We’re starting with dessert because you might not get the insider tip that one of the wait staff gave us. While all three desserts on Up in Smoke’s menu sound desirable, we were told – in a Highlander movie “There can be only one!” fashion – that the banana cream pie was non-negotiable. Now we know why: with its sturdy biscuit crumb base, velvety banana-and-caramel filling and cream dab crown, it’s sensational. Sweet without being cloying, every billowing mouthful will make you want to shout “God bless America!”
So save some precious stomach space.
Shayne McCallum, owner of burger joint 8bit in Footscray and the CBD, opened Up in Smoke in January 2016. As unlikely a location for an American barbecue restaurant as Footscray might seem, on a Sunday night, the joint’s going gangbusters. Yet despite the merry hubbub, service is on the ball and staff quickly spot newcomers, ushering them to seats in the front beer garden or main dining area, where families, couples and groups of mates happily rub elbows. There’s nothing slap-your-thigh-yee-har about the interior of this short, dark and handsome venue; more moody industrial, it has floor-to-ceiling windows, black brick walls, concrete tables and copper piping.
It’s all about the barbecue – specifically a $20,000 barbecue that sits like a jewel behind a glass window. Burgers, tacos, salads, sandwiches and tasty snackettes animate the menu, and when the clock hits 6pm, the smoked meats come out to play.
‘The Big Tray’ (only available at dinner) comes with three different meats: a happy pile of sweet pulled pork, a pleasingly hefty jalapeno-and-cheddar sausage and shimmering beef brisket slices with a hint of smoke and a nice layer of fat. While the meat is undeniably tender and flavoursome, it’s perhaps not quite as smoky or melt-in-your-mouth as you might anticipate.
Two dinner-roll-sized sweet milk buns and plenty of pickled vegetables (cucumber, cauliflower, carrots) offset the flesh fest, and you get to choose two sides: the chips are crisp, fluffy and coated in a moreish barbecue spice mix, while an outstanding shaved fennel, green apple and dill salad partners perfectly with the pulled pork. The potato skins are the only disappointment. Loaded with bacon, cream cheese, sour cream and chives, what should have been no-brainers of yum were slightly undercooked.
For beverages, there’s ten rotating boutique Australian beers on tap, a predominantly Australian wine list and the classic American South drink, bourbon. Up in Smoke is taking off and you can see why. It’s fun, and the combination of rich, artery-narrowing foods with a smart fit-out and relaxed vibe means there’s no chance this venue will go up in smoke.