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Smoke City Market Brings a Real Taste of Texas to the 818

Posted By Karen Young On March 7, 2011 @ 12:11 am In Barbecue,Budget Dining,Cuisine,Dinner,Eat,Featured,Food,Lunch,My Daily Find,Restaurants,spotlight | 12 Comments

BY KAREN YOUNG

The first thing I noticed after eating at Smoke City Market was the smell of smoke on my hands. I’m talking about smoke from a smoker— one that smokes meat, that is.  And with that, there’s a few things that must first must be known about this new Sherman Oaks restaurant serving Texas BBQ: eat what you can with your hands; there are no plates, only trays with food placed on brown butcher paper; add sauce only if you really need/like it.  According to the Texan way, if meat is seasoned and smoked properly, you shouldn’t need sauce for flavor.

Order at the counter and sit at picnic benches. No plates. Utensils and sauce optional. Photo: Karen Young

Located in the middle of auto row on Van Nuys Blvd, Smoke City Market is quite a surprise. It’s a fast casual, order at the counter place — but it almost has the feel of film set. Varnished dark wood picnic tables occupy  the room, topped with buckets filled with utensils, hot vinegar and bbq sauce (if you must). A vintage coca cola cooler is the centerpiece of the dining room. There are no napkins, just a paper towel dispenser hanging on a pole. Walls are adorned with rusty wheels, beer and soda signs, a cow skull and other thematic décor. Individual bottles of beer and wine sit next to desserts in a glass case. A large chalkboard sign neatly displays the menu. A shiny meat cutting area is behind the counter.

Restaurant veteran Michael Gans  partnered up with  Chef Ryan Gromfin, Jason Cestaro and Lauren Franccione  to open Smoke City Market this past November. Gans, who ran Bruce Marder’s westside restaurants (Capo, Rebecca’s, Brentwood, Brass Cap and Broadway Deli) runs the front of the restaurant, while Gromfin,  a professional chef (Peninsula Beverly Hills) who has also lived and worked in Texas, is responsible  for the back of the house and the recipes—as well as the inspiration that came from a town called Lockhart in Hill Country, thirty minutes  south of Austin.

Meats cook in the smoker for six to fourteen hours.Photo: Smoke City Market

“That is where I saw BBQ heaven in a restaurant called Smitty {the original location, the new location is called Kruez Market and BBQ},” explained Gromfin. “This was one of the original Texas BBQ joints, butcher paper, white bread, no utensils, no sauce.”

All meat is slow cooked (six to fourteen hours) on the premises in a smoker over natural oak, without the use of gas or propane. Everything is made fresh daily and organic is used a much as possible. Approximately 200 pounds of meat is smoked daily, but when Friday comes around, that’s upped to 500 pounds. Smoke City Market is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. everyday, but sometimes they close early if the meat is gone, so if you’re thinking to come by after 9 p.m., perhaps call first.

The menu consists of beef and pork ribs, chicken, brisket, chopped beef, sausage and pastrami. Beef and turkey breast are sold by the weight according to market price ($7.50 a half pound a the time of this publication), so you can order as much or as little as you desire. Sandwiches with any of the meats are available ($6.25-$7.50) or add meat to a salad for an extra $2.

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White bread, just like in Texas, comes with the meal which is placed on trays with butcher paper. (Above) Pork ribs, brisket, longhorn mac and cabbage salad. Photo: Karen Young

There’s a variety of hot and cold sides, including Longhorn mac ‘n cheese, red chili, red cabbage, texas caviar, green bean salad, tomato and cucumber salad, cabbage and apple slaw. Half pints, pints and quarts are available. A half pint is $2 to $4.85.

My dining companions on an early Monday evening  were my two teens. Since the menu is à la carte and we wanted to eat family style, Gans assisted with the amount. We ordered a half pound of brisket lean (there is also moist, which is fattier), a half a chicken and a third of a rack of baby back ribs. We chose the mac n’cheese, hot red cabbage, black eyed peas, pickles and cole slaw. We actually wanted tomato and cucumber or the green bean salad, but those weren’t available because the price of produce has gone so high.

Cole slaw, half a chicken, pickles. Photo: Karen Young

Brisket is cut in thick slices, but is melt-in-your-mouth tender.  The combination of salt, pepper and spices with the smoky taste made the beef extremely flavorful. The pork ribs were good, but probably our least favorite — but we aren’t big rib eaters. Although I did see the beef ribs, which I do have a hankering to try.

The biggest surprise was the chicken which was exceedingly moist and well seasoned. We rarely order chicken anywhere because generally it’s dry and rather dull. The secret to this chicken, according to Gans, is 14 hours of brining.   My kids used a bit of sauce on everything because they just enjoy sauce. I didn’t use any because otherwise it smothers the taste of the meat. And what I usually don’t like about barbecue restaurants is over sauced and sticky meat.

We enjoyed all the sides: the mac n’ cheese is perfect comfort food with thick elbow macaroni, but tastes milder and less textured than others I’ve eaten. The Smoke City version is more like a warm macaroni salad. The slaw is chunky with a rich and creamy dressing. We probably liked the warm cabbage salad most of all— which was a surprise. It’s very light with a wonderfully subtle cabbage flavor without bitterness.

Beef ribs. Photo: Smoke City Market

Desserts include pecan pie, cookies, chocolate cake, banana pudding and seasonal cobbler. Too full for dessert at the time, we took home a peach-blueberry cobbler—the cake bottom was moist and it was filled with fresh fruit topped with a sweet crumble. A little vanilla ice cream would have made it perfection.

For being such a small place, there are eight beers on tap including Stella, Serria Nevada, Blue Moon and Hoegarrden. Shiner Blonde is available in a bottle. Wine is limited to single portion bottles of Fetzer Chardonay and Cabernet Savignon, which Gans says was chosen because Fetzer is a green winery.

Grab soft drinks in bottles. Photo: Karen Young

Smoke City Market is a great place for a casual meal—and it’s also worth the drive to get there.

Smoke City Market,  5242 Van Nuys Blvd. (north of Magnolia),  Sherman Oaks (818) 855-1280  Catering and delivery is available. Open daily, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Parking on the street.

Peach-blueberry cobbler (seasonal). Photo: Karen Young

Karen Young is the Founder/Editor of My Daily Find. Got a favorite find, comment or suggestion? Email: karen@mydailyfind.com

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