B.J. Smith, the chef-owner of barbecue restaurant Smokehouse Tavern, is getting into the cuisine of his childhood. His flagship restaurant will close on SE Morrison, serving its last plate of barbecue November 11, Portland Monthly first reported. Opening in its place December 5 is Delores: Named for his mother, the restaurant will focus on a combination of traditional Polish dishes and eclectic, composed small plates, with everything from potato-truffle pierogi to everything-spiced Parker House rolls with trout roe. Oh, and don’t forget the CBD chocolate s’mores for dessert.
Eater Portland chatted with Smith to learn more about his decision to shift into something personal, his summers making pierogi with his grandmother, and the pink flamingos coming to the new restaurant space. Scroll down to peruse the restaurant’s new lunch, dinner, and cocktail menus.
The restaurant is named for your late mother, who you describe as an inspiration. What did she teach you about cooking?
My mother passed away last September. My mother is Polish, my grandmother is a Polish immigrant, so I was raised very Polish. (Her death) was kind of sudden, and my father and I had a hard time with it. This was always something she wanted me to open — something that wasn’t traditionally Polish, but something using her recipes and my grandmother’s recipes.
The Portland Monthly story talked about how a lot of the restaurant’s dishes were things you ate as a kid. What was dinner like in your household?
Every summer that I wasn’t in school, I spent with my grandmother. There’s a huge Polish population in Gary, Indiana, where my grandmother and mother are from, and every Sunday they’d have these huge parties. My uncle was in a Polka band, so we’d spend the week making food for the parties, and then go to the parties. Also, in South Bend, Indiana, my parents owned a Coney Island hot dog restaurant. So I spent the time I wasn’t with my grandmother making hot dogs and Hungarian goulash.
So this restaurant will sort of encompass your mother and grandmother but also your identity as a chef, is that right?
Over the last four years, I’ve had the honor of cooking with chefs traveling around the country, so I’ve had a chance to hone in what I would call my own particular style. A lot of it I found is really tied to my childhood experience. There will always be pierogi on the menu; there might be Coney Island hot dogs in honor of my parents. It’ll be a Polish-inspired restaurant, but really seasonally driven. I think I need to do this for me and my mother. It’s a true expression of me as a chef.
What’s happening with Kim Jong Smokehouse or Smokehouse Provisions?
Kim Jong Smokehouses will remain exactly the same; Smokehouse Provisions will stay exactly the same. Since I opened Smokehouse Provisions in Vancouver, the barbecue there is just better. We have a lot more space out there, I have an amazing smoker, a super talented staff — As much as we tried to emulate what was coming out of the smoker at Provisions, we just couldn’t do it. So that partially influenced things, but not significantly.
How will the restaurant look? Do you plan to make many changes to the space?
It’s getting a complete facelift. People won’t be able to recognize it at all. I’ll definitely say it’s centered around all of my mom’s favorite things, pink flamingos, in particular. I don’t want to let things out of the bag just yet, but we’re going to take it out of 1820 and move it into 2020.
But will it remain pretty casual?
People will be really surprised. There will be a lot more attention to detail — the food will be a lot prettier than what we’re doing at Smokehouse Tavern. Dinner’s a little bit more polished (than lunch): There will definitely be composed plates, in a very casual atmosphere with some really delicious food. Plus, we’re doing dessert.
You like to stay busy, huh?
You know, there’s so much travel after Top Chef, I wanted to come back to my home base and cook quite a bit... I’m doing something kind of scary, closing a successful restaurant, but I’m really passionate about it. It’s really an homage to (my mother) and her life. Hopefully everyone else loves it, too.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
• Smokehouse Tavern [Official]
• Smokehouse Tavern [Facebook]
• Smokehouse Tavern to Become Polish-Focused Delores Restaurant [PoMo]