Smokehouse Tavern Raises the Barbecue Bar in Southeast

Some of the city's best ribs have hopped over from across the river.

By Benjamin Tepler May 26, 2015 Published in the June 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

Slow-smoked ribs from the Smokehouse Tavern.

For years, finding a decent rack of slow-smoked ribs in Southeast Portland was a problem best solved with a trip up to Northeast—the unofficial mecca of PDX barbecue. Now, three doors down from Nostrana, Smokehouse Tavern stakes its claim as the quadrant’s premier ’cue spot. Helmed by owner B. J. Smith, the tavern has the same metaphorical butcher block as the original Smokehouse 21 on NW 21st Avenue (beef brisket to pork cheeks), but the second restaurant is amped up with a full-fledged cocktail menu, a few stylish starters, and even brunch.

Smith’s fiancée, local fashion star Michelle Lesniak, designed the elegant new eatery—a major upgrade from the cramped, subterranean-feeling space in Northwest. A dramatically vaulted ceiling and an 18-seat bar dominate the narrow, light-filled room, with a menagerie of mirrors and a herd’s worth of taxidermy covering the mustard-colored walls.

Smokehouse Tavern
1401 SE Morrison St Ste 117
Every barbecue joint has its flagship cut, and Smokehouse’s ribs might be the best in the city: Flintstone-size hunks of amber-glazed meat with improbable tenderness and blushing smoke rings. Sides are solid, too: fingerling potato salad laden with cornichons and mustard seeds, diabolically creamy macaroni and cheese topped with corn bread and bacon, well-tuned collard greens. New fringe barbecue creations—crispy pig ears with barrel-aged hot sauce and a hedonistic mop of pulled-pork poutine—fit right in, while loftier ambitions, like a hefty marrowbone oddly matched with delicate smoked trout roe and pea shoots, can be fussy flops.

Weekend brunch wisely sticks to the house’s strong suit: meat. The Benedict stars the hearty brisket, while the hash adds pulled pork. A dynamite plate of maple syrup–brined peameal bacon—fried slabs of sweet-salty, cornmeal-rolled pork loin—comes with eggs, greens, and a craggy, honey-drizzled biscuit. 

The cocktail menu, curated by Rum Club barman Michael Shea, makes its mark with an old-fashioned subtly emboldened by “BBQ bitters” and a bright Prosecco quaff with a bite of celery bitters and cayenne pepper. Most important, Smokehouse Tavern is open late—which means great barbecue and cocktails are on offer until midnight. 

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