I was calling on a dealer in the Champaign area recently and afterward I decided to head to the Friar Tuck liquor store in nearby Savoy and do a little "beer hunting". When I pulled up in front of the Friar Tuck located in the Savoy Plaza shopping center (see map), I noticed that there was a barbecue place next door - Smoky's House BBQ. After making my purchases in Friar Tuck, I took the beer out to my car to put it in the trunk. I thought for a moment, "Hmmm... I AM kind of hungry and it IS close to dinner time..." I decided to give Smoky's House a try that evening.
Joe Evans is the owner of Smoky's House BBQ in Savoy. He has a long resume in the restaurant industry in that part of Illinois - he was the General Manager for Hickory River Smokehouse in nearby Urbana for a number of years, then he became the G.M. of the Buffalo Wild Wings location in Savoy that just happens to be on the other side of Friar Tuck. Evans and his wife opened the first Smoky's House BBQ in Charleston, IL, about 50 miles south of Champaign in April of 2011. Feeling a need for a full menu barbecue place on the south side of Champaign/Urbana, the Evans' opened their second Smoky's House BBQ in July of 2013 in a spot that used to house a Thai restaurant. (UPDATE - I got a message from Joe Evans who told me that he sold the Savoy location in 2014. He still owns the location in Charleston, IL.)
I entered Smoky's House BBQ around 7 p.m. and there was a moderate crowd of people in the place. The sign at the hostess stand said to take a seat anywhere and I found a booth toward the front corner of the restaurant. Not long after I sat down, my server for the evening - Staci - came over with a menu. I ordered up a beer and took a look through the menu.
All of Smoky's House BBQ's meats are smoked in-house and many of the side dishes are made from scratch. The menu is very extensive with a number of appetizers (the "Cow Pattie" caught my eye - it consisted of jalapeños, cheese, black beans and sweet corn), salads, and smoked meat sandwiches including specialty sandwiches as a smoked turkey reuben and a pulled pork sandwich topped with Swiss cheese, grilled onions and a spicy ranch dressing and served on marble rye bread. They also had burgers, smoked meat wraps, wings, and their variations on the Horseshoe sandwich - a staple of Central Illinois cuisine only made with smoked meats.
For smoked meats, Smoky's House offers everything from baby back ribs, pulled pork, and brisket to smoked turkey, chicken and sausage. Burnt ends are also available from time to time at the barbecue joint. Smoky's also offers full catering for big and small events.
I'm glad the menu was so large because it took me a long time to get through it. But once I figured out what I was going to get, I noticed that Staci still hadn't brought my beer to me. It turned out that she was the only waitress in the place that evening. They needed - at least - one more server to work the crowd that was in there. When she finally did get to me to give me my beer, she apologized. "I'm the only one here tonight," she said. "The other girl called in sick." It was a minor inconvenience.
I ordered up the sampler platter with sliced beef brisket and pulled pork. For an extra $5 bucks I could get a sample of the pork ribs, so I ordered that, as well. For sides, I had a number of choices and I ordered the pit beans and I started to order the vinegar and oil cole slaw. But then I saw the au gratin potatoes. Then I saw the steak fries. For some reason I went with the steak fries.
About 15 minutes after I ordered my food, a young man from the kitchen brought out my food. Now, for just two meats and two sides for the sampler platter Smoky's charges $15.00. To add some ribs to the sampler platter is an additional $5 bucks. I looked at the plate and said to myself, "That's it? For $20 bucks?" There were three small end bones from a rack of ribs, four small slices of brisket and probably 3 ounces of pulled pork on the plate. I've had more food on sampler platters at other barbecue joints for a lot less money in my travels. This was not a good value.
And the ribs were pretty basic. They were small, somewhat dry and short of meat off the bone. They were far from the best ribs I've ever had. The brisket tasted like basic roast beef. There was no pizazz to the taste of the brisket. The pulled pork was the best of the bunch. It was moist and tender, and had a bit of a smoky taste to the meat.
To help things along, Smoky's House BBQ offered six made-in-house barbecue sauces to put onto the meat. The first sauce I tried was the Memphis Sweet sauce. It had a hint of a sweet smoky taste and was thick and rich. It was pretty good.
They had three sauces that had some kick to them - the Little Heat, Chipotle Mango and the Perfectly Hot. The Chipotle Mango had a subtle chipotle taste that was tamped down by a nice fruit aftertaste. But I think they got the Little Heat and the Perfectly Hot mixed up. I thought the Little Heat had more of a spicy taste - especially on the back end - than the Perfectly Hot. I mixed some of the Memphis Sweet with both the Perfectly Hot and Little Heat to try with my brisket and pulled pork. All three were above average sauces.
They also had two other sauces that I didn't care for. One was a root beer-based barbecue sauce that was sweet and a little runny. The other was a vinegar based sauce called the Hogwash that I put on some of the pulled pork to give it a try. It was all right, but I don't care much for vinegar barbecue sauces.
The steak fries came in handy to try some of the combinations of sauces that I came up with. They had a crisp outer shell with sort of a spicy seasoning and a moist and flaky inside. The beans had a heavy mustard base that I didn't care for at all. Even adding some of the Little Heat and the Memphis Sweet sauce with the beans didn't help them.
Other than being disappointed in the overall value of the meal, the barbecued meats I had at Smoky's House were average to just above average, at best. Some of the sauces were good and Staci's service - even though she was overwhelmed at times since she was the only one working the dining area - was acceptable. I'm sure some people like the barbecue at Smoky's House, but it's my opinion there are better places to get barbecue in the Champaign/Urbana area.