There has been a lot of talk and hype around the newest edition to the Annapolis restaurant family, Annapolis Smokehouse, and I must say I am very happy it isn't another "organic, whole free-range, made in my backyard, seasonal, small plates lounge and martini bar." Not there is anything wrong with those kind of restaurants, some of my favorites are, but it's getting a little overwhelming, don't you think?
After some debate, I decided I might as well try out the new place, even though I figured it would probably be packed on its opening weekend. I was also hesitant because some people may say, including myself, that it isn't exactly fair to do a review of a restaurant on the first weekend it opens. Management is still working out some kinks with the staff and with the kitchen, and trying to establish a flow to the restaurant. This was definitely apparent during our visit.
When my dining partner and I got there, the place was full but the wait was only 20 minutes without a reservation so we just headed over to the bar for a drink. They have a great selection of drinks and beers on tap and the bartender was very friendly. Once we were seated we started to check out the menu and take in the surroundings. They have a pretty good selection of dinner items ranging from traditional BBQ to salmon, shrimp and even have a smoked veggie patty which I thought was nice.
When we ordered, you could tell our waitress was definitely overwhelmed. Just by looking at her face you could see she just was not prepared to have a full section of tables. I placed my order for what would be the last of the brisket in the kitchen and my companion ordered the BBQ pulled pork. As we sat waiting, we were given a small order of hush-puppies to nibble on before our meal which I thought was a nice idea instead of a bread basket. I prefer my hush-puppies to be light, and these were pretty dense and had been overcooked, but I slathered them in the honey butter though, and it was fantastic.
While we waited for our food, we noticed the couple sitting next to us, who had been waiting for their meal before we even sat down. We began to hear them wondering where their food was and watched the waitress come over several times to apologize for the delay. Our dinner arrived, and they still didn't receive their meal. When it finally was brought out by who we assume was the kitchen manager (who did offer to pay for the meal) it was only an order of onion rings and fried green tomatoes; two items that shouldn't take long at all to cook. I understand, tickets get lost, things happen, but the table on our other side was having a similar issue with one diner's entree of BBQ shrimp being lost. When it did arrive, I heard her mention it was overcooked.
Again, these things happen, especially on an opening weekend, but what really raised a red flag for me was watching the same kitchen manager from before, someone ultimately responsible for the late food and lost tickets, take a shot with one of the bartenders at the bar. In my experience working in restaurants, this was a huge issue. It is the level of respect to the diners and professionalism of the restaurant that comes into question when the staff are seen drinking during their shift. Clearly they were having a rough night, and yea, that guy probably needed a drink, but wait until after you close or at least don't take a shot and walk into the kitchen in front of diners who have been waiting over 30 minutes for their food.
To speak to my food, the brisket was fantastic. It cut like butter; it was well seasoned and had a great smoke ring on the inside of the meat. I loved the different sauces they had available table side as well. The blueberry sauce was actually a fantastic choice with the brisket, and very unexpected. My companion's BBQ pork was good, and the collard greens were perfectly cooked.
Our experience that night at Annapolis Smokehouse was on the better end of the spectrum than some of our fellow diners. I will say that I thought it was a great gesture for the chef to come out from the kitchen and offer samples to the guests who had either been waiting a long time to order or to get their food. Clearly the staff and management want this restaurant to be successful and know when they need to compensate.
Again, I will be the first to say that to pass definitive judgment on a restaurant after only having one experience there is very hard, and giving a proper review of a restaurant based on their opening weekend is just impossible. I completely give the restaurant the benefit of the doubt on this one. I would love to come back to Annapolis Smokehouse in the coming months and enjoy some more of that brisket and see how they are fairing. I really think that given a few more weeks to work through the pains of opening, it will be a success.