Richard Day-Reynolds was born to barbecue. The Tennessee native bellies up to his carbon-black Traeger grill as though he entered the world with basting brush in hand, destined to slow-cook beef and pork into tender, juicy submission. Barbecue is just as much a part of him as he is a part of it—look no further than his forearm.
“I’ve gotten a hash mark tattooed for every year I’ve cooked a whole pig on my birthday,” says Day-Reynolds, thrusting out his right arm to show off the outline of a roly-poly pig frolicking below 21 tiny hash marks. “It’s not just me—six of us have these tattoos. It’s like a cult.” Family members and close friends who share the mark, including Day-Reynolds’ wife, consider it a rite of passage. Based on the bone-sucking triumphs he’s been turning out at his burgeoning take-out window, Smoky Mountain BBQ, it’s safe to say his ink is well-deserved.
Opened on July 18th after relocating from North Portland, Smoky Mountain is literally a hole in the wall just off the corner of Southeast 72nd Avenue and Harold Street, a screened window and counter peeking bashfully from the side door at Queen of Hearts Bar. The walls on each side are lined with plastic lawn chairs and tables, flanked on the right by Day-Reynolds’ trusty grill (just one of six more he’s got at home). The sidewalk hums with neighborhood foot traffic, teeming with sunglass-wearing fogies and denim-clad dads pushing their topless toddlers in strollers through the dense summer heat.
Glamorous it is not, but neither is the food. It’s everything barbecue should be: messy, sloppy, and too good to eat politely. Diners should come ready to gorge themselves barbarically, or be sure to specify takeout ($1 extra) so they can swoop home to pig out in private.
The vividly flavorful menu is a carnivore’s wet dream: Each featured meat arrives with minimal fanfare, either on a golden bun or next to a square of sunny yellow cornbread, crowded into a paper-lined plastic basket with a tub of crisp marinated slaw and barbecue sauce for dipping, pouring or slathering. Out of the seven meat entrees offered, the obvious standout is the beef brisket ($6). Day-Reynolds slaps the gargantuan cut of meat onto a 210-degree grill for 10 sweltering hours before he serves it up, piping hot and tender enough to tease apart with the nudge of a fork. The divine pulled pork sandwich ($6) is spicy with unexpected heat from Day-Reynolds’ housemade barbecue sauce, and even an urban-born city kid can conjure up images of simple country life after a single bite of the deeply satisfying barbecued meatloaf ($6). Sides like the smoked mac ’n’ cheese ($4)— elbow pasta winding through a thick mass of melted cheddar—and crunchy sweet-potato fries ($3) with savory seasoning round out the menu nicely.
With hulking racks of pork ribs so tender that the meat nearly melts off the bone, one assumes Day-Reynolds has his meat shipped straight down from heaven—or at least from Painted Hills. But Smoky Mountain is pretension-free to its core: turns out he buys his meat from the grocery store. “Filet mignon for barbecue is stupid,” he scoffs. “That’s the whole thing about barbecue—taking a cheap, tough cut of meat and cooking it right to make it soft and delicious. It’s what you do with it that makes the difference.”
The explosive Southern flavors alone would be enough to warrant a return visit to Smoky Mountain, but the most compelling reason to come back is Day-Reynolds himself. He greets customers like old friends; cheerful, inviting and dying to put some good food in their stomachs. “Ya’ll come back now!” he calls from his post at the grill. You bet your britches we will.
Order this: The robust, supple beef brisket.
Best deal: Andoullie sausage on a bun with a side of smoked mac ’n’ cheese and collard greens—criminally affordable at $11.
I’ll pass: The cornbread, while admirably studded with real corn kernels, is bland.