Toward the tail end of last year, Chef BJ Smith—formerly of the slightly more hoity and far more toity downtown "dinerant" the Original—converted the old (and ever-so-excellent) Tanuki broom closet on NW 21st into a bona-fide Texas-style barbecue joint. Actually, it feels a little roomier than the old incarnation and seats 22 without feeling cramped (and lest you spend the rest of your day reeking of applewood and hickory, the smoker is chained up outside).
The daily menu features all of the usual BBQ suspects—your brisket, your ribs, your pulled pork, your hot links, your BBQ chicken—but Smith isn't afraid to step outside the confines of a meat and three sides. He does an excellent smoked trout with lemon fennel butter, and has a rotating specials board that might feature anything from lamb ribs to a smoked hog head pâté.
Where Smokehouse 21 does rival the best of Portland BBQ is in its side dishes. Normally I don't order mac 'n' cheese—it feels a little too much like an entrée for me—but on the server's recommendation I tried it. And I'm pleased I did. It comes served in a small baking dish topped with a crisp breadcrumb crust. The inside has a good consistent texture, and just enough bacon to add some flavor without overwhelming it. The BBQ beans came in the same small baking dish, and, similarly, are topped with a cornbread crust. They have a sweet molasses flavor that's offset by, yet again, just enough bacon.
Smokehouse 21 may not be a game changer, may not be hailed as Restaurant of the Year by any local alternative weeklies, but from now on, when some smug Southerner asks, "Is there anywhere in this town that serves decent barbecue?" you'll have a longer list than just Podnah's and Russell Street.-TONY PEREZ