First Look

Smok Barbecue Debuts This Weekend in the Source Hotel

The burnt-end sandwich at Smok, with a side of coleslaw.
The burnt-end sandwich at Smok, with a side of coleslaw. Mark Antonation
The Source Hotel + Market Hall will be soon be one of the smokiest food destinations in town. Not only has Acorn been cooking over wood since opening in the original Source space in 2013, but this weekend, Smok, a modern barbecue eatery from former Acorn chef Bill Espiricueta, will fire up the smokers beginning Saturday, August 18. Joining in the campfire fun will be Safta, an Israeli restaurant next door to Smok from New Orleans restaurateur Alon Shaya scheduled to open the same day.

As a kid, Espiricueta lived in Austin, Texas and then in Kansas City, Missouri, eating at all the best barbecue joints in those cities. Since moving away from the Midwest, the chef has traveled to America's other top barbecue regions to eat and learn. Smok brings together the best of his findings on one menu, but that doesn't mean you'll find a hodgepodge of mismatched cooking styles and sauces. "It's about the whole package," Espiricueta explains, "with different regional influences, but balanced."

click to enlarge Chef Bill Espiricueta behind the counter at Smok. - MARK ANTONATION
Chef Bill Espiricueta behind the counter at Smok.
Mark Antonation
The chef goes on to explain that barbecue lovers from any one region will have a favorite smokehouse for ribs, another for pulled pork, and another for burnt ends, for example, but that very few places do everything well. As a chef with a background in fine dining, his focus is on the harmony and balance of the entire menu and using seasonal ingredients to emphasize flavor and quality. A smoked pork-belly BLT, for example, will only be on the menu when ripe summer tomatoes are available.

Many of the top barbecue eateries around the country smoke a limited amount of meat each day and then shut the doors when the food runs out. While Espiricueta hopes to compete with those places in terms of quality, Smok is also a hotel restaurant. "If someone drives all day to try my brisket and I'm out, that's devastating," he says.

click to enlarge Jalapeño cheddar sausage with pit beans. - MARK ANTONATION
JalapeƱo cheddar sausage with pit beans.
Mark Antonation
The answer is cooking in small batches throughout the day on a gas-assisted rotisserie smoker that will burn red and white oak logs. The chef points out that his Southern Pride smoker is built to burn wood efficiently and only uses one or two logs for a twelve-hour smoke. He says that he'll run three smoking cycles at any given time so that there will always be meat available without having to hold the finished product for very long.

Sides are a focus, too, and Espiricueta adds international touches, like ginger in the coleslaw, queso fresco and lime in the creamed corn, and chicharrones done in Nashville hot. There's only one barbecue sauce, but there's also a housemade smoked hot sauce made with Fresno chiles, onion, garlic, vinegar, honey and salt. In addition to barbecue, Smok will serve other regional favorites like fried chicken and catfish, Austin-style breakfast tacos and hush puppies with red-pepper jelly. Daily specials will include crunchy tacos on Tuesdays, smoked prime rib on Wednesdays and fried fish on Fridays.

click to enlarge Inside Smok. - MARK ANTONATION
Inside Smok.
Mark Antonation
Aside from the dramatic setting on the second floor of the hotel, the customer experience will not stray far from classic barbecue; guests will order at the counter from a butcher who will cut meats to order by weight. So you'll be able to ask for meats by the pound (or fraction of a pound), by the slice or by the rib, or you can go with a sandwich. Farther down the line, there's a cold case with fresh sausages that you can take home in bulk.

The notion of balance and harmony extends to the drinks list, too, created by Alexis Osborne, who also comes over from Acorn. "I like using culinary aspects and ingredients," Osborne explains, so her cocktails often start with something from the farmers' market rather than thinking of the spirit first.

click to enlarge The 'Bout Thyme cocktail from beverage director Alexis Osborne. - MARK ANTONATION
The 'Bout Thyme cocktail from beverage director Alexis Osborne.
Mark Antonation
click to enlarge Chef Bill Espiricueta's smoker on a balcony between the Source and the restaurant. - MARK ANTONATION
Chef Bill Espiricueta's smoker on a balcony between the Source and the restaurant.
Mark Antonation
click to enlarge Looking from the Source Hotel's market hall into Smok. The wooden gate rolls up when the restaurant is open. - MARK ANTONATION
Looking from the Source Hotel's market hall into Smok. The wooden gate rolls up when the restaurant is open.
Mark Antonation
Three slushie machines behind the bar give a hint at the kind of fun she's mixing up. "I want our frozen drinks to be the shining stars," the bartender says, "but they won't be sugary." Examples include the Smok Smash, made with J. Rieger's Whiskey (a Kansas City spirit that will be the well whiskey), Amaro Nonino, dill, peach and lemon, or the Passion in the Jungle, built with two kinds of rum, Campari, passion fruit, lime, mint and turbinado sugar.

There are only four tap handles, but one will always pour something from Boulevard Brewing (a Kansas City original), along with Colorado beers selected for flavor profiles that will complement the food menu. Bottled and canned beers cover a wide range, from a simple Coors Banquet to a Belgian oud bruin from Brouwerij Bockor.

Smok will be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, staying open later on the weekend. While construction is still ongoing on Brighton Boulevard, the parking garage and paved parking in front of the Source are easy to access. The market-hall level of the Source Hotel is accessible from the parking garage (so there's now no need to go outside), and a new elevated walkway connects the hotel to the front entrance of the Source.
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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation