A few bites into my first meal at Smoke, the latest restaurant to stick its snout into Baltimore’s barbecue renaissance, I was struck by a somewhat radical thought: Josh White’s new Cockeysville barbecue joint might be the area’s most innovative.
My epiphany was sparked by what I was savoring at the time: a bacon-wrapped stuffed date, one of Smoke’s signature items. Slabs of thick, house-cured bacon engulf the fruit and blue cheese, then are drizzled with honey and slid onto wooden skewers, from which I removed them as quickly as possible to pop into my mouth. They are among the best things I’ve eaten in recent memory. After the initial bite, each one seemed to almost caramelize, releasing a subtly sweet flavor that makes them ideal as a snack (the category in which they’re listed on the menu, $8 for two skewers of four) or even dessert.
Turns out I wasn’t overreacting—the rest of our meal was equally original and tasty. Tossed in house-made hot sauce, the plump chicken wings ($9 for eight) are hickory-smoked then charred. With its combination of aged sharp cheddar, mild cheddar, and smoked gouda, the mac and cheese lives perilously close to—but does not cross—the line of too rich. That’s exactly where the dish should reside.
Smoke offers seven sandwiches, including smoked-then-fried bologna ($8) and a fried green BLT ($9) you’d be hard-pressed to find on other menus. We tried the Boss Dawg ($14), a heaping helping of pulled pork, bacon, crispy onions, pickles (made in-house), cheddar cheese, jalapeño-bacon glaze, and coleslaw somehow stuffed between a grilled bun. White doesn’t serve most of his ’cue slopped with sauce, so we ate half of the sandwich dry, then slathered on some of his house-made jalapeño-pineapple barbecue sauce. Both versions were crunchy, smoky, meaty, and messy—in other words, delicious.
Platters come with a small helping of slaw, plus either mac and cheese or smoked beans. The Lazy Yardbird ($14) is a massive half chicken brined with sweet tea then covered with a magnificent rub. The skin pops with crunch while the meat explodes with juiciness. Dryness can be an issue when smoking chicken, but not at Smoke. Smoke is a small but sleek fast-casual restaurant. So grab your sweetie, your bestie, your buddy, your honey, or go it alone and head to Smoke.