Smoke BBQ Taqueria - Homestead Borough
I hate working on my birthday. Toiling away as a toothless cog in the corporate machine makes it impossible for me to believe I’m special. I really hate that hopeless feeling, especially on the one day where it’s acceptable to outwardly celebrate the fact that I successfully popped out of my mother’s va-jay-jay. My most recent birthday unfortunately fell on a Tuesday. Therefore my wife and I both burned vacation days to hangout together and properly rejoice in my existence.
After a hilly five mile run on the gritty streets of Upper St. Clair, we ventured out of the ‘burbs to try a restaurant I’d heard many great things about – Smoke BBQ Taqueria. Actually, I had never really “heard” any acclamations with my own ears. It’s much more accurate to say that I’d “seen” a plethora of glowing comments on Twitter, Yelp and Urbanspoon. Since I’ve yet to read anything on the Internet that isn’t true, I was rather excited to celebrate my birthday at the trendiest new foodie spot in Pittsburgh.
Smoke is located on East 8th Avenue in historic Homestead, a stone’s throw away from the sprawling Waterfront district. Despite its position on the main drag and our in-dash GPS navigation, we still ended up driving right past the place. After a few blocks of increasingly blighted storefronts, we doubled back and finally spotted the small, unassuming sign. We parked a little ways up the street and anxiously scurried past some shady characters on our way to the restaurant. I have driven down Route 837 countless times over the years while on the way to Kennywood, but this was the first time I set foot on it. The particular stretch that houses Smoke is one of the nicer blocks in this area. Regardless, the abundance of wig shops and check cashing joints still had my suburban-bred wife’s spider-sense tingling.
It was late afternoon on a weekday so there were multiple tables uninhabited. This was a good thing because the amount of overall seating was quite meager. There were just a handful of tables and a few stools in front of a makeshift taco bar. The quaint décor had a somewhat eclectic vibe with vibrant artwork and mismatched dining furniture. The most noticeable style element was the amount of negative space due to the high ceilings and sparse layout. This openness reinforced the relaxed ambiance and put me in the perfect mood to chill-out and stuff myself with tacos.
It was a long time since breakfast and I was famished by this point of the day. I eagerly put my food order in as soon as our welcoming waitress came over to greet us. I decided on Smoke’s taco versions of a Philly cheesesteak and pulled pork sandwich – mainly because they were the most indulgent-sounding selections on the menu. I tried the pork taco first and found it just adequate. The meat was tender and tasty, but the apricot habanero sauce and caramelized onions combined to produce an underwhelming topping. Certainly not bad, but not exactly a bold statement either.
The Philly taco was a huge step in the flavorful direction – mainly due to the aged sharp white cheddar sauce. This cheesy concoction was somehow both really delicious and really odd. I could easily see someone hating it due to the intense nutty tang and liquidy consistency, but I really liked it. Um, after re-reading that last sentence, I think its best we move on before I also admit that I enjoy watching America’s Next Top Model and give out the wrong idea that I’m anything but a happily married straight man.
The Wagyu brisket in the Philly taco had a hint of smokiness and stood up well to the aggressive cheese mixture. The house-made tortillas were perfect vehicles for the substantial fillings of both tacos. They were buttery soft but far from delicate*. I was feeling sufficiently stuffed after two tacos but somehow still heroically found the wherewithal to finish off my wife’s scrumptious mac and cheese. It again was laced with some of the notable sharp white cheddar. This time the cheese was combined deliciously with it’s Italian cousin Mascarpone and some roasted garlic.
Final Call: After reading countless superlative-laden reviews heralding the amazing BBQ-meets-tacos cuisine of Smoke, my expectations going-in were sky high. The food ultimately didn’t change my life, but it was tasty. I will most definitely stop by the next time I’m on my way to Kennywood.
* Think Angela Bassett in How Stella Got Her Groove Back.