When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Location: 3636 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Open: About three weeks
Eats: Santa Maria-style barbecue
Most Valley residents and food enthusiasts are probably familiar with the country's four major barbecue styles: Texas, Memphis, Kansas City, and Carolina. What many people might not realize is that there's a fifth style of regional barbecue that's perhaps the most difficult to find outside the area from which it originated.
Hailing from California's Central Coast, this lesser-known variety is known as Santa Maria-style 'cue — and before you start to question its historical chops, know the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce has an entire website dedicated to the 150-year history of the regional barbecue tradition. So you know it's pretty legit.
When you break it down to basics, Santa Maria-style barbecue usually means top-block sirloin or tri-tip that's seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic salt and then grilled over local California oak.
And all this matters to you because the recently opened Smokehaus restaurant in Scottsdale specializes in this style of grilled meats.
The restaurant, as you may have gleaned from the name, comes from local restaurateur Dave Andrea, who also owns the Brat Haus restaurant next door and the short-lived Taco Haus that was located near the intersection of Scottsdale Road and Shea Boulevard. Smokehaus takes over the space most recently occupied by Union Barrelhouse, and with a sprawling patio, large bar, and casual but stylish seating area, the restaurant seems designed with Old Town patrons in mind. It's feels as much like a traditional restaurant as it does a perfect place to grab a beer and soak up some sun — and with a lengthy tap list, the spot's prepared to do so, too.
Which isn't to say the food's not worth a visit. We tried a few items, including the ABTs ($8), a sinful little starter that takes smoked jalapeños, stuffs them with sausage and cheese and wraps the whole thing in bacon. If the spicy/smoky/cheesy decadence isn't already enough, the restaurant also provides a side of tangy ranch for dipping, which comes in handy when you want to cool the inevitable mouth fire that results from the whole jalapeño. All in all, the bacon-wrapped creations are probably too much of a good thing — or too much of everything — but also are unlikely to go unfinished should an order find its way to your table.
The pulled pork sandwich ($8) is more impressive. Juicy pork oozed smoky flavor, and though the sandwich came dressed simply with coleslaw, each bite offered a range of textures, thanks to the different parts of the smoked pig. Our only complaint would have to be that the bottom bun began to fall apart under the weight of the sandwich's fillings, thanks in part to the corrosive quality that the barbecue sauce and coleslaw dressing happened to have on bread.
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Finally, we had to try the restaurant's signature tri-tip, which can be ordered in a sandwich ($10.25) or sliced ($15) with two sides. Breaking with Santa Maria-style barbecue tradition, Smokehaus opts to grill and then smoke its tri-tip, giving the thick slices of beef a smoky flavor that's distinctly nontraditional, if not entirely unwelcome. More problematic was the fact that our tri-tip arrived slightly overcooked. With such a lean cut of meat, tri-tip usually is served medium-rare, which our cut at Smokehaus was not.
We chose to split our plate between the tri-tip and chicken, which the restaurant marinates and then grills over charcoal. The moist dark meat was just about perfect, with plenty of char and crisp skin to provide flavor.
The sides — we chose pork belly mac 'n' cheese and potato salad — were mostly underwhelming. Somehow, the pieces of pork belly scattered throughout the subtly flavored mac 'n' cheese were bland and dry, and the potato salad simply failed to make any impression.
Of course, barbecue can be a fickle beast, so when it comes to smoked meats, we're willing to cut a new restaurant some slack. We'll hope to see Smokehaus iron out the kinks and help give California's barbecue traditional some serious street cred in the Valley.