Why: You know there has to be something special about a place when the spot you would expect to be a parking lot is instead occupied by a giant smoker. Most of the menu items — not just the meats — are smoked using the old method of burning oak wood. With roots in Austin and Tyler, Texas, Smokin’ Oak’s family recipes, craft cocktails, beer, wine, great service and a one-of-a-kind atmosphere have established the restaurant as a go-to place in Clark County. Its reputation even has Oregonians crossing the river to enjoy some good ol’ Texas-style barbecue.
What I tried: My dining companions and I tried the smoked beets, collard greens, the half-chicken with potato salad and coleslaw, and the pulled pork sandwich with Buffalo cauliflower and jalapeno beans. To drink, we had various cocktails, sangria and beer.
The smoked beets prepared with chevre, chives and sweet balsamic are always a favorite of mine. There is nothing that compares to the perfect pairing of these basic ingredients, but the smoky beets of Smokin’ Oak truly elevates them.
The collard greens are simply the best I have ever had and the Buffalo cauliflower is an exclusive item well worth trying. Potato salad at Smokin’ Oak has a freshmade, straightforward, all-about-the-potato character. Likewise, the coleslaw is all about garden-fresh cabbage. No need to shy away from the beans thinking they are spicy; they are delicious. Of the pulled pork sandwich and the half-chicken, I enjoyed the sandwich most. It contained a generous amount of lean, juicy, smoky pork doused in barbecue sauce and topped with coleslaw on a soft brioche bun. The chicken was tasty and very juicy; the barbecue sauce that coated the top was outstanding. The only thing I would have changed was for the meat to fall away from the bone, even if it meant sacrificing some of the juice. Toward the outer parts, it was perfect, but it was inconsistent closer to the bone.
Menu highlights beyond what I tried: Among the appetizers are Smoked Stuffed Jalapenos, Texas Red Chili and Frito Pie. Other than the house salad, there is a smoked beet salad, a wedge salad and a Hauf Brau salad, which is made with iceberg lettuce, green olives, red onion, tomato, shaved Parmesan and garlic lemon vinaigrette. Diners may add chopped brisket, pulled pork or Southwest chicken to the salad for $5. Plates include The Smoke Stack, which consists of brisket, spare ribs, pulled pork and sausage. All other plates are a variation of smoked meats served together or individually. Sides include macaroni and cheese as well as cornbread. In addition to meat sandwiches, there is a smoked portobello sandwich made with smoked tomato, aioli, pickled red onion and a spring mix. Happy hour menu items include Brisket Mac & Cheese, Smoked Sausage Corn Dogs, pork carnitas tacos and Southwest chicken tacos. For dessert, options are homemade banana pudding, seasonal cheesecake, a chocolate torte and Otter Pops.
Atmosphere: The decor is old-timey with artistic elements. The restaurant has two main dining areas: one for all ages (until 10 p.m.) and one for the 21-or-older crowd. Both offer seating to accommodate a few more than four together. The back bar is an impressive counter-to-ceiling display of spirits. Large-screen TVs provide entertainment from every seat, and a couple of dart boards are available for a friendly game or two. An outdoor patio has been added since my last visit.
Other observations: Service was friendly and attentive, the atmosphere has a welcoming and comfortable vibe, and the food is memorable. I noted that the sides have grown in portion size a bit since my last visit, which I found appropriate given the cost. To-go orders are on a walk-in basis only, and catering is available. The Smokin’ Oak does not take reservations.
Cost: Appetizers are $7 to $18. Salads cost $8 to $12 (add-on meats cost $5). Plates served with two sides range from $16.50 to $31. Sides are $4, cornbread is $2. Sandwiches are $13 to $18. Happy hour drinks are $3 to $7, food items are $6 to $8. The Tuesday special is Guinness-braised, smoked pork belly on a plate with two sides or in a sandwich with one side for $12 and $16. The Wednesday special is a 1-pound beef plate rib with two sides for $30. The Thursday special is smoked meatloaf made with brisket and pork on a plate with two sides for $16 and in a sandwich with one side for $11. Desserts are $2 to $8. Nonalcoholic beverages cost $2.75 to $5. Alcoholic beverage prices are comparable to other establishments.