When it was first announced that Social wine bar would pack up its corks and reopen as barbecue joint Poogan’s Smokehouse, naysayers questioned the need for more ’cue. After all, Charleston teems with smoked-meat offerings (Sticky Fingers, Nick’s on King, Queology, Cumberland St. Smokehouse, Jimmy Hagood’s Cue-Osk, Swig & Swine, Home Team, to name a few). Yet it seems that diners can’t get enough of the stuff—especially when it’s done well, served in a smartly redesigned space on a well-trodden block; washed down with clever cocktails, sommelier-curated wines, and local craft beers; and offered at reasonable prices. Better yet, its executive chef and partner Daniel Doyle and chef Jeffrey Myers have cooked in the James Beard House not once but three times. These guys mean business.
At Poogan’s Smokehouse (the sister location to Poogan’s Porch, where Doyle remains a partner), the sweet smell of smoldering cherrywood, hickory, and hard oak rises in direct correlation with the number of eager diners placing orders, which triggers the opening and closing of the doors to the smoker. Early patrons in for lunch may detect only a hint of smoke, while a full house elicits delicious campfire aromas.
Breathe in deeply as you decide where to sit in the cavernous space. Tall beams of whitewashed wood extend upwards to a long atrium that bathes the place in sunlight by day. An upper balcony offers commanding views of the floor below—unless it’s privacy you seek, in which case your party can untie rolled burlap for a draped enclosure. At ground level, wood tables with Mason-jar bouquets of wheat set a rustic tone, accented with pops of mustard yellow in the form of plush leather booths. An old plow harness dangles from the ceiling, reincarnated as lighting above communal bar tables. The 19th-century exposed brick walls testify to the building’s knack for reinvention. Outside on the wide bluestone sidewalk, café tables allow patrons to dine with pets on leash or kick back and people-watch as they feast.
To say that smoke pervades the menu is fair, given that most dishes benefit in some way from the nuances of the massive Southern Pride 500 smoker out back. Well-seasoned dry-rubbed ribs (with telltale pink smoke rings) fall tender off the bone. Pulled pork piles high in a perfect ratio of juicy moist middles to crispy burnt tips. Strips of pork belly make for meltingly rich bites, whether they’re eaten alone, between buns, or with a spoonful of baked beans tossed in an earthy-sweet sauce of sorghum, Dr. Pepper, and hints of dark chocolate.
Smoke also weaves its way into less obvious dishes. Red peppers, smoked for nearly an hour, dot the hearty shrimp-and-grits entrée. Black-eyed peas cooked in a smoked ham hock stock speckle the baby kale salad, infusing a fireside essence into the greenery. Smoked tomato-bacon jam forms a bed for dense, creamy, golf-ball-size pimiento cheese fritters. Smoked pork drippings infuse butter for the hot skillet corn bread flecked with traces of local red Indian corn. Boiled peanuts get a double dose: the nuts themselves are smoked before simmering in the aforementioned broth with garlic, onions, and rosemary.
Clearly, the restaurant is aptly named. Yet the flavor somehow manages not to overpower; it’s present without clobbering diners’ taste buds or robbing each ingredient of its essence. That’s a fine line to walk, and one that Poogan’s artfully straddles. Think of it as chef-driven, elevated barbecue, familiar enough to please most old-school ’cue enthusiasts, yet inventive enough to capture a newer audience.
Other sophisticated touches set the restaurant apart. Take the hash, for example. After rendering most of the fat out of the hand-chopped trimmings and slow cooking the meat in a smoked-sausage roux (resulting in something closer to “Southern Bolognese” than the typically greasy mid-state standard), Doyle serves the flavorful hash over local heirloom rice. Chicken wings, rather than fried, are smoked then grilled, leaving them pleasantly charred with no need for added oil.
If you’re truly old-school, skip dessert and load up on extra meat. But if you’re in for reinvention, Doyle puts a decisively inventive spin on your grandma’s banana pudding, layering house-made pudding with cinnamon cookie crumbles, spiced rum whipped cream, and a finish of popcorn, reminiscent of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Some diners may consider that sacrilege. Others will swoon. Palates and expectations are as personal and regional as, well, barbecue.
Only time will tell how Poogan’s Smokehouse and its take on the traditional will translate to the masses. Until then, let it keep on smoking.
He’s Smokin’: Chef and managing partner Daniel Doyle also oversees the kitchen at Poogan’s Porch.
The Draw: Elevated barbecue for adventurous carnivores
The drawback: Creative desserts that veer far from tradition
Don’t miss: Hash and Carolina Gold rice