A vintage pickup truck stores wood for the smokers on La Mesa's newest BBQ joint.
From a diner’s perspective, one of the more amazing aspects of the past year has been that a handful of entrepreneurs have gone through with new restaurant openings. Most don’t have much choice in the matter: they have already signed leases, they’ve jumped through all the hoops required by city and country building and health codes, and have otherwise committed huge amounts of time and money toward seeing their plans through.
5465 Lake Murray Blvd, La Mesa
Still, it’s tough to think of anything gutsier than opening a new restaurant while the county remains locked in a dining shutdown. Especially when the restaurant in question is so clearly designed for on-premise enjoyment.
Motorcycles and vintage car parts populate Smokey and the Brisket's dining room.
But that’s exactly the case with Smokey and The Brisket, La Mesa’s latest BBQ joint. Opened by chef Alberto Morreale, the restaurateur behind the family of Farmer’s Table properties, the new brisket and ribs joint was likewise put together with an eye for decorative atmosphere. Except, rather than tractors and farm equipment, this one’s designed around chopped vintage cars, motorcycles, and other highway hardware.
For example, in the main dining room, a pair of street bikes stand over a bank of bench seats made from mid-century car fenders, brake lights, and upholstered back seats. At the rear of the restaurant, a custom bar has been constructed from what started out as a 1960s Dodge van, with beers poured from tap handles mounted on old motorcycle fuel tanks.
Prime brisket, served with white bread and pickled onions
All this, combined with large rollup doors ready to open up to patio seating, and TV screens ready to air motorsports, this environment was very clearly meant for less socially distant times. One hopes the return of such times isn’t too far off, but for the moment, Smokey’s has found itself up and running as a take-out and delivery restaurant first.
Obviously, step number one is to try the brisket ($16). In this case, prime grade brisket cut from black Angus beef, wood-smoked beginning “in the wee hours of the morning,” as the barbecue gods intended.
A vintage Dodge van converted into a custom bar
Indeed, it’s a tasty brisket, with a finely rendered ribbon of fat and a salty spice rub charred into black bark. Rather than the fall-apart-on-your-fork kind often cherished in a slow-smoked brisket, my serving was allowed to retain its meaty integrity, perhaps to show off the flavorful, natural tenderness ingrained in the prime cut.
Smoked habañero half chicken
For the most part, Smokey and The Brisket sticks close to BBQ traditions, which include options for both pork and beef ribs, serving hot links, crafting BBQ’d meat sandwiches, and plating brisket with white bread. But there’s also a willingness here to get a little creative and playful. The brisket comes with pickled onions, for instance, and along with some of the standard BBQ sides (mac and cheese, coleslaw, mashed potatoes, $4 apiece), you may get the likes of Brussels sprouts cooked with bacon, dressed with figs and balsamic vinegar. Additionally, pizza lovers may order most of the meats as toppings on a flatbread.
Roll-up doors suggest an eventually enjoyable public space.
And, when you order a smoked whole or half rotisserie chicken ($11), there’s a choice of habañero marinated bird, which includes a habañero version of the house barbecue sauce (which I thought could be spicier, but I’ll go ahead and recommend anyway). Though, next time, I’m going to have to try the Alabama chicken, brined for 24-hours and served with the gulf state’s rarely seen in these parts white BBQ sauce.