Beer Flight with Central 28 Brewing Company Sunshine Greetings Orange Hibiscus Wheat Ale, 3 Daughters Brewing Phantasmas Spicy Double IPA, and Shipyard Maple Bacon Stout – $9.50
That’s the beer flight on the far left. Great shot, I know. The easy-drinking, slightly floral Central 28 Hibiscus What Ale enjoys moderate carbonation and a crisp finish. making it easy to polish off the flight’s 4-ounce cup in short order.
Also in the flight, I’m not sure if the Phantasmas Spicy DIPA is a pleasant drinking experience – it tastes like a milder, more drinkable version of the Twisted Pine Billy’s Chilies that was available here a few years ago that continues to haunt my existence even more than the collections calls I get for nonpayment of seven years worth of Italian Festival food. You’re not getting my money, Italy. It’s fine in the 4-ounce size, particularly paired with the barbecue, but there aren’t a lot of hops or carbonation and it tastes like somebody squeezed some jalapeno juice into a Coors Light.
The Shipyard Maple Bacon Stout has a nice subtle sweetness from the maple combined with the smokiness of the bacon that adds up to a relatively complex experience. It’s arguably the best of the three and should be enjoyable separately or as part of the flight.
Remember that individual pours are six ounces and the flights are three cups that are four ounces each. That means the beer in the flight is 79.2 cents per ounce and the individual pours are an even 75 cents per ounce. So if the beer sounds good and you have three hands or are otherwise good at balancing, the individual 6-ounce pours are actually cheaper and you can easily put together the same flight with three individual pours.
Frozen Lemonade with Firefly Blackberry Moonshine – $11.75
I neglected to take a picture of this year’s version, which looks just like this only in pink. We all enjoyed it more than the Minute Maid version pictured above. There’s a real tart berry flavor to the drink that helps balance out all the sugar in the lemonade and the pour of moonshine was better than average. It’s a lot to pay for a very small cup, though.
I like getting the Frozen Strawberry-Lemon Sunset from the Joffrey’s Stand, which you’ll find to the left of the Pavilion. For 75 cents more than the Moonshine, you’ll come away with a double shot of Grey Goose Vodka and a much more sizable drink.
Overall, a lot of care goes into the creation of the Slider and it’s sort of like Baskin Robbins in that it comes with your choice of at least 75 flavors with all of the different meats and sauces. All of the meats are smoked right there, which is a nice change of pace from some of the other “Outdoor Kitchens” that serve only to keep the food sort of warm after it’s carted in from a restaurant kitchen elsewhere in the Pavilion. The Chocolate Cake is worth stopping for specifically and the beer flight offers some interesting flavors that pair well with the barbecue. Nothing is reinventing the wheel here, but those that have been victimized by some “weird” flavors elsewhere may want to hone in on some good old fashioned smokehouse favorites.