This is the Place
Massive Portions, Amazing Ribs, and Sides that Changed My World — MOIST Smoked Turkey — Have Thanksgiving Anytime You Want
Restaurant: Sean's Smokehouse
BBQ & Grill
I got word that there was a new barbeque restaurant open and, of all places, it was in Saratoga Springs, just off the crossroads of Redwood Road and Lehi Main Street. I was in the area (sort of, I was on the south bend of Bangerter Highway) and hit the light at Redwood Road, and thought, "Why not?" And took off South to see if this Sean's Smokehouse BBQ and Grill was all that I heard. A better decision was never made.
It might be a bit daunting coming down from the north on Redwood Road, particularly when you pass Camp Williams and see farmland on the other side, but take heart. When you reach the crossroads, just turn left, and it's on the West side of the first strip mall on the North side of the road. It's still new enough that signage is a canvas banner, but they have another by the road, just in case you miss it.
They have a drive-up window, but don't use it. In fact, I think they use the drive-up path alongside the building for employee parking. And, as soon as I got out of the car, I could smell the smoke. Good sign. You enter on the South side of the building and, immediately, you are stricken by the décor. The walls are warm colors, like your walking into a room lit by a fire. The tables are heavy picnic benches, with steel frames and thick, dark wood. Immediately, I felt like I was walking into a national park. And the place was busy. When I opened the front door, I couldn't even step inside, because of the line leading up to the counter. No better sign in the world that the place has good food.
The menu is on a flat-screen TV alongside the counter, where you order and pay, fill your soda at the beverage bar, then find a seat at one of the awesome tables. As I stood in line, I noticed that there were two more flat-screen TVs in the room, which were set at different sports channels, with the sound turned down, and light music playing overhead, although I couldn't quite hear it, because the voices in the place were pretty loud, people talking, smiling and laughing. Clearly, they were enjoying the food. I also noticed that there were some state flags hanging from the ceiling: Utah, Florida, Kansas and South Carolina. Interesting. And fun, too.
The line moved pretty quickly, and I reached the register, where a girl who was probably still in high school asked for my order. I told her that I had never been there before and asked what was good. She said, "Everything! Just ask anybody." And she waved at everyone sitting at the tables. I thought, "Good for you. Confidence in your product." Then, without me asking, she said, "The sides are all awesome. And there are salads. I know, it's a meat place, but the salads are awesome. There's nothing on the menu I've tried that wasn't amazing." I asked if she'd tried much of the menu, and she said she had. Then threw in at the end, "This is a great place to work." Again, I thought, "Good for you. Another good sign." So I decided on the ribs, which come with two sides, and she recommended the Cornbread Salad, saying that she has never had anything like it before, and I also ordered the Baked Beans.
The bill was a bit steep, because I got the full rack, but I figured I would be having leftovers for dinner, so that was OK. The girl at the counter asked for my name, and I found a place to sit. The tables are just solid. I wiggled around, and couldn't even make them budge. Another employee walked past, with his arms full of plastic baskets, and told me, "I know. They owners made them. Cool, huh?" Again, the pride shown by the employees was really interesting. I then went up to fill my drink cup with what I was surprised to see: Cherry Coke. You don't see it as often as you should.
My food came very quickly, in a plastic basket on a sheet of wax paper. I don't mind that with sandwiches (a la the Philadelphian in Sandy), but barbeque is another matter. I hoped I didn't end up frustrated by that alone, tearing holes in the paper when cutting apart my ribs. The man who brought my food asked if I knew what the bottled sauces on the table were (there were three squeeze bottles alongside the napkin holders). Since only one was labeled, I said no. He told me there was Black and Blue, which is a berry-based BBQ sauce, which is their signature sauce, one that was more of a classic spicier sauce, but his favorite was the mustard sauce, which is really tangy. He was older than everyone else working there, and had a Southern accent, so I figured that he was one of the owners. Then he said that he would be back to see what I think, and left. (Owner confirmed.)
First words out of my mouth: "Wow. What beautiful ribs."
They full rack was a rich red-brown, and there was a thick sauce already on top of them that was a shiny, deep red. The owner walked by again, and I asked him if the sauce on the ribs was one of those on the table, and he said, "No, that's a rib glaze we're trying out. I told my partner I wanted something sticky and shiny. And this is what he came up with. You'll have to tell me what you think." Then he was gone again, talking to more customers about their food.
The ribs were the meatiest baby-back ribs I had ever seen in my life. I lifted them to get a better look and saw that there was about an inch of meat on top of the ribs that I don't recall ever seeing anywhere else. Then, when I tried to adjust to get a better look at them, the bone I was holding onto slipped right out of the rack, splatting back into the plastic basket, leaving me with a pristine bone in my hand. Again, wow. That's another mark of great ribs, that they fall right off the bone. So I cut a piece (knife wasn't really necessary, other than to keep from getting too messy) and took my first bite.
First words out of my mouth after first bite: "Oh, man, oh, man, oh man!"
I love good ribs. And, at that moment, I was in love with Sean's Smokehouse. The smoke was evident, immediately filling my mouth with smoky saltiness, followed immediately by filling my sinuses. The glaze was an amazing compliment, sweet and savory, without overpowering the dry rub on the ribs. And, despite the meat not being trimmed off the top of the ribs, they were so very lean. What an amazing thing! And, after that first rib, I knew that I was going to be leaving the place with that life-is-good feeling that accompanies having a full stomach. I am a carnivore. And I can knock out a full rack of ribs on most days. But I knew that I had met my match here. There was so much more meat on the ribs that I no longer cared that the full rack was $18.99. Not when there were two sides in Styrofoam bowls easily double the diameter of what I expected to receive.
