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Wednesday, September 17, 2014
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Published: Friday, 4/8/2005

Restaurant review: Smokey Bones ***

As the name makes clear, Smokey Bones specializes in ribs - baby-backed or St. Louis style, advertised as "hickory wood-fired," "slow-smoked," "award-winning," and "fall off the bone." And like many ribs restaurants, this fast-growing chain also capitalizes on dishes with a distinct barbecue flavor, from beef brisket and pulled pork to steaks, grilled shrimp, and chicken.

Smokey Bones, located in an attractive setting in Maumee, turns out a variety of other meals as well, and to my mind, much of the menu trumps the lure of the ribs. For example, I was more struck by the sensational Brunswick stew, pulled pork, barbecued chicken, and smoked turkey. Don't get me wrong, the ribs are certainly good, but they don't happen to be the kind that would draw me back to the place on their own.

It's a strange thing about ribs - with the first bite, you know instantly where they rank in the gustatory catalog of all the ribs you've tried before. There's no haggling in the brain; the tongue and the gullet tell the tale as soon as you tear off that first hunk of glazed pork with your teeth. It doesn't matter how highly touted the ribs are: In this arena, the best-known and the least-known, the award winners and the wannabes, are equal contenders.

Smokey Bones is owned by Darden Restaurants, which also claims the Olive Garden and Red Lobster chains. Another Smokey Bones is due to open next fall on Talmadge Road in Toledo's Franklin Park area.

The sprawling eatery is meant to look like a mountain lodge, complete with a canoe in the rafters, wood ceiling beams, fieldstone, a fireplace, and a bar and dining area thick with TV sets tuned to sports channels.

Place-mat menus are dominated by barbecue favorites, including combo platters and steaks. Baby Back ribs cost $12.99 a half rack and $17.99 a full rack, while the smoked St. Louis style ribs are $10.49 and $15.29. Typical combos include a trio of pork, beef brisket, and smoked sausage ($11.79); pulled pork and ribs ($13.79), and steak and ribs ($17.99).

Elsewhere on the menu, diners can order various chicken dishes in the $9 range, plus Atlantic salmon, beer-battered fish, and fried catfish in the $9 to $12 range. Appetizers, sandwiches, salads, lunch specials, sides, premium sides, and desserts are listed as well.

I tried the baby-back ribs and chicken combo ($15.49) and was especially impressed with the half-chicken, tender and tasting much like a rotisserie-cooked bird. As mentioned, the ribs were fine but not especially memorable. They're covered with a dark, sweet glaze, and can be further slathered with sauce from two bottles on each table.

A lodge salad ($7.99), accompanied by a skewer of grilled shrimp ($4.99), was a crunchy delight thanks to sunflower seeds, roasted pecans, and roasted green peas. A cup of spicy Brunswick stew ($2.79) danced a nice little soft shoe on the tongue, and a huge, inviting sandwich of sliced smoked turkey with swiss cheese and rosemary mayonnaise needed only a dash of horseradish to make it perfect.

One last note concerning the gulf between appearance and reality: On my way into Smokey Bones, I couldn't help but notice a bin of firewood outside the entrance. Must be a fireplace inside, I deduced, and I was right. The only hitch was that the fireplace doesn't need wood - it's gas-fired.

Contact Bill of Fare at fare@theblade.com



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