Smokin’ Aces deals a winning hand

From barbecue to boudin, this takeout delivers on its name

Truth in labeling not being rigorously enforced, one can never be too sure about a restaurant delivering on what’s implied in its name. But we’re pretty sure that’s never going to be a problem with Smokin’ Aces BBQ.

If ever there was an adjective that fits this place, it’s smokin’. You can see it from the street. You can taste it in the food.

There are some areas where Smokin’ Aces, that tiny, mostly takeout barbecue joint on Government Street, can improve, but they definitely know how to put a smoky tang into their meats.

The smoked chicken plate ($7.75) features the leg quarter, which is the perfect choice for smoking because it tends to stay juicier than breast meat. That was certainly the case here, which allowed it to easily be handled with the plastic dinnerware that is provided. The smoky flavor and aroma were quite good, enough so that we recommend not automatically applying the sauce, which comes on the side. You may find the sauce unnecessary. White meat can be substituted for an extra $1.75.

The smoked sausage ($6.50 sandwich, $8.75 plate) was spicy-sweet, with the faint aftertaste of hot metal and wood smoke that comes with a great smoked sausage. Like the chicken, it surrendered nicely to our disposable plastic knives and forks.

The pulled pork sandwich ($7.50) is the soul of simplicity: meat and bread. The meat is tender and smoky and presented in a form somewhere between pulled and chopped. There’s plenty of meat, enough to overflow the bread. The pork is quite tasty and has an appealing texture, but could use a more hearty and plentiful sauce.

The coleslaw that accompanied the sandwich was acceptable as well, but could use some kind of spice to render it more memorable. Cabbage, red and green, and a touch of mayonnaise and a splash of vinegar is fine, but ordinary. It wouldn’t take much to make the sandwich and slaw very good.

The brisket ($10 plate, $8.50 sandwich) was uneven. The quantity on the brisket plate was generous, but much of it was a bit dry, so the barbecue sauce — sweet, with a hint of vinegar — served the double duty of lubrication as well as flavor enhancement. Not bad, but the least favorite of the meats we sampled.

Of course, there is one cut of meat by which to judge any self-respecting barbecue place. Ribs ($19 full rack, $13 half rack) have to be judged on what happens before and after they’re put to the fire. Smokin’ Aces scores much better on the latter than the former.

Smokin’ Aces serves pork spare ribs — larger and usually not as tender as back ribs. But these were amazingly tender, the sign of being smoked slowly over moderate heat. As we ate them, we couldn’t help think how unbelievable they’d be if a little more attention was given to spice rub.

You don’t have to be a lover of Memphis-style dry ribs to appreciate how a spice rub enhances the flavor of ribs. These ribs had none that we could detect. Of course, the restaurant provides sauce on the side, and since it’s almost exclusively a takeout place, you can provide your own favorite sauce if Smokin’ Aces’ version isn’t to your liking. But even a simple mixture of salt, pepper, brown sugar and paprika would make these ribs much more appealing.

The side orders range from good (French fries: thickly cut and well-salted; baked beans) to pretty good (chunky potato salad, slaw) to below average (onion rings, which were neither particularly crisp nor flavorful). We didn’t sample the macaroni and cheese, which wasn’t available when we ordered.

The appetizers include boudin balls ($5), which are unusual for a barbecue place, but we tried them, and we’re awfully glad we did. These were excellent. The exterior was thin, yet crisp, and it covered a seasoned rice and meat mixture that had an amazingly smooth texture and satisfying flavor.

Although there are picnic tables out front, we doubt many people patronize them except while waiting for their phoned-in orders. Parking is not plentiful, but given the takeout nature of the place, folks probably aren’t there very long. We found the staff to be quite pleasant and helpful, in one case insisting on taking a hot pan of ribs to place in our vehicle so we wouldn’t risk burning ourselves. Gotta like that.