When the students returned to campus this fall, they were faced with a new landscape. Local staples like Cafe Pamplona and Blue Bottle Coffee were gone, while new businesses like Lovepop – what is Lovepop? – have arisen in the Square. On Holyoke Street, an illuminated neon sign contrasting with the drab brick background reads “Smoke Shop.” No, this is not a vape or hookah store, as you might think; it is Cambridge’s newest barbecue joint. Chef Andy Husbands opened the restaurant on Halloween Day 2020 as his local chain’s fourth location. As the Harvard Square location’s first anniversary approached, it was time to try “The Smoke Shop”.
Approaching the restaurant on Holyoke Street, the massive, open windows immediately create a welcoming environment for the customer. Even outside, you feel like you’re already part of the atmosphere. Inside, the chic bar – with over 250 whiskey and bourbon options – is juxtaposed with TVs and the home environment. It is a place where you can dine with family or have a drink with friends.
However, it is not the ambiance that determines the true value of the restaurant. It’s the food.
The “Pit Boss”, which includes your choice of three meats and three sides, is a highlight of the menu. The beef brisket was so incredibly tender it could be cut with a butter knife. Likewise, the pulled pork and the chicken themselves were completely juicy and flavorful. With the sauces, however, the flavor profile of the meal was on a whole new level. For those with a classic taste, ‘Sweet Victory’ barbecue sauce is the perfect combination with pork. For those who love spices, the “Hot Streak” is a great complement to pulled chicken.
The real hidden gem is the assortment of sides. Specifically, the chili mac and cheese is heaven in every bite. Covered in breadcrumbs, the cheesy, crunchy and spicy agglomeration makes a gastronomic delight. Plus, the warm cornbread – covered in honey – makes almost more of a dessert than a side dish.
The only downside to the dining experience is the portion sizes. For the price, the amount of food received is less than expected. Compare that to restaurants in the southern or midwestern United States, where you can get a plate of barbecue for the price of a round-trip T pass. This is the nature of running a business in Harvard Square; the rent is not cheap. However, part of the appeal of barbecue as “soul food” is that it is cheap, messy, and for people. Spending large sums of money is a bit of a paradox.
Either way, “The Smoke Shop” is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise barbecue-free Cambridge. Pulled pork, macaroni and cheese and whiskey selections are three must-have items for your next visit.
“The Smoke Shop” has five locations, all in the greater Boston area: Assembly Row, Seaport, Kendall Square, Harvard Square, and Hub Hall.