Smoken Bones Cookshack
7-1701 Douglas Street
Mon to Thurs: 11am to 11pm
Friday to Sat: 11am to Midnight
Sunday: 11am to 10pm
Sunday afternoon the winds were gusting up to 110 kilometres per hour, the power was cutting in and out, and the sky was casting an ashen glow over everything. In short, an excellent day to tuck into some barbecue.
Mr. ST and I seldom go to any new restaurants while they are new and it usually works to everyone’s advantage. If a restaurant has been lucky enough to generate some buzz, develop a following from its previous ventures, or attract the attention of hipsters, that often translates to simultaneously slammed and still working out the details. But Smoken Bones Cookshack is a bit of an exception to the “new restaurant” rules so we made an exception.
This isn’t their first rodeo. The ‘cue here was perfected over several years at their original Langford location, where they developed a solid reputation for decadence, quality, and simplicity. And in moving to the Hudson Building at Douglas and Herald, they haven’t re-conceptualised, they’re refined. For these reasons, we didn’t think twice about visiting within 72 hours of opening. We didn’t think of them as a “new restaurant” but more like an old friend: you know you’ve both changed, and that things won’t be the same, but the spark of affection never stopped burning. Frankly, we also just couldn’t wait any longer. I may or may not have been enthusiastically harassing them on Twitter for a few weeks (encouraging, right?).
The new space is exposed and strikingly industrial, yet the brick-coloured palette and the choice of textures give it warmth. I understand why Liz and Adrian mentioned how easy it is to forget this space actually seats 110 people.
Smoken Bones is known for doing three things very well: ribs, pulled meats, and comforting sides. Their menu now boasts some new directions – they’re venturing into fried seafood– and the cocktail menu features some intriguing options like the Smoken Tomato Margarita and the C’monawannaleia with roasted pineapple and poblano peppers and bacon infused vodka. Yes. And Yes.
We started lunch with fried pickles. The best fried pickles we’ve ever had were at Saint John Ale House: they had a crispy, dry coating and were served with Thai chilli sauce. By contrast, these are wet battered babies, with a thick and doughy coating.
If you love clams casino or clam strips and fries then you’ll probably be drawn to the clam and bacon sandwich.
It’s a proven flavour combination and a great idea. No other restaurant in Victoria that we frequent is offering anything similar. However, it needs some edits. It should really be served on a sub roll or hot dog bun cut partway. My heart sank as I picked up the round Kaiser-style roll and watched about half the strips come tumbling out the back end. We both agreed the clam strips were too small and/or overcooked. A heavy wet batter is a beautiful thing – it produces a satisfying, deep toasty coating like the best doughnut you’ve ever had, but it’s not meant for shellfish. Shellfish simply shrivel and give up their moisture and get completely scared away. I also wonder why the bacon has to be served in such tiny chopped pieces too – after all, bacon already comes in a strip!
Fried shellfish are very common all over the East Coast, coated in a light, carbonated batter and barely kissing the oil. As a result, you can see the shellfish through the batter and bite through little resistance before getting that mildly funky rush. Mr. ST was dying to try this same sandwich with oysters instead, hoping they’d stand up better to the batter. We’d love to see what Smoken Bones would do with the classic Po’ Boy. Sure, these new dishes need tweaking, but we know what they’re capable of.
The meat plate was as good as we remembered.
You can order a full pound of beef brisket or pulled pork or half and half. Good news for us, because picking one or the other is like being asked to pick a favourite child: It’s just not fair and generally should be avoided. Both are seasoned with subtlety and the flavour of the meat itself is prominent and lasting in every bite. Mr. ST thinks the pulled pork from Pig is better but I happen to find their saucing offensively sweet and overpowering. To his point, if you like your pulled meats smothered in sauce I would suggest you get some of the good stuff in a sandwich instead.
For sides, you can choose from hand-cut fries, yam fries, seasonal veg, barbecue beans, mac and cheese, butter fried cabbage, candied carrots, cornbread or their daily special “random starch”. We saw most of these leaving the kitchen today and all looked delectable. Provided the barbecue beans haven’t changed recipes since the old location, we found them to be sweet and smoky and worth eating in a big bowl all by themselves. The fries are thick but still fresh and light. They’re also dusted in the house sweet and spicy rub so naturally you won’t be able to stop eating them even after you are full and have said so aloud. I had to pull the plate-stacking-enforced-conclusion move on myself. The butter fried cabbage was a nice non-carb option and I would order it again, though I think cabbage is more appetizing in strips rather than large squares.
Next time, we plan to order a rib platter. Those dinosaur bones of darkly charred meat that kept whizzing by us are a critical statement for a place like Smoken Bones and we’d be remiss to even have an opinion about this place without actually trying THE BONES. Over time, it’s these high-quality statement dishes that earned them a loyal following when they were tucked into a strip mall on a busy thoroughfare without any cool-factor at all, and those same dishes will help them to not only eek out a name for themselves but shine in the competitive downtown market.