What it is: Smokehouse is The Camel with a radical and quite welcome menu overhaul. After relocating to Xiangyang Lu from their original digs on Yueyang Lu, the veteran sports bar spent some time in the wilderness with its food offerings. They tried to turn the menu into a greatest hits of the entire Camel Group. That may work for KISS albums. But restaurant menus? Different story altogether. It's hard enough to do one restaurant's food well. The Camel owns a Mexican restaurant, two Italian joints, a steak and lobster place, a Thai restaurant and craft beer bar that serves grilled cheese sandwiches. Imagine how muddled that mix would get after a while.
Ultimately, they decided to wipe the slate clean and partner up with Matty Waters, an independent pitmaster who has spent the past few years buiding a reputation for his brand of barbecue through pop-ups, private parties, cross promos, and catering gigs around town.
In the US, barbecue is highly regional delicacy. It can spark spirited debate on a lot of important, age-old questions. Sauce or rub? Pork or beef? Ribs, shoulder, steak, brisket? What kind of wood smoke? Matty hails from Kansas City, Missouri, a place held in high esteem within the American barbecue pantheon. But he is quick to remark that Kansas City doesn't hold as fast to orthodoxies in the way that Texas or North Carolina does. They'll grill and smoke pretty much anything in KC, from chicken to mutton. The common denominator is a thick tomato-based sauce that you slather on as a finish. Matty's certainly fits the bill. It's sweet, savory, and complex, culminating in a spicy finish.
Area: Xiangyang Lu, just south of what has fast become one of the noisiest intersections in Shanghai. A few doors away are open-beer stands Plan B and Tap That. Cross Changle Lu and you'll soon find your self at All, Tastebuds, and Kartel. Radiating out from that strip are a bunch of those little import beer shops that attract throngs of drunk twenty-somethings who clog up the sidewalks on the weekends.
Atmosphere: It's still basically The Camel. They remind you of this here and there with the logo. And yes, you can still watch a footy match on the big screen here. But they've updated the décor with lots of new branding — stylish butcher's charts, neon signage that says things like "Low & Slow", you get the point.
Dishes to try: Brisket and pork ribs are the main events here. Both are fine specimens. The brisket has a nice bark, that smoky black exterior of char that seals all the moisture in. The cross section is spot on, with the perfectly rendered ribons of fat from end to end. The ribs fall of the bone, as they should. They come out to the table only in Matty's spice rub (ingredients undisclosed). Sauce at your discretion. My advice: apply generously. You can get both of the above on The Smokehouse Platter. This also comes with Carolina-style pulled pork, smoked sausage, brioche buns and a choice of sides. Definitely get the barbecued baked beans, the fried pickles, and the collard greens stewed with house smoked ham. If you're here on the weekends, they have burnt ends, a KC delicacy. These are the slightly charred bits carved up from the point end of the brisket and served like an appetizer.
If you seek a handheld meal, go for one of their smashburgers. I prefer the pure simplicity of the "Classic American" two beef patties with the basica fixings. But you can go elaborate with the "Carolina Smash" with coleslaw and an onion ring filled with pulled pork or the "BBQ'D Bourbon" with bacon, smoked cheddar, bourbon butter onions, and KC barbecue sauce. And here is something unique: smoked fried chicken. Matt brines the bird and gently cold smokes it before breading and frying. On a bun, it needs little more than some mayo and pickles.
Damage: The Smokehouse Platter goes for 388rmb, but considering that it feeds three to four people, that's pretty reasonable. A smaller sampler platter costs 148rmb. Rib or brisket plates range from 158 to 298rmb, depending on how many sides you want. 100g of burnt ends go for 58rmb. Smash burgers and sandwiches are 78 to 98rmb.
Who's going: Americans who don't care about soccer but love barbecue. Non-American football fans who have yet to discover one of America's greatest contributions to world gastronomy. There is probably some overlap in that Venn diagram too.
The Smokehouse x The Camel is at 97 Xiangyang Bei Lu. Address and Details here.