Dennis Thompson knows his stuff. He’s the restaurateur behind Firebirds Wood Fired Kitchen, Viva Chicken, Bad Daddy’s (since sold) and Sea Level (coming soon uptown) — and that’s of course leaving out Lone Star Steakhouse and Fox and Hound Bar. His concepts grow quickly, and travel well from market to market. Firebirds is at 37 locations now, with seven more opening in the next few months.
And it’s a decent bet that Smoke Modern Barbeque will follow the same path. The concept originated out in Colorado, and Thompson is leading its national expansion. After establishing itself in this market up in Huntersville’s Birkdale Village, the concept just opened this month at StoneCrest in south Charlotte.
The location fits in with the Thompson business model. It’s actually in the same complex as the original Firebirds location, and has a ton of parking, good foot traffic (it’s next to the movie theater) and easy access to main roads. Smart.
The general manager, Jeff Wakem, is top-of-the-line talent, too. He went to culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in Providence and worked for Disney and later Darden Brands, helping open Bahama Breeze. He later worked for Emeril Lagasse and came to Charlotte to open E2. He left there to work at Aria uptown before going to work for Thompson. He opened the Birkdale location and is now at StoneCrest.
Wakem is nuts about service and puts his staff through the same type of training you’d get at a fine dining restaurant. They taste every meal served and every bottle of wine to better recommend it to customers. Meals are served on nice china, drinks are served on trays,
About the menu
North Carolina is obviously familiar with barbecue, but this is a different type of deal. It’s not a red-and-white checkerboard tablecloth place with a whole hog in the back. It’s a nice restaurant you’re going to dress up a little bit for, and it’s got things like salads with seared ahi tuna on the menu.
As far as the meat goes, the menu borrows from the barbecue traditions around the country, not just pulled-pork. It’s got brisket, some St. Louis ribs and Kansas City burnt ends.
The meat comes out without sauce, but there are four types on the table:
- Georgia gold (mustard based)
- Carolina red
- KC Royale
- Texas Fire
Plus one more, Triple X, that’s so hot you have to ask for it.
About the beverages
Wakem is a certified sommelier and takes his wine seriously. I took a look at the bar and didn’t recognize the bottles. This isn’t the kind of stuff you get at Harris Teeter. It comes from boutique-type places. Wakem hand-picked them all to go with the menu.
They’ve also got the usual local beers on tap. Wakem said the restaurant so far has been selling more wine than beer. That’s pretty unusual for a barbecue joint. I also noticed “Not Your Father’s Root Beer” on tap.
Cocktails are a mix of classics (like the old fashioned and Sazerac) and new creations. They use fresh dill and basil, make a house lemon syrup and a house-infused cucumber gin.
Connect with Smoke Modern Barbeque
7828-E Rea Road
(Photo credits: The meat and cocktails photos come from Smoke. The rest are mine)