New Jersey is big enough that if you want to hit up every barbeque restaurant in the state (and why wouldn’t you), then you need to divide and conquer. If you were to map all of the restaurants listed on the “Jersey Joints” tab, you would find the distribution to be concentrated towards the north, south, and shore areas, with fewer in the interior and to the west. The page is great for accessing when you are out and about and want to find an unfamiliar place for lunch or dinner. But you can also group them together for a planned tasting tour. And so it was at my nephew’s first communion that the Shore BBQ Tour was hatched by me, my brother, my brother-in-law, and his two brothers. Later, we would recruit our long time friend, Bill, whose Red Bank home would serve as our initial rendezvous and launch point. In a few weeks, we were to spend a night out following the smoke and shore traffic, hitting the Jersey Shore trifecta: the new Red Bank Local Smoke, Surf BBQ in Rumson, and Jersey Shore BBQ in Belmar, before retiring around Joe’s, my brother-in-law, fire pit for more drinking. After checking with our wives and calendars, we were set for a night of deliberate, self-induced meat comas.
That day, we almost lost Mike C., my brother, to the responsibilities of suburban home ownership, but a slow light and a quick yell out the window put him back on track. It was really quite random seeing him in his car at the stop light, going the wrong way! Unfortunately, we were not fast enough to stop him from putting down three slices of pizza for a late lunch that put a dent in his appetite for the night, but we pressured him to carry on. And he did. Grudgingly at first, but he finally got into the swing of things. Joe, on the other hand, had trained all day for the event by skipping his usual pork roll, egg, and cheese that morning. He was ready.
Our first stop was the new Local Smoke on West Front Street, across from the Galleria, in Red Bank, in the building that had previously been occupied by Delfini’s. It’s away from the foot traffic of main street, but has its own parking lot, which is at a premium in Red Bank. All of us had been to the Neptune City location, but we were eager to try this one out. I had once met the Fat Angel competition team a long time ago at the New Jersey Championship in North Wildwood. They had come onto the scene with a mean brisket and had won a couple of Grand Champion titles. That was when they were still working as a catering company out of a commercial kitchen. Five years later, that success has
translated into three restaurants, numerous awards on the wall, and a large following. This new restaurant is more modern and sleek, with clean, industrial fixtures that could serve as a conceptual model for future Smokes. Customers order at the counter, receive a number, and hope to find a seat, which was in short supply when we arrived. Ralph, the greeter, did help us find a seat quickly, but more and more people had to stand and wait as we ate. Anticipating a long night of good eating, I had to warn the boys that we weren’t there to eat dinner, but rather try as much as we could, with special emphasis on any strange and unusual dishes. We ordered the Local Smoke Sampler (smoked jalapeno poppers, chicken wings, fried pickles, and hush puppies) off the Appetizer menu and the Pig Out Platter (pulled pork, brisket, and ribs) with baked beans and cole slaw.
The poppers looked liked dates, but tasted better than they looked and could have used a bit more pork. I had stopped by the Neptune place the day before the Super Bowl and had seen a smoker full of bacon wrapped poppers and had wanted them ever since. These did not have the bacon, but it gives me another reason to look forward to football season. The smoked wings were crispy and sweet. The brisket was the standout of the meat: lean, but still moist, with a nice smoky taste. I don’t know if it is a stage of mine, but again, I fell in love with the sauce. I can put that stuff on liver and like it. A couple of months ago, I brought take out to my dad, and we both fell in love with the candy they call baked beans, infused with pieces of pork and onion. Every time I pass by, I’m going to pick up a quart and refuse to share. Kevin, the manager, was nice enough to take me in the back where he showed me the Southern Pride rotisserie smoker. One of the kitchen guys was trimming up the 15 briskets that would then go in overnight, engulfed in sugar maple and cherry smoke for over 12 hours. The team continues to compete, now under the Local Smoke name, while at the same time managing an expanding restaurant chain. I wish them all the luck in the world, except when we are competing against them.