Friday, March 15, 2013

Two Visits to Southern Smokehouse, Linden, New Jersey

I only get to Southern Smokehouse when I have something scheduled in New Jersey. While the restaurant is only a hour from my home, the trip involves tolls that amount to more than the cost of the meal. I do look forward to my annual two trips to this area and while there are other buffets to try around there, I go to Southern Smokehouse for dinner on both trips.

This is our third year back to Southern Smokehouse. This buffet restaurant is a bit out of the ordinary as it is a mixture of Southern barbecue and country cooking with Asian food. I have written mixed reviews of the restaurant in the past - generally good, but with some problems. The problems have always been about the service here. The food is exceptionally good!

The price of the meal is $12.99 for adults and $12.49 for seniors, and these are every night prices. (The price has gone down fifty cents from last year.) This price includes unlimited soft drinks, brought to your table by your server. The price is excellent - especially for what you are getting here.

Let me start off by talking about the service on these two visits - and, as it happened, we had the same server both weeks in a row. On the first visit the server was excellent. He was very attentive, came to our table a number of times to ask if all was well and when he saw that the drink glasses were low, asked if we would like refills. Dishes were picked up promptly. The restaurant was very busy - and very much so in the section that we were seated. This did not throw him at all. He deserved a decent tip and received one. On the second visit, he was still pretty good, BUT he was not as attentive, had to be asked for drink refills and the empty plates sat on the table for awhile before they were picked up. The restaurant on this night was not as crowed as it had been the week before. So - while, service was far better than it has ever been in any of of visits before, it still remains inconsistent. You can luck out with great service or not - even from the same person working your your table. Service, aside, this buffet is wonderful.

There was a delightful surprise when we came in the first night. A sign at the front announced that they now had added a smoker to the kitchen. A smoker is what makes barbecue good. It smokes the meat for hours to give it a great flavor, keeps in the moisture, and makes the meat just fall off the bone. The barbecue coming from the smoker was now served on the buffet and was also available on a platter basis. At the price, there is no reason not to go for all you care to eat barbecue, along with everything else. What they are serving primarily from the smoker are ribs and chicken.

I love barbecue. I love ribs. In the past the ribs here were OK. Now they are, what I consider, the second best buffet ribs that I have had. (The first best going to a buffet in Virginia.) The ribs are now what they should be. You can taste the smoke and the meat on the ribs can be eaten completely off the bone leaving clean bones behind. Why are they not the best ribs that I have ever had? In addition to the smoker they seem to be charring the ribs afterward. This creates a tougher outside layer on top that was a little chewier than I expected. While some would say that this is the "bark" that forms on the meat closest to the fire in the smoker, here it was consistent on each rib. This did not take away from the flavor but from the tenderness of biting into the rib. The ribs are very good. On my second visit, I decided that because I get smoked barbecue ribs so rarely, I would concentrate my meal around those ribs, and I did. In fact, I went one rib too far in the meal and hit that "meat wall" and could not finish the last one. And I struggled with myself to put it down on the plate and say that is all.

My wife, the picky eater, does not eat barbecue. She does like a lot of Southern dishes and there is plenty to choose from here that is not necessarily Southern. One of the other great things that they have here is a real roast, on the bones, turkey carved at the grill. This is not the usual turkey breast. This is a whole turkey, drumsticks and all. It has been awhile since we have had what I consider "real turkey". This is real turkey. Both of us - on both trips had this moist, carved from the bones in front of you, turkey.

Southern cooking involves a lot of fried foods and there are plenty of those to be found here too. The fried chicken is home-style fried chicken. This is not the broasted or the typical buffet fried chicken. This is fried chicken as it is served in the South as I have had it at Southern restaurants (not buffets) known for their home fried chicken. There was also fried fish - pieces of whole, thin fish fillets (there were a few small bones present) deep fried. The fish was good - a little chewy because it was thin. There were fried sweet potato "tots". Good. There was fried okra - also good.

I know out there there are the readers who say "fried food - terrible!" and are thinking there is nothing here for them. Well, there is barbecue chicken. There is meat loaf - which is served in a thin tomato sauce - not the usual ketchup covered meatloaf. It was good. There are the Asian/Chinese dishes. There is broiled salmon at the grill. There is also on the grill, steak. The steak here is a marinated skirt steak. They cook it on the grill and it is served from the grill. Skirt steak is known by a variety of names - some call it hanger steak, some call it Romanian steak. Skirt steak is not known to be a tender cut of beef. It is known for its flavor. It is cooked thin here and well charred on the outside but it remains moist and very flavorful - especially the char. There was bourbon chicken. There were hot wings. There was rotisserie chicken. There is cold peel and eat shrimp.

