Smokin’ Aces delivers some top-notch barbecue
By Brian P. Sharp
While Xenia is only about a 20-minute drive from downtown Dayton, it can seem far unless there is a reason to be going. No reason is better than good eats! That’s what took my friend Bob and me to Xenia one evening. I had heard about a little restaurant called Smokin’ Aces BBQ and Grille that was supposed to be pretty good.
Since it gets dark early these days, it was kind of tough to find … or maybe I am just directionally challenged. That said, Smokin’ Aces is located in a little strip center with a K-Mart, a Hallmark and a number of other restaurants. Smokin’ Aces sits right out front. The atmosphere is a bit more bar-like than I imagined, but had quite a few tables filled on a Thursday evening (which is always a good sign). The atmosphere reminded me of Cheers (where it seemed to be full of regulars or locals that all know each other). Our server David quickly greeted us after we found a table.
It seemed David was doing double duty this night, because he was bartender and server, though he never missed a beat. While the menu is not overly complicated, there are many options that allow you to see that there is more than bar food being created in this kitchen.
We decided to start with an appetizer of Loaded Saratoga Chips — sliced potatoes fried and topped with barbecue sauce, ranch dressing, cheese, scallions and bacon bits. They had me at potatoes and fried … the rest was just a treat! While enjoying our drinks (yes, there is a full bar with plenty of options – and sweet tea too) … the chips arrived looking like a divine heart attack I was eager to dive right in to. The more refined diners might have chosen to use the appetizer plates, but as good as these looked, I went for it, digging in. The order certainly makes sharing easy … or not!
Since I am a person that could eat soup or chili every day of my life, I also opted to try a bowl of the chili. David had everything timed perfectly — never were we just sitting with a table full of food. The chili, a sweet variety (another favorite of mine) is topped with some fried onions — the onions are not quite onion rings and not as crispy and short as onion straws — however, they were perfectly sweet and crispy, and a great topping for the chili. Definitely worth a try.
While there are plenty of sandwich options on the menu, the choice at a barbecue place seemed clear — ribs and pulled pork. Since my father owned a meat business for many years in Dayton, I consider myself pretty picky about meat, its quality and the way it’s prepared. Both options come served with two house-made barbecue sauces on the side – and both are great choices. One sauce was a more traditional barbecue sauce and the other house specialty was a sweet mustard-based sauce. The ribs are perfectly rubbed and don’t actually even need an additional sauce. They are fall-off-the-bone good, moist and charred in all the right ways. The pulled pork was served atop sweet corn Johnny cakes that were simply delightful. David even mentioned that we could just order the Johnny cakes as a side the next time — good to know! The pork was a large portion of gently cooked pulled pork, still moist and yet charred in spots with a perfect smoky flavor. One of the best features of both entrées was that nothing was covered in sauce — a true sign of a good chef. Let the food speak for itself and offering the sauce options allows the customer to experience the kind of sauce, and as much of the sauce, as they wish.
Each entrée is served with two sides. We chose scalloped potatoes, baked beans and coleslaw. There is something about eating at a barbecue place that always has me wanting baked beans and coleslaw. After the Loaded Saratoga Chips, I certainly didn’t need another potato option, but it was a nice creamy mixture with just enough crisp edges to make it a nice complement to the barbecue. The baked beans were sweet and full of flavor and also come topped with onion straws — while two bean options (chili and baked beans) are a bit of overkill (for many reasons) they should both be sampled. The coleslaw is served moist and tangy sweet; again a real hit.
All of this said, there is still a menu full of options — plenty of appetizers, soups, sandwiches and certainly the barbecue options for which the place is named — and even desserts. This is a family-oriented restaurant with a variety of unique menu items, including specialty burgers, comfort food, ribs and barbecue. A full-service bar is also available and all menu prices are reasonable.
Smokin’ Aces is definitely worth the drive to Xenia to enjoy a nice change of pace from the normal dining spots. Give it a try. You won’t be disappointed.
Who wants to join me for some chili and Johnny cakes?
Smokin’ Aces is located 44 Xenia Towne Square in Xenia. (937) 372-7675. Also, check them out on Facebook.
Reach DCP food critic Brian P. Sharp at Theatre@DaytonCityPaper.com.