A Taste of Arizona: Smoke Dem Bones

Smoke Dem Bones $$
1650 E Indian School Road, 85016
602-277-5766  smokedembonesbbqphoenix.com

Perched on a tiny corner sits a little restaurant with a huge personality. The smell of smoke fills  the air, and there’s no doubt when you swing open the door that BBQ awaits. What you don’t know until you are inside is that you’re about to meet the nicest people, and they really love what they are doing. Paul Williams (yes, the former Phoenix Sun and ASU star) is the pit master, and he and his family members serve up delicious BBQ and friendly conversation. It’s a BBQ joint, and I mean that as a term of endearment. So many corporate BBQ chains have to manufacture their image, but this place just drips with authenticity.

It’s a funky little building with a lot of character. The menu is on the wall and you order at the counter. Take your time to look things over and ask questions, because there’s a lot of great food being offered. Right off the bat I noticed the prices, $10.99 for a full meal with sides. Where do you see BBQ priced likes this? If there’s a downside, it’s that they run out of items because everything is made fresh. One day there was no mac n’ cheese, another day there was no peach cobbler and no greens. But there is a silver lining – it means you have to come back again! After ordering you pick a table and they bring your food. Some things are in plastic foam bowls, entrees are on plates and some items come in a plastic basket. It’s all kind of eclectic, but it turns out to be a marriage of everything that is good. Over the course of several visits, here is what I had:

BBQ Brisket Dinner $10.95 (includes two sides)

Who doesn’t loved smoked brisket smothered in sweet sauce? So often restaurants will use liquid smoke and bake their brisket. Not here. You can tell by the tenderness of the meat and the crispy char on some pieces that this meat is slow-smoked for hours. It is served bathed in a delicious homemade sauce that is sweet with the mildest hint of heat. You can also order a brisket sandwich at lunchtime for $6.99 that includes one side and a drink.

BBQ Chicken Dinner $10.99 (includes two sides)

I didn’t bother to ask what pieces of chicken come with this order; much to my delight, I was served legs and thighs. I am a dark meat eater (turkey too) – it’s where the flavor is. I understand why people like white meat chicken. It’s delicate and has less fat, but when you are talking smoked sauce-laden chicken, dark meat is the way to go. The chicken was very tender, heavily smoked and slathered in BBQ sauce. For me, it’s not a knife and fork affair, so it’s a good thing there are rolls of paper towels on the tables.

Fried Okra (side included with meal or can be purchased for $3.99)

These little gems are unbelievable. They are hand-battered in cornmeal, quickly fried and served piping hot. So often, restaurants bake a frozen version of this traditional Southern dish, and it just fails in comparison to what you can get here. My friend likes to dump salt on them; to me they are fine the way they are. Either way, you can ask for ranch dressing as a dip if you like, just make sure if you are an okra fan that you get these.

Beans (side included with meal or can be purchased for $2.99)

Paul explained that all his sides are vegetarian because he knows there are people who can’t eat meat or don’t eat pork, and he wants to respect those needs. The beans were excellent, very tender, nice BBQ flavor and are another must try.

Cabbage (side included with meal or can be purchased for $2.99)  

Yet another delicious, simple, Southern-style vegetarian side dish. Soft, hot and slightly bitter (like greens), this side dish was a lovely complement to the sweet smoky BBQ. Besides, it’s actually good for you.

Red Velvet Cake $4

A generous slice of silky and moist red velvet cake comes with two forks, and it’s a good thing it does. It’s too rich to eat by yourself. The icing is delicate and not too tangy, and the cake itself is heavenly. It’s double-layered with some more icing in between, so no matter where you are nibbling in the slice, you can always get some of that delicious icing. Never managed to have the peach cobbler, so you know what that means? Yes, I have to go again.

Their name pretty much says it all. Smoke Dem Bones, nothing pretentious (especially the prices), just down-home cooking served with style. It bothers me when restaurants use the term homemade. What’s funny about this restaurant is they don’t use that term, and I think they should. Everything about this experience feels like home. You should go. I will be the guy in front of you trying to get peach cobbler.

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