A Carnivore’s Dilemma

dining sidssmokeSid’s Smokehouse and Grill brings dry-rubbed and slow-smoked meats back to Aptos

Sid the bulldog, looking quite dapper in his spiked red collar, glances at you with a fun and mischievous look in his eyes. As the namesake and mascot of Sid’s Smokehouse and Grill, which opened last month where SmoQe previously resided, he probably knows the secret seasonings.

The 15-car parking lot was full when we arrived, so we backtracked toward Freedom Boulevard to snag a spot on the shoulder of Soquel Drive. Just before sunset, the campfire aroma of wood smoke grew stronger as we approached the restaurant, and upon opening the front door, the scent of sauces perfumed the air. I felt very lucky as we were shown to one of the last two available tables.

A new polished wood bar arcs around the kitchen, creating additional seating. Three televisions there were tuned to various sporting events. In the dining area, we were surrounded by four more. A lively mix of music, both old and current, created a festive atmosphere.

One of the most attentive servers I’ve come across waited our table, checking in on a regular basis. Eight beers are on tap, and I quickly ordered a hoppy pint of Green Flash IPA ($6) from a San Diego Microbrewery.

Appetizers include a unique plate of nachos ($9.99) with house beans, cheese and BBQ sauces, pico de gallo and choice of smoked meat. We started with about a dozen chicken wings ($9.99), dredged in nine-spice flour and fried until just delicately crisped outside and still moist and meaty within. Instead of BBQ or house hot sauce, we chose the Thai preparation, spicy and chunky with red chilies and seeds, jelly-like and sweet.

Salads include half house ($3.99) or Caesar ($4.99), and smoked meat or wood-fired fish can be added to any of them.

Chef Matt Perez, previously of SmoQe, is on board and serves a cup ($3.99) or bowl ($7.99) of his chili, which took second place in the professional category at last fall’s Boardwalk Chili Cook-off.

Wood-fired entrées include a 12-ounce NY strip steak ($19.99), an 8-ounce hangar steak ($13.99) in a tomato marinade, and lemon & herb roasted trout ($14.99), each served with a choice of two sides. dining sidssmokehouse

How about wood-fired mac and cheese ($7.99 to $11.99) made with a four-cheese sauce, topped with jack and cheddar with a Parmesan crust?

Eight sandwiches ($5.99 to $11.99) are made with the four smoked meats plus two burgers and two hot dogs.

Twelve-inch wood-fired pizzas are cooked in a brick oven at 650 degrees F. The pepperoni and mushroom ($14) was coated with a beautifully bright fire-roasted tomato sauce, to which I would have added more herbs, and a blend of four cheeses: the fontina and Parmesan gave it an unusual tang.

Deciding between the flagship smoked meats was impossible. The four-item combo ($23) allowed for a sample, a big one, of the natural and humanely raised meats, all smoked over local oak and apple woods. Three St. Louis-cut pork ribs were nicely coated with a spicy dry rub. A pile of finely pulled pork was smoky and rich. The sweetness of vinegar-based barbecue sauce dressed it nicely. Thick slices of slow-smoked beef brisket fell into tender morsels. I topped them with the hot barbecue sauce which was packed with herbs and chili seeds, and comfortably piquant. I enjoyed the mild sauce, a bit sweet with an acidic tone, on soft breast and wing meat of a quarter chicken. The leftovers were later transformed into some excellent sandwiches.

The two sides I chose were well-cooked greens with bits of meat, (I’m apparently no fan of these leaves), but the potato salad, like my mom makes, with crisp celery, red onions, and bits of dill pickle was just perfect.

There were still a couple of interesting options I just had to try, so I returned for lunch. After finally being acknowledged at the door, I was invited to seat myself, and again encountered a superb server. My iced tea ($2.25) was refilled before it reached the half full stage, and she packaged my leftovers with a container of barbecue sauce.

The Bull Dog Burger ($12), possibly a king of cholesterol, certainly stopped my heart. The pink patty was a house-ground mix of half bacon and half Angus beef which had an intriguing salty and smoky flavor unlike either bacon or hamburger. It fit perfectly atop a soft egg bun with lettuce, tomato and red onion. A little Grey Poupon and hot barbecue sauce was all the embellishment it needed. The barbecue sauce also tasted better than ketchup with an addictive side of skin-on fries, upgraded ($1) with an addition of fresh garlic and parsley.

Still on my bucket list at Sid’s are garlic fries with truffle oil, smokehouse sliders, a wood-fired Castroville artichoke, the Cobb salad with bacon, avocado and smoked chicken, a side of cornbread, and the smoked chicken pesto pizza with ricotta.

Sid’s Smokehouse and Grill, 10110 Soquel Drive, Aptos, 662-2227. Beer and wine. Open for lunch and dinner daily from 11 a.m., until 9 or 10 p.m. Visit Sid’s on facebook or at sidssmokehouse.com.

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