He Said: She Said had actually planned on reviewing a different Conway BBQ place today, but when we pulled up we found they were only open limited days per week. Having primed our taste buds for barbecue, we had no choice but to head down the road and stop in another venerable Conway BBQ tradition, the Smokehouse Bar-B-Que place on Donaghey Avenue. Having eaten lunch here several times before (it actually borders on UCA territory, after all), I knew it to be a decent joint, but it had been many years since She Said had been, so I looked forward to this serendipitous exploration of one of my personal old standbys.
She Said: I had been here, but I didn’t remember it very well, and I was really ready for barbecue. I had planned my entire food week around this indulgence, after all, so I was happy to have another reputable place to try for our review.
He Said: I’d describe the inside as cozy, and with the bright old-fashioned signs for Coke, Pepsi, Seven-Up, Orange Crush, and other American products decorating the walls; it had the feel of an old-time country diner. This impression was underscored by the Johnny Cash song that was playing as we walked in, and the old country and folksy soundtrack that accompanied our lunch.
She Said: That song, Ruud, was Johnny Cash AND June Carter Cash’s "Jackson," our signature karaoke number! That gave me a good feeling about our lunch, and the good music continued, with Willie Nelson, Union Station, Kenny Rogers, etc. I think this place is darker and more "bluesy" than a diner, and I liked it. Everyone was friendly whilst simultaneously being all about the food. It also has the braggadocious and hyperbolic culture of barbecue, where you have the sense that each purveyor is actively competing with all others, with its hot-sauce names and menu claims of excellence.
He Said: Despite the Pepsi, RC Cola and Seven-Up signs hanging about, they only serve Coke products here. They also have what they claim is the best iced tea in town, and they have pink lemonade. I had the lemonade, which was sweet and tasty, pretty typical lemonade. Not sure it could be called the best in town, but She Said did have the iced tea. What was her verdict?
She Said: Well, Ruud, it was mighty fine. And, if I drink a lot of tea, my stomach objects (I’m old… I have issues), but not with this. I also felt that lovely caffeine buzz from drinking so much of it. I think it must definitely be a contender for the title.
He Said: I was impressed by the number of choices available on the menu. The Smokehouse is not just a barbecue place. They have a number of sandwiches, including grilled chicken and smoked turkey, either of which would have fit into my low-fat diet, as well as hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and BLTs. They’ve also got salads and even a vegetable plate, as well as ribs, ham and chicken. But it does call itself a "Bar-B-Que" place, so I felt compelled to have the classic chicken barbecue sandwich, with the cole slaw on the sandwich. Their mild sauce is delicious, but you can also order a spicy, hot or super-hot varieties of sauce, if that’s your idea of a good time. The chicken was tender and overall the sandwich was a big hit with me.
For a side, I was torn. In the old days, before the Great Pancreas Flare-Up of 2013, I used to come here and have baked beans and mashed potatoes and gravy. I loved the potatoes and gravy at that time, and I’m pretty sure it’s just as good a side now as it was then, but gravy has too much fat for me, and I had to forego it. I was drawn to the baked beans, which I remembered as also being very tasty, but then I saw the "vegetable of the day" option, and picked that, thinking it may be something done kind of specially, you know, because it was the "vegetable of the day." Turns out it was green beans, which tasted like they’d just come out of a Green Giant can in the back. So…keep moving. Nothing to see here.
Smokehouse also has desserts, including fried pies (or as we say, "Frahd Pahs"), which my awesome wife Stacey Jones will tell you about. I decided to have a brownie. These, by the way, are huge. I could only eat maybe a third of mine (which is probably all the fat I should have had anyway), so I have a chunk left for later. Not that the brownie was anything special. It was a simple very cakey hunk of chocolated flour, not particularly moist or really tasty.
She Said: It’s been very nice knowing you, Ruud, and this gig has been fun, but you just dropped the M-bomb when you know how I feel about it. Why can’t you just say "undry"?!?! After I finish typing this, I’ll be filing for custody of our four dogs and control of Eat It, Conway! Back to our review, gentle readers, where I will address the dessert portion of our meal, first. I was all set for a fried pie, it’s true, but I could not choose which kind, as they offered many, including chocolate, apple, cherry, etc. So, I asked our server what her favorite was. She said it was definitely peach, so I followed her lead as I had been leaning that way. She did not steer me wrong. The pie itself, whilst fried, is not greasy, and the fruit filling tastes fruity and not overly sweet or sugary. I really enjoyed it, and I ate every crumb.
Which is just what I did with my meal. While I was sorely tempted by this week’s special of chicken-fried chicken with two sides and Texas toast, I feel compelled to sample the barbecue at such venues, especially since He Said can’t. I got the smallest pork sandwich, chopped (not sliced) to which I liberally applied mild sauce. It was tasty, and the cole slaw gave it a nice tang and texture variant with the meat and sauce. For a side, I chose the baked potato salad, which was small and tasty, but not remarkable. I’d be willing to try some of the other offerings on the menu.
I’m not going to fan the flames of barbecue competition in this town by declaring this pork sandwich "the best," but I have no shame in saying it was quite delicious, and I would take out-of-town guests who want to try this regional specialty here for an authentic experience. I mean, I could not stop applying it to my face! It arrived, I took bite after bite, it was gone, and I was sad. I don’t know how I could give a better review than that.
He Said: Our server was smiling and friendly. She took our drink order promptly, apologized that it took her so long when she did bring the drinks (we hadn’t noticed that it was especially long), and brought us what we asked for quickly (this place is set up for quick lunch service, if you need to get back to work). She didn’t ask us about dessert, so we had to ask her. But she did give us free drink refills. There was an odd moment when she brought my brownie and then asked if maybe I’d like a plate to eat it on. I said yes. I hope she wasn’t disappointed. But in general, the service was fine.
She Said: Maybe that’s part of barbecue culture, Ruud, hand-held dessert? Anyway, I agree with you that service was very good, expedited, personable and efficient. It’s great to go somewhere for lunch where they get it that you might be in a hurry. There is definitely energy and verve in the service, and I thought it was top-notch.
What We Got and What We Paid: One classic chopped pork sandwich, one classic BBQ chicken sandwich, one unsweetened iced tea, one pink lemonade, one baked potato salad, one Veggie of the Day (green beans), all for $21.40.
He Said: Great barbecue. I can recommend the mashed potatoes and baked beans, not so much the green beans. If you can eat fried pies (i.e., if you aren’t on a low-fat diet) they are probably a better bet than the brownies.
She Said: I’m putting this place on the list for quality indulgent meals of authentically delicious barbecue and attendant fixin’s.
So…He Said and She Said: Go here for tasty barbecue (pork, chicken, etc.) and don’t skip the iced tea or the peach fried pie, and put it in your lunch-time restaurant rotation, as they are speedy!
Editor's Note: Eat It, Conway is produced by local author Jay Ruud and his wife (poet and novelist Stacey Margaret Jones). The couple has begun an attempt to eat at and review, every restaurant in Conway, Arkansas. The Log Cabin Democrat and thecabin.net are publishing Eat It, Conway with permission from the authors. Visit them online at jayruud.com and on Facebook at Eat It, Conway. In addition to restaurant reviews, Ruud authors movie reviews on the site.