I first saw the sign that Holy Smoke BBQ was “coming soon” to the former Eckerd’s drug store space on Curry Ford Road in, gosh, it had to be 2008. As time wore on and sooner became later, I figured the project was abandoned as economically infeasible in economically feeble times. But every so often, I’d see some sign of progress on construction taking place.
Then, just before Christmas, it opened. I visited around New Year’s, and then again this month, and both times I found myself wondering: why didn’t they spend the last three years learning how to run a barbecue restaurant?
One of the tenets of operating a restaurant that specializes in barbecue is to have barbecue on hand. Yet, on both visits -- and other days as related by the experiences of readers -- major menu items were unavailable. Pulled pork one night, ribs another. Various side items, too. When the server told me the items that were unavailable on my last visit, I looked at him incredulously and asked how that could be possible at 7 p.m.? He shrugged and said the supply truck hadn’t shown up with the delivery until five o’clock, too late for the hours-long smoking process.
Well, first of all, I hope the kitchen manager has found a new supplier by now. Secondly, as the morning hours ticked away and the window of smokability began to close without any pork butts in sight, why didn’t somebody hop his own butt into a car and go fetch the necessary items?
On the first visit I wondered if they hadn’t just started to smoke my order when I placed it. Why it would take more than 25 minutes for foods that should have already been cooked is beyond me. And I’d like to say it was worth the wait, but, unfortunately no, it wasn’t. Not bad, just mostly not worth it.
(And not worth it in the case of the two-meat platter, which, for $15.99, included what I would call sampler size portions of meat.)
Usually a barbecue restaurant has a specialty cut. You go to 4Rivers for brisket, for example, or Bubbalou’s for ribs. I wasn’t able to identify what Holy Smoke’s star ‘cue is, and I’m not in a position to suggest one. Again, while all of the (available) barbecue I tasted was good enough, nothing stood out as outstanding.
I might give a nod to the brisket that was featured in the chili, which was overall a very nice chili, though it could have used a little kick in the spicing. The brisket was sufficiently tender and added the right amount of meaty juiciness.
There's one very odd item called cupcake chicken. It isn't explained on the menu (listen carefully and you'll hear servers telling curious guests what it is over and over). Basically, it's a chicken thigh cooked in a metal ramekin. That's about it.
Among the sides I sampled I liked that the collard greens were cut in strips rather than chopped, but they desperately needed some flavor (can’t go wrong with bacon -- or maybe bacon wasn’t on that day’s delivery truck). And, oddly, the beans in the red beans and rice were white. I don’t know what else to say about that. The fried green tomatoes were the clear winner, firm texture and sweet-tangy taste.
The staff is as green as the tomatoes but not as good. And if there was a manager on the premises either time I visited, I was unable to identify him or her.
The main dining area is a large space done up in early rustic. You’ve got your rough hewn wood, your saddles hanging from the wall and requisite Proud-to-be-an-American jingoistica.
It appears that there are other parts of the space still under development. Banquet areas, perhaps? If I may offer some unsolicited advice: set aside the continued construction and concentrate on the restaurant that is already -- at long last -- open. If that isn’t brought up to the level of quality at other area barbecue joints, there isn’t going to be a need for banquet space. Oh, and print what a cupcake chicken is on the menu.
Holy Smoke BBQ is at 3000 Curry Ford Road (at Crystal Lake Road), Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. Here is a link to the website. The phone number is 407-730-3114.