Sunday, July 06, 2008

Smokey's House of BBQ - Dana Point

A large, leafy tree stands in the middle of the room. Near the queue to the register, there are two booths made up as jail cells, complete with metal bars and wanted posters.

It's corny. It's kitschy. It's the kind of interior design cribbed straight out of the Walt Disney playbook on Western theming; a cartoony, fun, Frontierland-version of the Old West, intended to disarm and put you into a playful mood conducive to eating lots of BBQ.

I didn't need any more convincing. BBQ was already on my brain. Why, after all, would I drag my friends to Dana Point to Smokey's House of BBQ if I wasn't looking forward to a night of sinking my teeth into a rack of baby backs, stripping meat from bone, licking my sauce-sullied fingers.

Unfortunately, despite the open kitchen that boasted a steel-grated, platform roasting rack that can be lifted and lowered into a pit of fire; I am still waiting for my night of BBQ bliss.

But first, the good.

The chile con queso ($4.99), which duped our group of Californians into thinking we were ordering a bowl of chili with cheese, was actually chile with the "e" -- a dish any Texan would recognize as an appetizer similar to nachos. We loved it anyway.

Triangles of fried tortilla -- perfectly rigid and addictively crunchy -- were piled on a plate and drizzled in a silky, spicy, cheesy sauce that bordered on Cheez Wiz and fondue. Grilled corn nibblets, diced chile, and messy dollops of sour cream and guacamole rescued it from being mistaken for movie theater nachos.

Then there were the catfish fingers ($6.99); fried bite-sized pieces of fish, breaded in just enough cornmeal to protect the flesh from drying out in the hot oil. Dunked into a searing remoulade, each nugget was easier to eat than popcorn and just as fun.

We would've laughed off the side of "Gourmet Mac & Cheese" ($5.99) for its oxymoronic title, but it pleased our resident mac-and-cheese connoisseur. Though, admittedly, she hasn't met a mac-and-cheese she hasn't liked.

My other tablemate, who ordered the tri tip po' boy ($12.99), couldn't stop eating the hot, lightly-battered, and freshly fried sweet potato fries that came with the sandwich; and I couldn't stop stealing them.

The baked beans that came as a side to my main course was sugary enough to rot your teeth, but also strewn with bits of pork. It begged to be eaten out of pie pans, around a campfire, reenacting my favorite scene from Blazing Saddles.

But like Will Smith's Wild Wild West, the baby back ribs ($22.99) it accompanied let me down. As with the film, expectations ran high. All signs were pointing to greatness, but ultimately, on this night, with those ribs; it lead to mediocrity.

And at Smokey's, there were actual signs; big ones in bold print that all but promised meats that were slow-smoked; meats that would be fall-off-the-bone tender and flavorful. What I got for dinner was neither.

Even though they were the meatiest bones I've ever seen, it took a concerted effort to work that meat off the bone. No amount of teeth tugging could coax all of it off. By the time I gave up, ragged patches of it hung on like barnacles on a ship.

It's as if it wasn't cooked slow or long enough, leaving the full, lip-smacking potential of the meat's collagen untapped and the flavors muted. But what I missed most on the rack I had this night was the caramelization, where the sugars and fat combine into a tasty, brown-and-black crust.

I went back to scarfing spoonfuls of their wonderful baked beans, hoping that Smokey's (which has only been open a few months) will get better soon, and chuckling again about Blazing Saddles. Now that was a good movie.

Smokey's House of BBQ
(949) 388-8102‎
32860 PCH #4
Dana Point, CA 92629

Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale's - Costa Mesa


At 10:28 AM, Blogger The Blue Horseshoe said...

Interesting ...More and more BBQ keeps popping up here in the OC. I would love for you to check out Bad to the Bone in San Juan Cap. (which had the best meat I've had in OC) and Beachwood BBQ in Seal Beach (Which has awesome craft beers, a great location, and great chicken and pork)

I'll give Smokey's a couple months to work out the kinks and give it a look see.

PS -- Long time reader Keep up the great Blog

At 12:11 PM, Blogger Bill said...

Womp Womp Womp....hopefully they do get better because everything was leading to the great expectation.

At 1:06 PM, Blogger Diamond Dog said...

Wow Elmo, you are on a roll with great write ups! Keep it up. This and the Charlie Palmer's write up are what I have been talking about!

I am convinced after eating BBQ in Texas and Oklahoma all the time, we will never get great BBQ in S. Cal. People just can't get it right. Tulsa Rib Co, Rib Trader, Tustin Garage, Lucilles....all sucky. They are only palatable if you don't know better. Kind of like someone telling you and trying to convince you that the sushi they bought pre packaged in a box at the grocery store was the most awesome sushi they had and is good as any sushi bar..

And what is with the prices they try to charge you out here??!!! In Dallas Texas, a 3 meat combo with enough meat for 2 people and 2 sides is usually right around $9.95 and at the most 11.95.

