Smok-haus Fires Up Pit Barbecue

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The slow-cooked brisket is smoked for up to 16 hours to achieve fall-apart tenderness and a barbecue bark. (Photo courtesy of Smok-haus)

If the first individual to put flame to meat is a hero, then whomever first put smoke to meat is a saint.

Such is the sentiment washing over Smok-haus, the barbecue shack/chic eatery/comforting sanctuary that opened last year in Garden City. Divided into two sections, a sit-down eatery with a well-stocked bar and a quick-serve counter with a creative approach to meal customization—Smok-haus is the type of restaurant you’re simultaneously glad you found, yet angry you didn’t try sooner.

It all starts with pitmaster Manny Voumvourakis, a former financial manager who traded his spreadsheets for a spice blend—leaving the world of prudent bottom lines to find his passion in flavorful smoke rings. He realized his love for barbecue when a hunting trip with some friends turned into a smoked-meat competition, eventually spurring him to reach out to Myron Mixon, enrolling in the barbecue-legend’s four-day boot camp in Georgia to learn the essentials of the low-and-slow tradition.

That effort translates into some damn fine barbecue at Smok-haus, where the menu features all-stars of the smoker like brisket, pulled pork and ribs, along with unexpected menu gems like the Italian-inspired smoked porchetta. Each meat has its own specific time in the smoker, and Voumvourakis has it down to a science—brisket smokes for 14 to 16 hours, pork for 12 hours, porchetta for 12 to 15 hours and chicken thighs for about 4.5 hours. And to expand the succulent smokiness, Voumvourakis uses a collection
of different hardwoods in the process, including hickory, oak and cherry wood.

Spare ribs and baby back ribs joined by mac n’ cheese, baked beans, and smoked Brussels (Photo by Steve Mosco)

But first, let’s start with the wings at Smok-haus. To prepare, Voumvourakis smokes the wings, then blast-chills them to lock in moisture. When ordered, they’re pulled from the chiller and fried to crispy perfection. The wings are finished in four different varieties—dry rub, buffalo, Korean and mango habanero. Voumvourakis says his wings are good enough to win awards and one bite unequivocally confirms the barbecue man’s boast. Smoking the wings imparts a woodsy aroma and flavor, placing a subtle hint of flame in every bite, while the trip into the fryer ensures the skin delivers that crisp texture.

The four varieties each cater to different tastes—the dry rub is a mild, naked take that exposes the pure essence of the wing, while the house-made buffalo brings just enough buttery heat. The mango habanero definitely raises the spice levels, bringing the deep burn of habanero while tropical tinge of mango balances the scales with a hint of sweet harmony. Then there’s this eater’s personal favorite, the Korean wings. Here, Voumvourakis slathers the wings in a Korean barbecue sauce made with gochujang, a red chili paste loaded with savory, sweet, spicy and fermented flavors, all coalescing in a moan-educing bite. Give this man all the awards.

In the realm of classic barbecue, Smok-haus hits all the right notes. Beef brisket, pulled pork, smoked chicken, porchetta are served a la carte, with thick white bread and pickled veggies. The brisket is a lip-smacking wallop of beef, deeply flavored to the point where you can taste the many hours it spent in the smoker. The pulled pork delivers everything we love about this classic cookout staple, with lean bites intertwined with fatty pieces and flecks of crisp skin adding texture and taste—pairing beautifully with the house-made mustard barbecue sauce.

Wings four ways, clockwise from top left: Mango habanero, Korean, buffalo, dry rub (Photos by Steve Mosco)

But it’s the porchcetta that truly turns heads and stimulates the senses at Smok-haus. More closely associated with Italian cuisine, the porchetta merges seamlessly with the smoked preparation, as it is de-boned, rolled into a bundle with an array of spices and dutifully smoked to perfection. The result is a fatty-on-the-outside hunk of devastatingly flavorful pork goodness.

As for ribs, Smok-haus offers two versions: baby back ribs and spare ribs. Both are seasoned with the house rub overnight and smoked for five hours. The baby back ribs are ideal for a sticky-sweet snack—a real crowd pleaser. But the spare ribs are a real meal, with deep flavor, fatty bits and a wonderful bark that forms along the top. No matter which rib you choose, you’ll be sucking sauce off your fingers for the rest of the night.

There’s also shareable items like loaded nachos topped with melted cheese and either pulled pork or smoked chicken, as well as Bill’s Bangin’ Fries that feature skin-on fries drizzled with cheese and topped with pulled pork and that unmatched Korean barbecue sauce. Signature sandwiches are also available—a shrimp po’boy, Phil’s Cheesesteak and the BTB, which offers shredded beef with a five-cheese sauce, sautéed onions and pulled pork. All the expected barbecue joint sides also make an appearance, including a surprising take on smoked Brussels sprouts.

Unique to Smok-haus is the quick-service side of the restaurant, which allows customers to pick a meal—pita sandwich, burrito, BBQ sandwich, rice bowl or salad bowl—and add their choice of protein from pulled pork, chopped brisket, porchetta, smoked chicken, shredded beef and crisp falafel, along with a smattering of toppings. It’s perfect for a quick lunch pit stop.

And if you want a sweet bite, Smok-haus has rice pudding and O’s, warm crisp loukoumades topped with honey and cinnamon, powdered sugar or chocolate sauce—exactly what you’ll need to take the smoky edge off.

Smok-haus, 7 12th St., Garden City; 516-833-6633; www.smok-haus.com

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