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Never Quit Smoking

The Smoked Joint is a new barbecue, uh, joint in downtown Philadelphia. Last week was our first opportunity to check it out. It's an interesting mix of country cookin' and big-city rock and roll with a funky feel tempered by lots of sophisticated touches.

The place is fairly large, and seemed even larger because it wasn't very crowded; there were a few people at the bar and most of the tables were empty. This concerned me. I can be very protective of new places that cater to one of my food fetishes, and I start to worry that if a place doesn't catch on, it won't be around long. After all, most restaurants fail.

We started with drinks. They have four beers on draft (and about twice as many bottled brews). I chose one I never heard of, a Belgian pilsner called Stella Artois. Very light.

Before I get to the food, I should admit that I am no expert on barbecue, it's just that I love smoked meats. I haven't been to very many barbecue places in the Philadelphia area (really only Abner's in Jenkintown and Hooley's in Ambler), but after this meal I will have to give the Smoked Joint top honors.

I usually try a restaurant's pulled pork sandwich, but the Smoked Joint doesn't serve one (they only had a heretical version on pita), so I ordered a platter with pulled pork and brisket. The two meats were nicely arranged on the plate, with a few slices of brisket neatly fanned out, and a nice pile of pulled pork surmounted by a stingy dollop of thick sauce. (Though small, it was plenty; I'm not a sauce guy.) The pulled pork was very good, perhaps a little drier and less tender than the best I've had, but the brisket was sensational, easily the best I've ever had—it was melt-in-your-mouth tender and utterly suffused with smoky goodness. The corn bread was unusual; not sweet like some, and it incorporated diced green pepper for a mild kick. The collards were perfect. We have collards from our backyard frequently and prepare them with onions. They're good, but they're even better smoked.

If I had to find something to complain about, it would be the service. There wasn't anything wrong, but everything was very slow. Fortunately, we weren't in a hurry.

When I Googled the place to double-check the address I was surprised and delighted to learn that the restaurant is the product of a collaboration between two Penn graduates, who graduated the same year I did. Read all about it.

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