$22 bucks for a slab of baby backs??!! Makes me hate S. Cal at times. I guess they have to do that to pay for those over used spiral french fry cone holders for the catfish nuggets that all the restaurants use. No self respecting BBQ place would every use one of those things (they wen't out with 1992 all the blue glassware that was so hip for a short while)

And Elmo, stop eating those baby backs....everyone knows that really BBQ purists eat straight up Pork Ribs (spare ribs). None of that yuppified baby back crap. Nout enough meat so they never get as tender as spare ribs.

Here is another one of my favorite from OKC

Notice the prices. Notice NO Baby Backs. Notice the fried Okra.

I don't get these BBQ places down here....just copy these hundreds of other guys out there, in existance already....Its not that hard.

Everything you wrote is spot on. I only disagree with one thing. Sweet Potato Fries. Personally I think its one of the most over rated food trends right now. If I want sweet, I'll order a cheese cake or something. Give me steak fries from Steer Inn any day or Pomme Frites from Flemmings or even any of the "yellow" fries from all the independent burger joints that are owned by Greeks.

Funny thing, I posted on another blog my list of over rated and over featured foods and Sweet Potato Fries was on it!
Here is that list:

Clam Chowder in a bread bowl

Ahi Tartar towers for appetizers

Crabcakes (no one makes them right)

The chilled seafood assortment platter at any really expesnive steak house


Krispy Kreme Doughnuts

Anything with Angel Hair Pasta

Wasabi mashed potatoes

Sweet Potato Fries

Chocolate Martini's

Cheesesteak Sandwiches

Multiple Course Tasting Menu's

Anyway, loved reading about this place and loved that it wasn't another Asian or Mexican Place (although I am craving some Asian "soul food" today (I get weird if I don't eat Asian food at least once a week.)

Keep up the great work.

Diamond Dog - The First Food Blog Critic and Commentator ;)

At 5:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Elmo,

If it's ribs you want, I second the recommendation for Beachwood BBQ. Their pulled pork is underwhelming and their brisket is just plain boring, but the sausage is delicious and the pork ribs are very nice. They don't need even need sauce to be enjoyed (which is key, because the sauces aren't much to write home about)!

Beachwood also has a fried green tomato sandwich that is even better than the ribs- I've been there more times just to have that sandwich than anything else. Check out my writeup here.

I also gotta piggyback on DD's commentary here... sweet potato fries look beautiful, but after I have a few of them I realize they're just a pleasantly inoffensive finger food with no lasting impact on my taste buds. I'd spring for a good bowl of yams over them any day.

Anyway, thanks for warning us ahead of time on all the bad BBQ OC has to offer. I don't have to wherewithal for this mission, so I always look forward to your next Q review!

At 6:08 PM, Blogger Diamond Dog said...

Don't forget that you must add Burells, to my list of asstastic, sucky BBQ in OC ;)

At 9:51 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

Pretty bad when a restaurant does such a poor rendition of what is supposedly it's signature dish.
I've been to Bad 2 the Bone a couple times, once being so-so, another time being quite good. Worth a checkout.
And yeah, prices for BBQ out here is just nuts. And I STILL haven't found a place that uses an honest to goodness HOT & SPICY BBQ sauce, instead of some syrupy goop. I put sugar on my breakfast cereal fer Chrissakes, not my pork ribs!

At 10:00 AM, Blogger Wonginator said...

Nice honest review, Elmo. I hadn't heard of Smokey's before your review, as I thought I knew of every BBQ place in OC.

Others recommend the baby backs at Beachwood BBQ, but I had an underwhelming experience there. The ribs were somewhat tasty and pretty tender, so they were easy to cut off the bone, but there was heavy caramelization of the sauces on the outside of the ribs. On the positive side, they have 3 or 4 different types of BBQ sauces that you can try on the ribs. Pricey also, as I think the full rack of baby backs was $27.

Best baby backs I've had in OC are still at Chicago's Best. Consistently good baby backs are so hard to find, which is why I don't order them that often.

At 11:52 AM, Blogger Nguyen Duong said...

i'm digging your food pix elmo! you frame up the shots nicely. definitely make me wanna lick the bbq sauce off the screen.

At 2:11 PM, Blogger Astera said...

I've been to Smokey's twice now, and both times, it has disappointed. My husband and I visited the first time just a few weeks after the restaurant had opened.

We were willing to forgive the restaurant some quirks, since it was so new, but it was worse than I expected. They were out of many of their menu offerings, as well as most of their beers on tap. Also, their service model is very strange. When we were there, we waited in line to order and pay, and we were given cups for soda, but when I went to fill my cup, another server was there, and she insisted on filling my cup for me. Then, servers brought out the food, but they brought the wrong dishes, so we had to send it back. I think it would be much easier if you just went in, sat down, and got served as in a regular restaurant.

The food was underwhelming. My tri-tip didn't have much flavor at all, and I thought the beans were too sweet. Also, none of the tabletop sauces were that great. All in all, we were unsatisfied.

