This small joint on South Elliot Place, near the intersection of Fulton Street and Lafayette Avenue, is easy to miss if you’re not paying attention. There’s no sign on the outside, and it’s not until you’re inside that you see the telltale pigs in one of the few pieces of artwork on the sparsely decorated walls. The Smoke Joint is truly a Spartan affair, with just a few tables—all deuces—that can be arranged as needed to fit the crowd. Ordering is over-the-counter; some orders are delivered to the table. There’s no bar, but a nice selection of beer and wine is a plus.
The cleverly phrased menu offers a lot of variety without veering into the all-things-to-all-people territory. Appetizers include Brooklyn wings “dipped in Hollapeno,” rib tips “simmered in JointSmoke” and three different salads. Ribs include spare ribs, “baby (got) backs” and beef short ribs. “Hacked” beef and pork are also available on platters and sandwiches. Smoked chickens are available as whole birds, half birds and hacked. There’s also a crispy catfish sandwich and an Angus beef hot dog that can be topped with hacked beef or pork. Six different sides are offered a la carte, with different prices ($2.50 to $4.00) for each item.
I joined a fellow barbecue judge and two members of a New York competition team for a Sunday afternoon visit. Buisness was light but steady throughout our stay.
Wings were plump, crisp and coated with just enough of sauce (a mix of sweet and hot) to let the chicken flavor shine through. I liked them, but I'm not sure if they were smoked.
Beef short ribs (2 for $16) were large, well crusted and succulent inside, with large bits of fat easily discarded. The beef natural beef flavor was pleasing, although I’d like a little more going on with the rub and smoke. Hacked pork had a nice porky flavor but a somewhat chalky texture and was a little dry. Sauce helped. Babyback ribs ($22 per rack, $12 per half rack) were coated with a generous application of sauce that added some moisture and flavor to the meat, whose texture was drier and more toothsome than your everyday babyback. Chunky spares ($20 per rack, $10 per half rack) had less sauce, more smoke, much more rub and more natural flavor in the meat than the babybacks. They also had more give to them without verging on being fall-off-the-bone overcooked. All things considered, I preferred the spares. Overall, I'd say the meats were above average, with no extreme highs (spares and short ribs came the closest) or lows (pork came the closest).
Each meat arrived with sauces in small cups. Both the regular and the hot were thinner versions of standard barbecue sauces and both were good. I wasn’t as fond of the soy-based sauce that accompanied the beef short ribs, but I admire the out-of-the-box thinking.
I think the sides are the real standout at the Smoke Joint. The only disappointment was the crusty mac and cheese, which needed more cheese or other lubricant, but everything else was very good to excellent. The collard greens had a nice heavy leafiness, with a light vinegar kick that still left the natural flavor of the vegetable intact. Beans had a firm texture and a minimal accompaniment that, like the collards, didn’t get in the way. Cole slaw had thinly sliced, crisp cabbage in a dressing that was creamy and strongly vinegary at the same time. The well-seasoned fries were crisp and addictive. Even the pickles were a step up from the usual obligatory slices, with a nice heat to go along with the sweet.
The bottom line: I wouldn’t call the Smoke Joint a barbecue destination, but for a quick, casual barbecue meal in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere, with sides as good as any within the city, I wouldn’t hesitate to visit again.
New York magazine's profile of the Smoke Joint
New York Times review of the Smoke Joint
Yelp reviews of the Smoke Joint
Urban Spoon reviews of the Smoke Joint