Chef B.J. Smith is following his heart in his plan to open Smitty’s Original Coney Island, a hot dog- and sandwich-focused restaurant and bar at The Mill shopping center in Vancouver’s North Garrison Heights neighborhood.
Smith is closely hewing to the menu and feel of the original Smitty’s — a restaurant operated for years by his parents in South Bend, Ind., where he grew up.
Delores and Bob Smith were married 53 years, and a good chunk of that time was spent running the popular eatery, said B.J. Smith, who credits his father with suggesting opening a Vancouver version of Smitty’s Original Coney Island.
To make way for Smitty’s, Smith will close his Smokehouse Provisions at 8058 E. Mill Plain Blvd., which opened in November 2016. Smokehouse Provisions’ last day will be March 24. Smitty’s will open April 1.
“We don’t have to go through the rigmarole of completely starting from scratch,” Smith said, adding that the current restaurant staff would be retained at Smitty’s Original Coney Island.
Smith also is owner and executive chef of Smokehouse 21 and Kim Jong Smokehouse in Portland. And in December, he opened Delores, which the restaurant blog, Eater, called his “deeply personal restaurant.”
Delores is named for his mother who passed away in September 2017. Her influence on her son’s career choice started when he was a junior prep cook. And it continues at the namesake restaurant, which includes, Eater says, “a combination of traditional Polish dishes and eclectic, composed small plates, with everything from potato-truffle pierogi to everything-spiced Parker House rolls with trout roe.”
But a hot dog-focused restaurant might not be what observers of the chef’s career trajectory would have forecast.
Smith, a graduate of the former Western Culinary Institute in Portland, was a contestant two years ago on the Bravo network’s “Top Chef” program.
Smith said the reality program’s promotional blurb brought “more than two decades of culinary experience to his role, applying both classic and modern cooking techniques to high quality ingredients,” and life “led him to the kitchens of nationally acclaimed restaurants: Le Bernardin and Gotham Bar & Grill in New York City, Citrus in Los Angeles, and Paley’s Place, Veritable Quandary and Olea Restaurant in Portland.”
Smith said the Top Chef experience, combined with his mother’s passing, was deeply influential on his career choices, resulting in the opening of Delores.
“It’s an homage to my mother,” he said.
And Smitty’s Original Coney Island will be an acknowledgment of his roots.
“We’re reopening my childhood restaurant,” Smith said. “I apply all of the same care and love if I’m preparing foie gras or a hamburger. There’s cooking with good techniques — no matter how you apply it.”
The Smitty’s Original Coney Island menu will include Coney Island-style hot dogs, burgers, fish and chicken sandwiches. Hot dogs will cost $3 each with burgers and sandwiches around $7. The bar menu will feature big, colorful old-school cocktails along with beer. There will also be a 3 to 5 p.m. daily happy hour. The current Provisions private dining room will be transformed into a large arcade featuring skee ball, Big Buck Hunter, car racing games and more, including several televisions for sports viewing.
“This is going to be fun,” Smith said.