I wanted to try my beans, which had different types of beans and lots of meat and chunks of onion and other veggies, but I couldn't stop eating those ribs. After downing about a quarter of the rack, I was already slowing down. So I figured it was now or never, if I was even going to get a taste of those big portions of sides.
The beans were sweet and smoky, but not in a way that most other BBQ places do it. The sauce in the beans was much thinner, but you could still taste the headiness of the molasses and smoke from the chunks of meat. I thought that it was not going to have any heat, which I love in good beans but, by the third bite, it was creeping up on me, warming my mouth. It was a more subtle heat, showing some real craft in the workmanship. And that is something. I love good barbeque beans. I make a mean dish myself, but the color is very dark, and the sauce is very thick. The beans at Sean's Smokehouse are a breed unto themselves.
So then I went to the Cornbread Salad. Like the girl at the counter, I have never heard of such a thing, and I ordered it off her recommendation. Looking at it, I was a little apprehensive, worried that I was going to be eating a bowl of soggy bread. There were chunks of corn bread about the size of large peas, mixed in with a white sauce, along with actual peas, chunks of celery and onion, and also cubed ham. I smelled it, and identified the white sauce as a kind of Ranch dressing. Then I took a bite. Again, it rocked my world.
The salad has layers of flavor, richness from the dressing and ham (and grated cheese, which I hadn't noticed initially) and peas, yet I could still taste the other veggies. Even more importantly, the celery gave it a crunch that totally blew out my expectation of soggy bread. It was like having a bowl of really good ham sandwich, but sweeter, and lighter. Wow. Needless to say, I killed off the Cornbread Salad right then and there.
By the time I was halfway through the rack of ribs, I was done. It was a blow to my pride, having to wave the white flag at only the halfway point, but oh, what a wonderful way to lose. The owner, Sean, brought me a Styrofoam clamshell to take home the leftovers, and a plastic lid for my beans, and I asked him about the tables. He confirmed that he and his partner made them, and that there were other things coming that they had made. He also told me to just leave the plastic basket on the table, that he would take care of it. When he left, I looked around, and saw that he was right. He would take care of it, because there wasn't a garbage can in sight. Fair enough.
I happened to look into my empty basket before leaving, and was shocked to see that I had not punched a single hole through the paper. But the answer was clear: the meat was so tender, there was no risk. So one of my pet peeves was defeated, as well.
Last words out of my mouth: "Sean's Smokehouse changes the definition of BBQ joint."
I have to admit that my second visit followed very hard upon the first. It's not very often that I have such a positive response to a restaurant, and I was dying to get back.
This time, it was later in the day, so I missed the lunch rush, but the place was still half-full. The décor had changed a bit, even though it had only been a couple or three weeks since my last visit. There were slogans on the walls now, like "Good food ain't fast, and fast food ain't good." Another said, "Our butts are smoking." I appreciated the sentiment and the sense of humor.
I also noticed that, now, there was a garbage can right by the front door. That wouldn't have been so remarkable, except that it was made of the same heavy wood as the tables, and the hole in its top was nowhere near round, but an oval that looked like it was carved out with a chisel. Clearly, this was one of the other things that Sean had mentioned coming that they had made themselves. And it added to the sense that I was eating at something along the lines of the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone — sans the wandering bison outside.
This time, I didn't feel as rushed by the line of customers and spent more time studying the menu, looking for something unusual. I noticed a Buffalo Burger, which was very tempting, but then I saw that they had Smoked Turkey on the menu and my mind was made up. Both are rarities in Utah, but the Smoked Turkey was even more so. And, it would be a real challenge for these guys to pull off well, giving it good smoke but without drying it out. The ribs had set the bar very high, so I was just giddy about the prospect of the Smoked Turkey clearing it.
The Smoked Turkey sandwich (under the Signature BBQ section of the menu) and single side was much cheaper than my previous visit, so I hoped that it still held up to the same level of quality. I ordered, and the same girl at the register asked if I wanted it on a bun or Texas toast. I asked her which she likes better, and she said that it's really good both ways, but the buns are really good. So I went with that, paid, got my Cherry Coke, and sat down. The sandwich came out pretty fast, which soft of contradicted the slogan on the wall.
First words out of my mouth: "Nice bread."
The bun was a bit crusty on the outside and, when I lifted it, I could see that it was very soft inside, which was a sign of good, quality bread. At the same time, I noticed that the chopped turkey appeared very moist. I stuck my fingertip in it and was delighted to see that my eyes did not deceive.
I took my first bite dry, no sauce, to see how the meat really tasted. The smoke was apparent, not as heavy as with the ribs, but the flavor of the meat is more delicate, so it made sense. It still rolled through my sinuses, and the turkey itself was amazing. I tried the traditional spicier sauce and found that it complimented the smoke exceptionally well, and proceeded to smother the turkey with it.
I made pretty quick work of the sandwich, which was not to say that it was not filling. It was. My stomach was full, but I still had room for the fries. And that was a good thing. The fries were fat, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Moreover, they were seasoned with red-orange spice that was excellent, giving it a bit of heat and flavor, not just salt. (Was that paprika in the blend?)
And the Smoked Turkey absolutely cleared the bar that had been set by those amazing ribs.
What an amazing restaurant. And absolutely worth the drive down to Saratoga Springs.
Last words out of my mouth when leaving: "I'm never roasting a turkey again for Thanksgiving. I'm just picking it up from Sean's Smokehouse."
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noun. Slang. A person who has an ardent or refined interest in food; a gourmet.