Most barbecue restaurants aren’t known for their dynamic cocktail programs – think margaritas, an array of Moscow Mule variations, and hideous things like “electric lemonade.”
And the drinks are invariably served in a mason jar, which is presumably the only vessel that people south of the Mason-Dixon Line use for consuming beverages.
Not that a BBQ joint needs fancy drinks to get by. Even mediocre barbecue restaurants have a line out the door half the time, so I understand the logic of not offering anything more than beer and sugary drinks.
Which makes the cocktail program at The Smoke Shop all the more unusual.
BBQ in Kendall
The Kendall Square barbecue restaurant, which opened this past summer in the space once occupied by Tommy Doyle’s, has plenty going for it even before you factor in the drinks.
There’s the award-winning chef – Andy Husbands, owner of two South End restaurants, author of four cookbooks (soon to be five), veteran of TV’s Hell’s Kitchen, and decorated pitmaster with 20 years’ worth of competitive barbecuing experience.
There’s the food, of course. BBQ lovers of all stripes will find favorites on a menu that blends Memphis, Kansas City, and Texas barbecue styles, punctuated by Asian influences and a few local touches.
And there’s the restaurant itself, which is unrecognizable from the Irish bar that shut its doors in 2014. In addition to a spacious dining room, a glass-enclosed bar area is bathed in natural light during the day and offers guests a view of the plaza at 1 Kendall Square.
An unadorned concrete floor gives the space a modern but appropriately workmanlike appearance.
Twenty-plus chairs surround a stunningly long bar, behind which is one of the most impressive whiskey selections I’ve ever seen – bourbons, ryes, single malts, Japanese whiskies, you name it. Yes, even that holy grail of bourbons, Pappy Van Winkle.
It’s not a bad place to stop in for a drink, even if you think you can avoid succumbing to the heavenly aromas wafting from the kitchen. Which brings me back to my original point – barbecue doesn’t typically scream “craft cocktails.”
But in a place like this, their omission would be glaring. Why go through all the trouble of modernizing the space and developing an inventive food menu, only to serve pitchers of Miller Lite and faux moonshine drinks?
Lead bartender Jordan McCusker puts all those whiskies to good use. The eponymous Smoke Shop Old Fashioned combines Old Overholt Rye, smoked simple syrup, Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters, and a Laphroaig scotch rinse.
The drink more than lives up name, with a smoky aroma and flavor, but the effect doesn’t overpower and is balanced with the moderate sweetness you’d expect of a traditional Old Fashioned.
The Last Hope blends Old Overholt Rye, red currant syrup, sherry, lemon sherbert, and egg white for a creamy drink with an unexpected complement of flavors. It’s beautifully presented with a sprig of fresh rosemary.
The Northern Blues will warm you up on a cold New England night. This hot cider drink features Four Roses bourbon, burnt cinnamon syrup, lemon, and green chartreuse.
Beyond the Drink List
Despite the work that’s gone into the cocktail menu, Jordan doesn’t mind if you avoid it entirely. Calling the drink list something of a “greatest hits” compilation, he explains that he prefers to learn about his customers’ spirit preferences and then tinker with recipes.
That leads to some off-menu delights like this one, combining a type of Fernet (not Branca), Aperol, raspberry syrup, lemon, and an egg white.
He also offers the first drink he ever came up with on his own, while working at Somerville’s Saloon. Made with Ford’s gin, ginger syrup, Montenegro, lemon, and Peychaud’s bitters, it’s finished with the endlessly entertaining flaming citrus peel garnish (pyrotechnics not shown; one of the perils of taking pictures in a BBQ place is having to de-sauce your fingers before operating a camera).
And then there’s the coup de grâce – a whiskey version of the Ramos Gin Fizz. This beauty swaps gin for rye but otherwise adheres to the traditional recipe of heavy cream, egg white, lemon, lime, simple syrup, yellow chartreuse, and orange blossom water. Creamy, tart, and balanced, it’s almost too pretty to drink.
Seeing a drink like this on a cocktail menu is rare, given that a full 12 minutes of vigorous shaking is required to produce that artful meringue topping. (So tip generously; Jordan may need rotator cuff surgery someday.)
It’s also about the last thing you’d expect to find at the typical BBQ restaurant. But The Smoke Shop’s greatest strength may be its willingness to move past the conventions of a quintessentially American cuisine.
Even if that means no mason jars.
Address: 1 Kendall Square, Cambridge
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