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Reservations Recommended

Restaurant Review: Smoke & Barrel = Smoke and Mirrors?

When the mercury hits 100 degrees — as it has for part of July — cooking holds little appeal. But summer’s heat does suggest outdoorsy kinds of food, like, say, barbecue. Obviously, barbecued foods, grilled foods, have an eternal appeal even with a winter chill and piled-up snow. Yet nothing says “summertime” quite like a plate of ribs and some lip-smacking pulled pork with a spicy rub. And a salad. And a peachy cobbler, perhaps.

Well, you won’t find a cobbler at Adams Morgan’s Smoke & Barrel (beer, BBQ, Bourbon, reads their added logo), but you will find a smoky slab of ribs with your choice of such sides as fried okra (just OK), coleslaw, and home fries. In hindsight, the baked sweet potato with Carolina country ham or the roasted jalapeño and cheddar grits would have really highlighted the meal. Forget the okra.

For a presumably Southern restaurant with barbecuing going on somewhere on the premises, Smoke & Barrel lacks the smoky, countryish atmosphere and decidedly good-old-boy grub: espresso-rubbed beef brisket, BBQ egg rolls, and smoked duck leg quarters don’t really sound like very Memphis-style dining.

That said, patrons can wallow in some good flavors. Perhaps the best way to kick off this almost-country meal is with a platter of BBQ brisket nachos. No, not really Southern or hill country food, but the blue corn tortilla chips come out fairly dripping with the smoked beef brisket, a generous ladling of barbecue sauce, and loads of gooey-melty cheese. Yes, even the most fastidious BBQ diehard advocate will jump into this savory-sweet meal starter with energy and appetite. Other choices include chipotle sweet potato skins, fried pickles, smoked vegan wings (sorry, but fried seitan with dry rub or barbecue sauce sounds really unappealing), and roasted jalapeño grit cakes.

As for entrées, the menu lists fried catfish, barbecued salmon, a stuffed spud, and the duck leg quarters. But the dish to zero in on is the ribs, a full or half slab — wet, dry, muddy (sauced then dusted with the dry rub), or basted with the house spicy chipotle honey butter. Meaty and succulent and tender, these ribs are perhaps the best deal on the menu, and certainly, the most barbecue-centric. How would they stand up under a BBQ judge’s scrutiny? Hard to say, but when you absolutely must eat ribs, these will fit in quite well to the scheme.

You can wind up the meal with a typical banana pudding made with, says the menu, roasted bananas. Or for a slightly more gentrified sweet, a double chocolate cheesecake. But if you want to keep the meal Southern-style, opt for the “Not Yo’ Mama’s Carrot Cake,” a spicy confection topped with traditional cream cheese frosting.

According to their website, the real action here seems to be with the beer-and-bourbon events: to keep up with what’s going on, visit www.smokeandbarreldc.com/events.

Smoke & Barrel (2471 18th St., NW); 202-319-9353. Dinner, Mon.-Thu. 5-11pm, Fri. & Sat. 11am-1am; Sun. brunch, 11am-3pm, dinner 5-11pm. Entrée price range. $11.95-$29.95.

Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Click here to visit her website.