What else is there? There are a lot of side dishes - some also Southern cooking. I tried something for the first time on the first of these two visits - cooked plantains. I have seen plantains before and avoided them because I do not like the taste of bananas and plantains are a type of banana. I heard recently - on some food show - that plantains are not sweet like bananas and this gave me the thought that perhaps then they do not taste like bananas. Well, I found out by trying them here that they do not taste at all like bananas - at least when cooked - they are cut into pieces here and sauteed. They have a very pleasant flavor and texture. Of course, I had them again on the second visit and was just as delighted. There are collard greens. There is kernel corn. There is corn on the cob - which seems to be cooked in milk - it was very good! There are string beans, barbecue beans, and black eyed peas. There are mixed vegetables. There is plain rice. There was baked ziti in sauce. There was plain spaghetti with tomato sauce on the side.  There were french fries - hand cut and lightly fried french fries. There are mashed potatoes. There are perogies - which taste good but are a bit tough on the outside. There were sauteed sliced potatoes. And then there is wonderful macaroni and cheese. This is not at all the commercial type of orange, wet, and drippy mac and cheese, but baked, thick, and full of white cheese that pulls when you spoon it out of the serving tray. This is homemade macaroni and cheese. I have written about it here before - it is a must try. And if you like this type of comfort food, you will have to then try and stop yourself from going back and back for more. There is also pizza baked in a brick oven behind the grill. There is more, too.

There is a large salad bar with both prepared salads and make your own lettuce salad with two types of lettuce plenty of toppings and vegetables. There is also cold fruits and cold desserts at the salad bar. There are two soups on the buffet. They were the same both nights we were there - both Friday nights. One soup was a cream of broccoli which I tried the first night and it was very good. The other was a turkey rice soup - which contained no rice (which for me is good as I can't eat rice) but was full of large pieces of turkey meat, celery, and carrots. The broth was thin and full of turkey flavor. There is no doubt that these two soups were made from scratch right here. The turkey soup reminded me of turkey soup that my grandmother served on Thanksgiving when I was a small child.

What about dessert?  The desserts here are limited. There is a hard ice cream sundae bar with toppings. There are a couple of sheet cakes that look good and platters of cookies. Then on one of the hot buffet servers there is a hot apple pie/cobbler. There is fresh fruit and puddings over on the salad bar. The dessert is adequate to end a over-filling meal, but don't come here for the desserts. Come here for everything else.

Something that takes place often at buffets near home in New York is that people take spoons adn serving pieces from one serving tray and use them in another leave them there - transferring whatever sauce was in the first item into the other tray of food. This WAS NOT happening here.  While this is not the fault of a buffet, it is a problem with the people who are eating at the buffet. One thing that we have observed on each of our visits to Southern Smokehouse is how nice the people seem who are dining there - mostly families and polite.

On the drive home after the second meal my wife was coming up with excuses to be in this area again - and I would love to go. Inconsistent service aside, I am going to look forward to my next visit to Southern Smokehouse. I recommend it highly (put up with the service) - if you like this type of cooking. I do, and even my picky eater wife - who avoids eating fatty things and doesn't when she is here - does.

Southern Smokehouse is located at Aviation Plaza Shopping Center which is at 611 West Edgar Road (Route 1 and 9) in Linden, New Jersey 07036. This restaurant is in the very far corner of the shopping center, off in a parking lot cut off from the main part of the shopping plaza. With Home Depot on one end of the plaza and Target on the other end, go past Target to where it looks like you are exiting the shopping center and you will see another parking lot to the side and this restaurant brightly lit on the far end.  This shopping plaza is adjacent to an airport. The phone number is 908-862-1883. The hours on Friday and Saturday are until 10 pm. Weeknights and Sunday nights they are open until 9 pm. They open each day at 11 am for lunch. There is also a breakfast buffet. There is a website and it is listed at the side of this page.


Anonymous said...

I went there last year with some friends after seeing your review and we all enjoyed the meal. I was thinking of going again but thought they were out of business because they no longer have a working website. Glad to know they are still around and will go there.

Writer said...

Interesting about the website - the notice on the URL says it expired a few days ago and is pending renewal. Yes, the restaurant is open!

Kathleen said...

I appreciate your reviews. Two customers came in to my office today and were deciding where to go for lunch. When they mentioned Southern Smokehouse I thought I would look it up. Your review from last year came up and I took your advice and checked to see if you wrote another review. Glad I did. I have a lot of friends that like southern bbq and we will be trying this place now. Thank you.