Incarniverous: New meat for Smokey Bones

by Brian Clarey

Something primal kicks in when the snow is sifting down and the air has that snappy bite to it, something that harkens back to our pelt-wearing, cave-dwelling ancestors that puts every cell in our bodies on high alert: Winter is coming, and you’d best have laid on an extra layer of fat if you hope to make it through.

That’s what I’m telling myself anyway as I slide through the parking lot of Smokey Bones, the barbecue and rib chain with a local outpost on Greensboro’s High Point Road. It’s snowing pretty good by this time, and my body is telling me to feast.

The chain has recently seen tweaks in its concept and menu in a move towards maximizing the potential of its core demographic, which could be summed up thusly: people who love sports bars but wish they had better food.

From my booth by the bar I can espy 11 flat-screen television sets without turning my head more than 90 degrees. The area is fairly empty — it is snowing outside, after all, and most of the city is mindlessly stocking up on eggs and milk and bread for, I guess, some wintertime version of French toast — but there’s enough space to host an NFL Sunday with a few fans from every team playing.

The decor has shifted as well, from a mountain lodgetype look to something more… I don’t know… is corporate-y a word?

On the walls now hang the kind of mass-produced prints favored by many chain types these days, accented by elements of an ad campaign. Slogans, referred to as “Boneisms” on the promotional posters, are bits of barroom wisdom couched in double entendre and dropped in the style of inspirational posters. Example: “A nice rack should always be handled with care.” It’s a rack of glasses the phrase refers to, though it’s being held by a curvy bartendress. Get it?

Still, these guys know their meat. Before the change, Smokey Bones was one of my go-to rib joints for their fall-apart version of baby-backs. I was concerned that the new incarnation of the menu would be a big shift away from what the place has always done best.

A glance through the menu — which is now a tabbed, multi-layer, impeccably paced presentation in the manner of TGI Friday’s — eases any concerns. While there are plenty of newer items like fancy salads with dried fruit and imported cheese, grilled seafood and a Cuban sandwich, there is enough charred flesh in there to satisfy my inner carnivore.

I’m looking to bulk up, so I order a combo that includes barbecued chicken, pulled pork and smoked brisket, a trio of meets suitable for the purpose. I match them with mashed potatoes and gravy, for its stick-to-the-ribs qualities, and onion rings, because, what the hell.

It comes out fast and I tuck in. The chicken, a single breast under a layer of chunky and tangy barbecue sauce, does not hold my interest. The brisket is more complex, almost like beef bacon but not quite as crispy, and I believe it would do well on a sandwich. But the pork… man, the pork is exactly what I’m talking about: tender and flavorful with crispy bits and meaty hunks. It’s almost a shame to put sauce on it.

It’s so good, in fact, that I ration it out between bites of everything else. It’s so good I make little noises as I chew it. It’s so good I could eat a Frisbee full of it.

Pulled pork has always been a specialty of the house here, and it does my heart good to see such a fine product buried in corporate schmaltz.

And yet, another Boneism certainly applies here:

Pulled pork never gets old. It’s true.

I masticate and savor this fabulous swine, which is cooked nightly in the giant smoker, and then I venture out into the falling snow, full of meat and ready for slumber.

Barbecued pork ,chicken and brisket with mashed potatoes, onion rings and Texas toast at Smokey Bones. (photo by Brian Clarey)

wanna go?

by Brian Clarey /

Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill 3302 High Point Road, Greensboro