The warm smell of smoke mingled with the scent of simmering barbecue sauce. At SmoQe, food is prepared the way our ancestors cooked it—over a wood fire. And if the mostly full house on my last lunchtime visit is any indication, they are going to need a bigger parking lot.
Conversation echoed off the cement floor in the refurbished pizza parlor building. We took a seat and studied the menu, which posed difficult decisions, creative spelling aside. Although orders are placed at the counter, diners are treated to cloth napkins and real silverware, and the “plastic” soda cups are 100 percent compostable.
Our six meals were delivered sporadically, but all within a few minutes. A half pound of peel-and-eat Hot ’n’ Spicy Shrimp ($11) was seared in the wood-fired oven and seasoned with both chipotle and smoked paprika, giving them a depth of hot spice.
The iceberg Wedge Salad ($5) was crisp, with crunchy house-made croutons, and included a welcome twist of sweet, roasted garlic.
Options for the wood-fired pizza include regular or gluten-free crust, dairy-free cheese, grilled and then wood-fired, or entirely wood-fired. The colorful, thin-crusted Pesto Pizza Napolitano ($12) was topped with alternating spoonfuls of tart herbed red sauce, dollops of ricotta, aromatic garlic, fresh mozzarella and rich basil pesto, and topped after cooking with fresh basil. The heat of the Italian pizza oven, coaxed a nuttier flavor from the sprinkle of tanned pine nuts.
In addition to house-ground beef burgers, SmoQe offers a Bison Burger ($11). On a poppy seed bun, it included grilled onions, Irish cheddar, and a choice of fries. Thin sweet potato fries, lightly dotted with salt crystals, were light with crisp exteriors.
Other sandwiches, made with thin, grilled focaccia bread, are called tacos ($7 to $8). Each comes with a choice of house-made thick, BBQ-seasoned potato chips, maple beans, or crisp coleslaw, unusually dressed with tasty vinaigrette. The hormone-free beef brisket was dry-rubbed and smoked for 18 hours. The smoked chicken breast taco included arugula, avocado and cheddar cheese. Regular and spicy BBQ sauces are also available.
The plate of Pulled Pork ($10), smoked over apple wood for 14 hours, came heaped in a large, square bowl. Soft threads of tender meat and rich, chewy end pieces were flecked with red peppers. I enjoyed the tart and piquant vinegar-based sauce. There was enough left over to make two sizeable (and delicious) sandwiches at home.
On my next visit, I’ll make sure to save room for dessert. SmoQe offers cookies, carrot cake, lemon meringue pie, and caramel apple dumplings with ice cream. Sure to be family favorites are the S’mores ($9), which include a sampling of house-made ingredients that you cook at your table.
SmoQe, 10110 Soquel Dr., Aptos, 662-2BBQ. Beer and wine. Open Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Closed Monday. Visit smoqe.com
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