Most of you know by now the Blackwater Bar-b-q, the smoked foods eatery that had nothing to do with the notorious war contractor with the same name, closed its location on South Orange Avenue near Le Coq au Vin. Actually, the mercenar… um, I mean war contractor didn’t have bar-b-q in its name and has since dropped Blackwater in favor of Xe. Also without Barbecue in its name. But I digress.
The old Blackwater space is still selling barbecue, now under the name Smokehouse Bar-bq. (You thought I was going to say Xe, didn’t you?) Smokehouse is a big place, the sort of restaurant that a 4-Rivers could fill on an off-night. There’s ample room both in the dining room and behind the counter, where, on a Friday night when I visited, just two staffers were filling the orders. That was fine, because there were only three parties at the time. Not sure why that should be, because most of what I tasted was pretty good ‘cue.
I especially liked the ribs, which were sufficiently tender as to relinquish the meat from the bone with the slightest of tooth-pull. The brisket was even better, with just the right amount of fattiness to give it ample flavor. Most of the items I sampled, it should be mentioned, needed some sauce to carry the flavors along. The brisket was the exception. Sauces, by the way, are mustard based and come in original, hot and sweet. The hot was not too spicy but had a pleasant kick.
Good pulled pork and tender quarter chicken, too. Side dishes were weak. The mac & cheese, which I think -- don’t quote me on this -- was shell pasta, was hard. Black-eyed peas looked like some sort of soup, as did the baked beans. The collard greens side dish was the only one that satisfied.
The two fellows who were running the place when I visited were both efficient and friendly. When a guest in front of me thanked the man slicing the brisket, he actually said, “You’re welcome.” And smiled. How refreshing to hear someone not say “No problem” when thanked.
The menu has a railroad theme because, it says on the menu, the grandfather of one of the owners had a love of trains while the grandfather of another owner loved barbecue. There isn’t much in the decor about the theme. In fact, it’s fairly sparsely decorated. But the restaurant is close to the railroad tracks, so I guess that counts for something.
Another reason you may have heard about Smokehouse Bar-bq recently is because it also started serving out of the former Crooked Bayou space on Central Boulevard across from Heritage Square. But that location’s main raison d’etre is as a bar. The food that is served there is prepared at the South Orange store and carted to downtown “about once a week” one of the staffers told me.
By the way, there still is a Blackwater barbecue in College Park. I don't know why they got out of the South Orlando market, except that the last time I tried both location, which doing a Foodie Awards visit, I found the one on Orange Avenue was faltering. The new owner of Smokehouse told me that he's still trying to overcome the negative reputation the place had gotten. I think he can do it.
Smokehouse Bar-bq is at 4718 S. Orange Ave., Orlando. The downtown location is 50 E. Central. Both locations are open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. You can call one number to reach either place: 407-545-7527. This link will take you to the Smokehouse Bar-bq Web site, but there isn’t a whole lot there. In fact, if you just want the menu, you can download it here .