Downtown’s Smokin’ Bar-B-Que

By Paula Johnson

Photo: The rib plate at Smokin’ Bar-B-Que; photos: Paula Johnson

A Date in Dayton

One of my favorite downtown Dayton date nights is the double bill pairing of a movie at the Neon and dinner at Smokin’ Bar-B-Que right across the street. A former White Tower, this tiny diner-style BBQ joint has become a regular stop of mine. PIP (Palate In Progress) pointed out the graphic flame-licked letters of Smokin’ BBQ’s bold sign a while back when we were parking to see a flick. “Now, that just looks like a great place for some BBQ,” he commented.  As we exited the car, he said, “Boy, I can I smell that smoke! Let’s go there next time.” He actually advocated for having a second dinner after the movie, but I wasn’t quite ready for that. However, a plan was made, and two weeks later (we go to the Neon a lot), we made our first visit.

Barbecue is serious business, arguably taken the most seriously in the state of Texas (the style of barbecue you’ll find at Smokin’ BBQ). President Lyndon B. Johnson served barbecue for the Mexican President-elect Gustavo Diaz Ordaz in 1964, making it the first barbecue state dinner in the history of the United States. Regional styles vary, but the hallmark of Texas barbecue is the smoke. Meats are smoked for long periods and chopped or sliced. The sauce is usually tomato-based, and isn’t the primary taste. It’s an add-on, with attention focused on the smoky flavor and tenderness of the meat.

That ’50s Show

The smoke greets you as soon as you open your car door. And when you open the restaurant’s door, what could be the soundtrack of Happy Days welcomes you to the tiny dining space, made up of exactly two small counters. The vibe of the place makes it easy to imagine Richie Cunningham and The Fonz sitting at the counter alongside you, tapping their toes to Fats Domino. Behind the counter, Stacie was occasionally tapping hers, too, I noticed, as she came over to see if we had decided what we wanted. We needed a minute, despite having been there before. Smokin’ BBQ’s menu has a couple of nice surprises departing from standard barbecue menu choices. Tilapia, for one. A rib dinner is $9.45. Meatloaf and navy bean soup made with smoked ham hocks and pork stew are also hearty fall choices. The stew’s description, “a delicious blend of tri-colored peppers, mushrooms, and spices in a mushroom soup base with chunks of slow smoked pork loin served over mashed potatoes or egg noodles,” is what I plan to try next time.

The weather had been hot for our previous visits, and each time PIP and I both found ourselves gravitating to the smoked burger. It’s slow-smoked ground beef, and our version is piled high with bacon, cheese tomato, and hot BBQ sauce, a combination that is pretty close to perfect. Barbecue places aren’t usually known for their burgers. Indeed many places don’t even do a burger. But this one’s smoky taste really is unique and well worth trying.

Stoked for Smoke

This time, we needed to branch out and try some straight up barbecue, including a rib plate ($14.99) for me and a three meat plate ($16.99) for PIP. Plus, a quarter chicken added on for $3.95. I tried a new addition to the menu – fresh-cut French fries, plus green beans with smoked ham for my sides. The fries were plenty good, cooked in front of us right from the fry basket, piping hot. I added corn bread (additional charge) instead of the bread or bun that comes with all dinners. For me, corn bread is just so perfect with any kind of barbecue, though it doesn’t work for a sandwich, not an issue with my rib dinner. PIP went with a bun since he was trying a trio of smoked brisket, pork, and chicken. His sides were baked beans and crunchy house-made potato chips. The piles of meat were savory, smoky, and moist, only needing a dollop of sauce.

The chunks of sweet chopped onion and tart pickle slices served with all the dinners are the perfect accompaniments to enhance the smoky meat, and can even suffice with no additional barbecue sauce. I did add a bit to my ribs, preferring the spicier of the two squirt bottles on the counter (it’s the one I use on my burgers, too). As we munched, Keith, Smokin Bar-B-Que’s cook for the past 11 years, came out from behind the counter to check how everyone was enjoying the food. He and Stacie helm the small operation with efficiency and friendliness, another thing that makes a trip to Smokin’ worth your time. It’s a fun little place where you can chat, relax, and feel welcome.

We paid Stacie and told Keith we’d be back soon. “Eventually we’ll work our way through the menu,” PIP said as we were leaving. “It’s definitely going to be meatloaf next time. And that pork stew. Plus, you know we’ve never tried the banana pudding.” Good plan, and maybe a Smokin’ burger, too, just to reminisce about summer.

Smokin’ Bar-B-Que is located at 200 E. Fifth St. in downtown Dayton. For more information, please call 937.586.9790 or find ‘Smokin Bbq’ on Facebook.

Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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