Tucked on Main Street around the corner from World Wrestling
Entertainment headquarters in Stamford, Smokey Joe's is a convenient
detour off I-95 via exit 9. What looks like a former main entrance at the front of the building was no longer functional on an afternoon visit, but a peek through
the windows revealed some billiards tables and a bar area that may be used on nights or weekends. From the rear parking lot you can see a smoker and stacks of
chopped wood. The side door affords entry to the school cafeteria
style line to the left and the homey seating area to the right. Meats are
removed from a holding cabinet and plated while you wait; sides and
dessert may be added before paying at the end of the line.
Appetizers take on a Southwestern motif with chili, jalapeno poppers and nachos. For barbecue, there are pork spare ribs, "Texas cut" and babyback pork ribs, Texas beef ribs, pulled pork, brisket, chicken and sausage. Combinations are extremely flexible, with up to four meats—priced with or without ribs—and a choice of one or two sides. Non-barbecue meats
comprise a good section of the menu, with several burgers, quesadillas, gumbos, salads and "dip fry" items providing choices aplenty.
One competition barbecuer and one home barbecue enthusiast joined me
on a Friday afternoon visit for a late lunch. We had visited two of New York City's better barbecue restaurants earlier that day, so we were somewhat spoiled and more than somewhat full when we entered Smokey Joe's. Whether that influenced our opinion is anyone's guess, but it's a distinct possibility. The camera, on the other hand, wasn't influenced one bit.
Chili is a ground beef variety with a silky smooth granularity to the meat and a deep flavor with a unique combination of spices. It's not
an overly hot chili, but it's not lacking in flavor (though it does
lack the barbecue flavor that usually pushes a good chili to a great
Scrawny babybacks lacked size, tenderness, moistness, warmth, rub, smoke, crust and flavor, but they did have an attractive smoke ring.
The spare ribs offered more tenderness, some juicy inner meat
and more rub, but the holding method (stored in plastic bags kept in a warmer)
yielded a slushy rub that hurt its would-be crust more than it helped, and the steamy
quality certainly didn't reinforce the barbecue ethos. Flavor was minimal.
The holding method was more sympathetic to the pulled pork, which was very moist and tender (over-tender, actually) and moderately smoky. There was little if any bark and a slight chalkiness to the texture, but this was probably the best of the meats we tried that day.
The brisket, also stored in plastic, was removed from the holding contraption and sliced to order. It was certainly more tender than many briskets I've sampled, but the meat didn't really have much bark or flavor and desperately cried out for sauce.
Three sauces may be pumped into plastic cups at a station across from the cashier. The typical sweet and hot tandem was augmented by a mustard variety that I enjoyed with the pork. All were pretty good.
I hardly ever eat mashed potatoes, so I'm relying on my dining
companions, who surmised that these were a mix of fresh and instant.
Baked beans were uneventful. Collard greens managed to supply good
flavor with minimal use of vinegar. The massive blocks of cornbread were
homemade, fresh and very good, with a coarse texture, a crusty top and
a softm crumbly interior. For me it was the highlight of the meal.
The bottom line: If you're traveling in Southern Connecticut and looking for a quick, affordable meal with enough variety to satisfy a diverse crowd, Smokey Joe's will meet that requirement. But if you're looking for destination barbecue, I can't imagine choosing Smokey Joe's over Wilson's (Fairfield CT) or Bobby Q's (Wesport CT) a little further north on I-95, or Q Restaurant (Port Chester NY) a little further south.
Yelp reviews of Smokey Joe's
Urban Spoon reviews of Smokey Joe's