Smokehouse BBQ offers this $12.50 combo plate featuring a choice of two meats, including pulled pork and beef brisket (seen here) as well as spare ribs and chicken. A $4 upgrade adds two sides from a choice of potato salad, coleslaw (seen here) or baked beans; lemonade and fountain drinks are $2.
3807 Spenard Rd.
$4-$33 per plate
10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
With much of Anchorage’s barbecue scene focusing on the Midtown area, I took a look at the map following my recent string of pizza reviews and decided to stop by another establishment that’s recently made the jump from shack to eatery.
Smokehouse BBQ’s restaurant occupies a compact space along Spenard Road, just west of its intersection with Minnesota Drive. The business has previously offered a line of catered food, as well as boxed meals from a shack at Boniface Parkway and DeBarr Road in East Anchorage. The diner-like Spenard location has seen a lot of turnover in recent years, offering everything from Philly sandwiches to Thai food, but never anything with apparent staying power; one of its advantages is an ample parking lot, quite easy to find space in once you’ve pulled off the road.
Much of the interior décor from the building’s previous outings, an adaptable black-and-white checkered scheme, seems to still be present at Smokehouse BBQ, albeit with the addition of a generous whiff of smoky barbecue. Several barstools let customers sit up close and personal to a lightly used prep area which also houses the cashier’s station, while much of the real work for meals takes place in a rear area behind a wall. There’s also about half a dozen picnic tables spread through the room, which is dominated by large windows that offered a good look at the outdoor chill while increasing my appreciation for the warmth of the kitchen; a few folding chairs at the foot of the table offer almost the only adjustable seating in the room, if the tables’ benches prove a little tight.
Much of the contrast Smokehouse BBQ offers with the recently opened Turnagain Arm Pit BBQ location in Midtown is a product of its menu, which seems almost philosophically opposed to its newly arrived competitor’s. Where Turnagain has an almost singular focus on barbecue, Smokehouse’s offerings extend beyond plates and sandwiches of meat to a deep array of appetizers and sides, as well as unexpected items like stuffed baked potatoes and a line of hot dogs rivaling that at the International House of Hot Dogs. Since I was looking for a comparison to Turnagain’s wares, I ordered much the same item I did there -- a combo plate featuring two choices from a list of four meats ($12.50), as well as an upgrade ($4) adding two sides from a list of three. I showed up relatively late with most of the lunch rush past, and my food was delivered in a very efficient 10 minutes.
When I ordered the plate, I was asked whether I wanted regular or spicy sauce, which I took as a simple question of which one I wanted on the side. It turns out the question actually referred to which of the two the meats were cooked in, since Smokehouse subscribes to the wet school of barbecue, with more of each freely available from heated containers at a condiment stand. I ordered both of mine in regular sauce, a sweet version with a hint of smoke; the spicy version is stronger, at about the level of a good salsa, and should probably be sampled before using it in quantity. The pork was a delicious vehicle for its flavor, served in a generous portion with lighter notes of smoke flavor than the version offered at Turnagain; the combination of the two is more than the sum of its parts, and quite memorable. For all that, though, the brisket -- blackened at points during its cooking, served in big chunks that fell apart on my fork -- stole the show, juicy to the point of being sublime. If you get one thing at Smokehouse, make sure you get some of this.
Both of the side dishes also impressed, with the potato salad carrying a deep bacon flavor from my first bite of the stuff. It wasn’t until my second bite, however, that I realized the flavor came not from uneven hits of bacon in the blend itself, but rather from suffusing the mayo-based sauce between the uneven, homemade chunks of potato. Accentuated by a strong hint of pepper, applied with an easy authority, the salad was a fine accompaniment to an already strong meal. The coleslaw used a disciplined application of clingy dressing to carry substance without being weighed down, its sweet yet vinegary dressing managing to hit the perfect spot between extremes that every truly great version of the dish is carefully balanced to accomplish.
With my Web colleagues, digital director Jeffrey Rivet and digital content supervisor Joshua Staab, both hungry back at the station, I also picked up a to-go order from the hot dog and appetizer selections for them, with a reindeer dog ($6.50) and some deep-fried pickle spears ($5.50) for Jeff, with a Chicago dog ($7) and some cheese curds ($5.50) for Josh. The more complicated pile of food took about 15 minutes to put together, and I managed to get it back to the station in another 15 minutes after a quick drive through Christmas-shopping traffic. Josh quickly put away his Chicago dog and cheese curds, praising both its mix of six classic toppings and the curds’ gooey freshness from the fryer; Jeff seemed to find the reindeer dog a bit plain but loved the fried pickles, whole spears lightly breaded before being cooked.
While I have to leave room for interpretation, since I’m admittedly not a devotee of dry barbecue, most of our Web crew seems to prefer the saucier version offered by Smokehouse BBQ. There’s still a price premium in effect, but it’s comparable to its competition and offers some fairly bold hits of flavor, all in a package capable of satisfying a variety of palates. If you’re in the Spenard area and have a chance to stop by, our experience suggests it’ll be worth your time -- and you won’t leave hungry.