Smokin Cole BBQ, Grey Lynn: 18 - Outstanding
You're eating with your hands and drinking beer from a can but there's a subtle elegance to this American barbecue joint, writes reviewer Kim Knight
America comes in waves. Silk stockings and bubblegum in the 1940s. Peace symbols and flared denim in the 1960s. Sometime in the 2000s: hipsters.
They wore their irony on their cardigan sleeves and their facial hair was magnificent. They made the hamburger great again and travelled miles to source unbrined brisket and chillis no one else had heard of. In the process, they redefined what New Zealanders used to call "barbecue".
In the seminal On Food and Cooking, food science guru Harold McGee writes that barbecuing is a "distinctively American cooking method ... the low-temperature, slow heating of meat in a closed chamber by means of hot air from smoldering wood coals". He calls it the "outdoor cousin" to the slow-roast oven; the end result "smoky, fall-apart tender meat".
At Smokin Cole, you use a spoon to eat the clouds of whipped potato and succulent shreds of juicy, peppered lamb. Comfy, meaty solace from a chef who has been up since before you went to bed, making you a roast you could eat sans teeth, for those days when you didn't hydrate and may have regrets.
It's called "trailer trash mash" ($23) and, while it's highly recommended, it isn't even the main attraction.
Smokin Cole launched just before Christmas in what used to be the bricks-and-mortar space for the food truck Pūhā and Pākehā . The chef is Croydon Cole, a man whose CV includes stints on luxury yachts and the chef's table at Euro. More recently, he spent two months riding across America, sampling that country's version of barbecue. Now, he's up at 4.30am prepping the beef cheeks that won't be ready until 6pm and the pork ribs and chicken that will come out in time for lunch.
The week we visited, Cole had been to the Otara markets and bought every kamo kamo he could find. The little squash is pickled (the recipe comes from Pūhā and Pākehā) and served alongside "meat candy" - jewel pink, pastrami-like pork jowl ($12). It's super-tasty but a little dry on the ends (if you're sharing, go for the bits that include a fat layer).
Shocking pink or red interiors are the hallmark of American barbecue. What's sometimes called the "smoke ring" is the result of the very gentle and gradual cook. Read McGee for the complicated chemistry (in brief, nitrogen dioxide gas dissolves on the meat surface to form an acid that seeps into the muscle that is converted to an oxide that reacts with the meat's myoglobin to create a stable pink molecule). Mostly, you can just be reassured that at an American barbecue, it's completely normal to eat chicken the colour of your tongue.
We ordered two free-range drumsticks ($5 each). A bulgogi coating was a little sweet for James' palate; the jerk version was like a delicious campfire fire in my mouth. I think I prefer the blistered crispy skin of a traditional high-heat Kiwi barbecue but the flipside was wondrously waxen meat.
The chicken was a late addition to our lunch, an easy arm twist from the genial man at the front of the house who dispensed rolls of paper towels and charm like we were eating in his actual house. Or, more specifically, back yard.
The set -up includes indoor tables but there's something so kitschily appropriate about eating hipster-approved meat from a high table on a patch of astro-turf. You need to check the restaurant's Facebook page for opening times (currently Thursday to Sunday). The food (available until it's sold out - sometimes as early as 7.30pm) comes on butcher-papered metal trays. The plates and cups are recyclable disposables and there is no cutlery. You're eating with your hands and drinking beer from a can but, nonetheless, there's a subtle elegance to this barbecue.
It's not all meat. There was a smoked truffle mac 'n' cheese on the whiteboard when we went and the devilled egg salad ($8) was sublime. Creamy, smooth and an excellent foil to a pair of dill pickles ($2.50 a piece but, in my opinion, compulsory). That mash had been enlivened with fresh parsley, spring onion and tomato, the barbecue sauce that comes with the ribs is housemade and there is sliced cucumber in the water dispenser.
How about those ribs? They're treated with a dry rub and cooked for around five-and-a-half hours. If you're used to this dish being served sticky, over-sauced and fatty, Smokin Cole BBQ is a revelation. The ribs are long and relatively lean; there is just enough salty-sweet heat for interest but not so much that you can't taste the meat. My main regret was that I hadn't gone the whole hog. A half-rack is $24. Trust me when I say that even if you're full, it won't be enough.
Smokin Cole BBQ
108 Surrey Crescent, Grey Lynn
Facebook: Smokin Cole BBQ
WE SPENT: $100 for two
WE THOUGHT: 18 - Outstanding
Sip the List: Yvonne Lorkin on what to drink at Smokin Cole BBQ
I'm loving the compact drinks lists I'm seeing of late. Unfussy but interesting, priced nice but showing some spice. Like the Honda Jazz of drinks lists, the trim and tidy selection at Smokin Cole doubles as a liquid doomsday kit, containing everything you could possibly need to endure all manner of dry-rubbed, slow-cooked, spice-infused taste sensations that they'll heave your way. Start with a flute of De Luca prosecco, then scoot to the Zephyr pinot gris and finish with a goblet of the mighty Matawhero merlot. Brew nerds will froth over the plethora of pilsners, pale ales, hazys and sours from Kaiser Bros, Deep Creek and Fortune Favours and there are more RTDs than your teen can roll their eyes over (personally not sold on the RTDs on drinks lists thing — but, hey ho). Only gripe is that Smokin Coles doesn't feature a zero-alcohol beer yet, and I mean "zero" not "lite" (there are plenty available, Heineken 0%, Peroni Libera 0%, Moretti Zero, Asahi Dry Zero, Bitburger Drive, Clausthaler Classic, to name a few).
ALSO: Vote for your favourite craft beersies today! The Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular (GABS) Festival wants you to decide which of New Zealand's craft beers will make the coveted Top 100 list for 2019. Simply go to gabsfestival.com, choose your five favourite beers of the year from a huge range of styles and flavours and then sip something to celebrate your efforts. There are more than 80 breweries vying for your vote and the poll closes on Monday – so do it!