Serious Eats took a trip over to Blue Smoke today in search of a hearty lunch with some Southern flavor. The spacious, funky bar and restaurant serves up hickory-smoked meats with all the fixin's to a wildly diverse crowd that included, in our hour there, power-suited businessmen, large families with children, young couples and portly Southern gentlemen. Blue Smoke may not be the most authentic of barbecue joints; the Carolina boy in our party raised some questions about the authenticity of the food, looking askance at the perfectly round hushpuppies and the lightly seasoned pulled pork. But even he agreed that every dish tasted fantastic.
We started out with two classics: hush puppies and deviled eggs. Hush puppies are usually served alongside the main course but we (well, I) didn't want to wait that long; the little fried corn cakes were calling to me. They came to the table piping hot with a jalapeno marmalade on the side. Absolutely round, the size and shape of golf balls, these didn't look like the free-form babies my South Carolina grandmother used to make, and the accompanying marmalade would be an affront to any hush puppy purist. But these were crisp on the outside, soft and bready on the inside, with a clean cornmeal flavor and just enough spice. The marmalade was so good that I kept spooning it onto my plate even after the hush puppies were gone. The deviled eggs were equally tasty, fresh and creamy with an ample dash of seasoned salt and beautifully served with a watercress-almond salad.
And the food just kept getting better. My "barbecued mussels"—actually a starter, but large enough for light lunch—were steamed in a rich tomato-jalapeno sauce with garlic and pork bacon. The PEI mussels were fresh and tender, accented but not overwhelmed by the bold flavors of the sauce. One of my companions ordered the grilled shrimp lunch special, which resembled a salad more than an entree; the large serving of vegetables dwarfed the five lonely shellfish that lay on top. The shrimp were fresh and seasoned, however, and made for a solid meal.
The real standout at our table was the pulled pork sandwich. Piled high on a grilled brioche bun, the mound of steaming, hickory-smoked pork was tender, juicy and expertly shredded. There was surprisingly little seasoning or sauce, which I appreciated; the simple preparation allowed the flavors of the meat and smoke to shine through. For the strong of mouth and brave of heart, however, a healthy dash of tableside hot sauce kicks the moisture and spice up a few levels.
All in all, our experience at Blue Smoke was a great one. The ambiance was relaxed but upbeat, perfect for a social lunch. The decor was modern and exciting, with bare brick walls, creative metalwork and an enormous wooden bar. And no question- the food was excellent. I only wish I'd been hungry enough to try Blue Smoke's famous ribs, or to do more than drool over the tantalizing dessert menu.
116th East 27th St. New York, NY 10016