Where there's smoke, there's brisket

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Central Smoke brisket.jpg

That glorious piece of meat on the plate, that's brisket. An inexpensive cut of beef that requires long, slow cooking. Often eaten with horseradish in eastern Europe, often slathered with barbecue sauce in the American south. Because brisket is, of course, one of the archetypes of barbecue, right up there with ribs. It's the cheap cuts that benefit the most from the BBQ treatment, and so it is with Central Smoke, the new restaurant from Saigon Siblings Sophie and Eric Banh (three BaBars, two Monsoons). Seriously good.

The chef is Mike Wisenhunt, a solid professional who learned his craft from the likes of Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi at Coupage and Joule, then went out on his own at Brimmer & Heeltap.

Central Smoke smoker.jpg

The smoker was custom built by East Texas Barbecue in Tyler, Tex., it's a five-section, 20-foot, trailer-mounted smokehouse that Banh maneuvered into the restaurant parking lot. (There's a fascinating video; the link is on Facebook; for all that, the manufacturer mis-spelled Banh's name on the plaque.) Behind the as-yet-unnamed "beast" are stacks of hickory cordwood. The fire pit is at the western end, where the logs burn evenly and generate the dry heat that feeds three "tanks," as they're known (horizontal drums made of quarter-inch steel). Inside each one, three racks the size of a kitchen table where the meat is slow-cooked by the smoke. Not hot-smoked but a steady temp of roughly 250 degrees (which Banh monitors via a cellphone app). At the east end, there's a rectangular multi-level warming oven which could, by itself, serve as a smoker for, say, salmon. And then there's that name-the-smoker contest on social media: Sweet Seattle, Chow Hound, Smoky-the-Bear, you get the picture.

Banh is still learning about barbecue (he's like a kid with a new puppy with that smoker), and hasn't lost his (admitted) compulsion to micromanage every detail of the restaurant's operation, which has led to more than one dust-up with his staff. But for now, the signs are encouraging.

Wisenhunt's tea-smoked duck wings are fine, and will appeal to the Wild Wings crowd. Traditionalists will gladly devour the pork spare ribs and the exquisite corn bread topped with honey crème fraîche. I also liked the fried rice, the mac-n-cheese, and the pickled cucumber, but not the bland coleslaw or the mushy garlic noodles.

But it's the brisket that sets Central Smoke apart: appealingly pink and meltingly tender, it's soul food for anyone with a soul, regardless of origin. Even for eastern Europeans who would normally eat it with horseradish and sour cream. Wisenhunt has created two sauces especially for the brisket: a spicy barbecue condiment (mustard, vinegar, tomatoes, butter), and a second, creative, coffee-flavor (with added espresso and molasses) which should send the suits at Starbucks into paroxysms of ecstasy. As I type these lines, the brisket is set to be a Saturday-Sunday special, but I can foresee a pitchfork uprising to require more regular appearances on the menu.

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This page contains a single entry by Cornichon published on August 9, 2018 7:40 PM.

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