Smoky Oak Taproom days from opening 

New barbecue restaurant on James Island

They are days away from opening the Smoky Oak Taproom, a barbecue restaurant at the corner of Dills Bluff and Camp Road deep in the heart of James Island. Chef Rick Agius, formerly of Lombardi's, has been working hard over the last year to build a barbecue restaurant in the oft-overlooked strip mall that houses the official Town of James Island.

Co-owner Mario Inglese says they are literally waiting for the paint to dry on a lacquer bar. The liquor license came through yesterday, and the 16 taps will be filled with craft beers soon. Inglese says the beer cooler is freezing cold and the taps are hooked directly to the cooler. "There are no uncooled lines," he says, "so they'll get a nice, clean pour."

To complement the 16 taps, the menu has a collection of naked barbecue items. Naked because they've got nothing to hide, as they say on the menu. The meat will be smoked over red oak and hickory and rubbed with the chef's special 33 Dry Rub. There's hand-pulled pork, St. Louis style ribs, beef brisket, chicken, and even sausage. All the sauces are made in-house and look like they'll hit all the preferred tastes: Chef's Red Rib Sauce, Carolinas Mustard, Chipotle BBQ, and Wilber's Hopped Up Vinegar.

The sides are right off your grandma's Sunday supper table with collards, slaw, baked beans, rice and hash, fried okra, blackeyed peas, dirty rice, and mac & cheese. The appetizers start off with the chef's personal favorite: a jalapeño stuffed with crabmeat, wrapped in apple-smoked bacon, and slow-roasted in the smoker. "I love them," says Agius. "They have a really great flavor."

The salads are made with care and topped with housemade dressings like lemon basil vinaigrette and tomato bacon vinaigrette. They will also have a brick oven pizza menu, but that won't be available for a few weeks when the oven is ready to go, but you can bet they'll be topped with meat from the smoker.

Then there's the build-your-own burger or chicken sandwich menu with toppings like grilled onions, spicy ham, basil pesto, and fried eggs.

It's ambitious, but smart, because James Island has been woefully underserved for years, and the island's only barbecue restaurant is way overpriced (I'm looking at you, Melvin).

They'll be doing a soft opening probably Sunday, so if you're an eager JI resident, swing by and try them out. By this time next week, they should be going strong.

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