Restaurant talk: Smoke

The world’s greatest soup, split pea, is a regular feature on the menu of Smoke, the new restaurant at the Belmont Hotel. Their respect for the pea is enough to make me happy, but that’s not the only thing on the menu that made me light up.

We started with pimento cheese croquettes, which are served with a guajillo chile sauce. The croquettes have a crispy brown crust and homemade pimento cheese center that’s just warm, and they’re great with the chile sauce, which has a little spicy kick. They also came with perfectly cooked grilled romaine.

We also tried the shaved smokehouse ham with cheese biscuit and honeycomb. It’s just as good as it sounds, although we weren’t crazy about Smoke’s gourmet take on biscuits — I thought it tasted funny, but it’s probably just that they don’t use Bisquick like we do at home. But the salty, smoky ham and fresh, fresh honey were a treat.

Next came the field pea and hambone soup. The pureed pea soup is the color of new grass and served with a dollop of cream and shredded barbecue pork on top. The consistency was a little thick, but it tasted wonderfully fresh. At $8, it’s not the cheapest bowl of soup in town, but it’s served with grilled bread slices, and it’s enough for a meal on its own.  Smoke also offers an onion, turnip and kale soup, which we’ll try next time.

Finally, we ordered a half-pound of pulled whole hog barbecue from the Scantron, which was $6. It was my frist taste of Carolina-style barbecue, and it won’t be my last. The shredded meat is tender and perfectly cooked with a vinegary sauce, served in a cone-shaped rack with blue cheese, jicama and cabbage slaw — the blue cheese is such a great idea. It tasted great. We also ordered small sides (a bargain at $2 apiece) of hominy casserole with cheese and chiles, and a wonderful medely of pickled carrots, green beans, onions, cabbage and cucumbers. The small order of barbecue with one or two starters and sides is enough for two people.

We got to try all of those tasty dishes, plus two glasses of wine (they have about a dozen wines by the glass) and two beers, all for about $65 plus tip, and it was worth what we paid. We were too full to order dessert, but we liked the dessert menu concept. There are five pies — mescal and key lime meringue, coconut and marshmallow creme, hot fudge and chocolate, molasses and pecan, and rosemary caramel apple. They’re all $7 a piece, and you can chose from four toppings. I’m saving room for the coconut next time.


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