Two months later, I had a craving for barbecue again, though. This time, I got my food to go. I thought maybe it would be better this time around, but sadly, it was not. The bread for my po-boy tasted kind of stale, and the meat was still not very flavorful.

I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who thinks that this place isn't that great. It always seems packed, and I don't know why!

At 3:45 PM, Blogger 1000steps said...


I have to agree that if you are making the rare trip to So. OC and looking for BBQ, Bad to the Bone in SJC blows Smokey's away. I ate there once myself since it's so close to my house, and it really was disappointing.

At 6:11 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

The Blue Horseshoe,

Looks like Bad to the Bone is the place! SJC is far, but heck, I went to Dana Point for this post and it disappointed.


I like that! I wish I can attach the "womp womp" sound to this post!


Dude, your comment is longer than my post! ;-)

And "asstastic" should be a positive thing. As in, "Jessica Biel is asstastic!"

You deprive the word of its grander purpose (as I've demonstrated) when you use it negatively. HAHA!!!

You're wrong about sweet potato fries though. They're "cliche-licious!", you might say.

I can have it in any form, any place. Though, it's the Vietnamese who does 'em best. Try the fried sweet potatoes at Brodard. It will blow your mind.


You sold me at "fried green tomato sandwich". That's awesome. So many great recommendations. So little money!


I'll take my ribs sweet, I'll take my ribs spicy. I'll even take my ribs dry! But they've gotta have nice charring on them. I'll even pay whatever I have to, to get them. Though, paying less is always nice!


You know, I eat at that same food court where Chicago Best is a lot...and I keep forgetting to check them out for the ribs. And it was you who reminded me last time that they had it. Must try it soon!


Thanks! But it's nothing that a person with a run-of-the-mill digital camera and Photoshop can't do. Glad these came out okay though!


So this place may be like this for a long time to come. How sad. The place is nice. But you're right about how they operate, why not just make it a proper sit down?!


It sounds unanimous! Bad to the Bone at I come. Well, soon, after I get a few other restaurants I want to cover out of the way.

At 7:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Almost $23 bucks for ribs and they turn out that badly? I would have been pissed! At least you had a few good dishes.

Barnacles on a ship, great line.

At 9:34 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I actually have over half of it still in my fridge since last Thursday. It bums me out more than anything. Had it been good, I would've eaten the leftovers for Friday morning's breakfast...but now, the $23 disaster's going in the trash...SIGH.

At 9:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow everything here looks great! We might give it a try if we're in the area. nice blog!

At 10:31 PM, Blogger V said...

Nice review! I have been to Smokey's and had their Pulled Pork BBQ sandwich and sweet potato fries, which were both great.
Smokey's is pretty much on par with Bad To the Bone -- though Bads' ribs are better. Also, Piggy's just opened in San Juan Capistrano (I only had their fried chicken which was scrumptious.) The best BBQ I've had in South OC would be Rick's Secret Spot, but they only do catering now. But worth keeping them in mind if the opportunity strikes. Ciao!

At 7:46 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


You might be better off eating a tasty meal at home!


If only I knew to try their pulled pork sandwich, this review might have been different. I do love their sweet potato fries though, as I love all sweet potato fries!

At 12:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

FYI, the phone number on your review is incorrect.

The correct number is 949-388-8102

At 7:25 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Thanks! I made the correction.

At 7:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tastes pretty good for a new guy but they need to put some meat on the sandwiches!!!!

At 3:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am bbq fanatic. The proud owner of barrel, electric, and ceramic smokers. And charcoal and gas bbq grills. I went to smokey ten times with my family at a cost of probably $700. They surely recognize us. EVERY time their bbq meat was HORRIBLE. The critical absolutely critical error they make over and over and over again is that they DO NOT smoke cook their meats long enough. They short this process by hours. Every time. Every time I would get the manager and explain this to him and they just got kind of mad about it claiming hey we smoked x number of hours. Rather than to a specific internal temperature or even waiting to SEE the meat retract from the bones a little bit. But no... there is not a person in that whole business who knows a thing about bbq. I am never ever going back... except maybe to buy that lease out when they BK. Talk about stupid... they only need to cook their meats longer to fix 90% of the problem (and the only critical part). The guy owns this place may be a salad eating ex-mortgage broker. Sure seems like it.

At 3:46 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Meat in sandwiches is a good idea. Hope they listen! HAHA!


Man, that's so sad that they haven't improved...and even after you gave them good advice! So sad. When you open a BBQ house, let me know. I'll be first in line. Sounds like you know the secret!

At 4:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I second the comment that you can not get good texas or southern BBQ in south OC. Why are these places always full? IMHO, like so many other places in socal, people are buying based on perceived ambiance. Lucille's strikes me as an overgrown TGIF. It seems to me the people going to these places are like the annoying harley riders. They successful yuppies who won't be pinned down to the worlds narrow view of them, as they have a tough rebel side that is willing to buy a $4,000 bike with a $10,000 logo... only in this case, it's $6 of costco ribs for $22.


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