Bars serving barbecue is one of the year’s most inescapable trends: American Ice Company and standard and the New York import Hill Country all opened within the past year. Now, it’s time to meet Smoke and Barrel, which officially opens in Asylum’s street-level bar Tuesday.
The place is run by John Andrade, who also owns Meridian Pint and Asylum. Asylum, the dungeon-like metal bar that has been on 18th Street since 1997, isn’t closing, but it will return to being a basement-only bar.
Andrade and his team stripped down the space to expose brick walls and covered other sections with weathered old boards of mushroom wood, reclaimed from Amish barns in Pennsylvania. The new bar counter is one of the most striking in the neighborhood; Check out the bar stools made from old barrels.
Andrade added a new smoker in the kitchen, and the menu boasts that all the barbecue is slow-cooked over hickory and used bourbon barrels. The espresso-rubbed beef brisket seems like the highlight so far, though I was impressed with the vegan smoked tofu barbecue sandwich. (Asylum is known for its vegan menu.) Smoked for a couple of hours, the tofu is dressed with cole slaw on a bun. It had a good flavor, but a squirt of Smoke and Barrel’s house barbecue sauce really livened it up. Another winner: fried okra, which arrives in a bowl looking like tater tots.
Meridian Pint beer director Sam Fitz has stocked the bar with 20 quality craft beers. Some were chosen to pair with barbecue, including the dark, rich Uerige Sticke altbier from Dusseldorf, Germany, and the Sierra Nevada/Dogfish Head collaboration Life and Limb. There are also a few rauchbiers, or beers brewed with smoked malt for a distinctive flavor. Aecht Schlenkerla Marzen tastes like bacon in a glass; I much preferred the Haandbryggeriet Royk Uten Ild, a Norwegian beer with a subtler smoke flavor. Most drafts cost $6-$8. (For opening night, there will be a wooden keg of Schlenkerla on top of the bar.)
The “Barrel” in the name refers to bourbon, and Smoke and Barrel has a well-chosen selection of mostly high-end and small-batch bourbons from Kentucky. It will be tough to compete with Bourbon and Jack Rose down the street, but Smoke and Barrel has a secret weapon: Boilermaker cocktails. Pairing beer with a shot of whiskey is an old tradition, but a lot of thought has been put into the flavor profiles of these Boilermakers. In the Governor Hal, for example, a shot of sweet Woodford Reserve is poured into a pint glass, and then topped with citrusy, hoppy Gubna IPA from Oskar Blues.
The menu is still being tweaked, but Smoke and Barrel looks like a solid addition to the growing number of non-college-party bars in Adams Morgan.
-- Fritz Hahn (Sept. 26, 2011)