At Smoke, like any decent barbecue spot, the smell hits you before you cross the threshold: that heady swirl of smoke and wood and fat that resonates to the core of Texan identity. It is that sensory prelude that one hopes is emblematic of intoxicating flavors to come. But sometimes what follows includes not just smoke but also mirrors.
The food here — at the Plano location on our most recent visit — goes for a balance between nostalgia and new, respecting the old guard of Texan cuisine while keeping an eye turned toward the trendy culinary world with its pork jowls, arugula and foie gras. Smoke’s ethos is owed to chef and owner Tim Byres. Byres won a James Beard award for his cookbook (which shares its namesake with Smoke), but a recent brunch experience proved less than award-worthy.
If anything, an order of biscuits and spicy sausage gravy ($9.95) might merit a James Weird award. In theory, gravy provides excellent cover for an imperfect biscuit. Just think of the many dishes that utilize some type of sauce to revitalize starches that have seen better days: strata, panzanella, chilaquiles, etc. But Smoke’s poor gravy — or should we say gravies — did little to invigorate the crumbly, dry biscuits. The first gravy was a traditional white, all richness and velvety goodness, while the second consisted of a burnt orange slurry that tasted of barbecue sauce. Any redemption that could have been found by the former was halted by the latter’s sweet and tangy assault.
On the same confusing note, the smoked salmon and collard green eggs Florentine ($14.25) proved to be a challenging combination of flavors and textures. Just as every house needs a good foundation, so too does an appetizing Florentine need a sturdy English muffin. Here, the collards would be the muffin’s undoing, their wet leaves rendering it soaked and floppy. This textural question mark was not helped by the soft, slick salmon nor the poached eggs and spicy hollandaise, which coated but did not cohere. Served with startlingly sour pucks of goat cheese pancakes, this fishy, wet dish neither paid homage nor broke new culinary ground. Rather, it simply floundered.
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A side order of the cheddar and bacon hominy casserole ($4.95) did its part to redeem its brethren dishes. Here the hominy were turned into a gooey, cheesy mash the consistency of grits. Spiked with flavors of pimento and bits of bacon before being topped with more cheese, this little addendum had comforting flavor for days.
Every dish on a restaurant’s menu should represent the distillation of that restaurant’s vision. Smoke’s vision seems clear, but our brunch experience was muddled at best. The key word in the preceding sentence is experience, for a single dining session is not always representative of the average diner’s experience. May yours be better, and if not better, then at least populated with many $5 mimosas.
Smoke, 901 Fort Worth Ave. and 2408 Preston Road, Plano. Brunch is served 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Plano location and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Dallas location.