You’re likely to start salivating even before you get inside Capital Q Smokehouse, which operates in a storefront on Ontario Street, a couple blocks south of Madison Avenue. The reason is the enticing smell of hickory smoke, which you detect long before you climb the steps and enter the place.
It’s a friendly place where chef-owner Sean Custer is likely to engage you in conversation, as he did us on this Saturday afternoon, delighted when he discovers he’s greeting “first-timers.”
Capital Q Smokehouse
WHERE: 329 Ontario St., Albany. Phone: 438-7675
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
HOW MUCH: $18.01
MORE INFO: No credit cards. Not handicapped-accessible. No children’s menu.
Custer worked as a chef in New York City and also a caterer upstate before starting Capital Q Smokehouse in a building where a meat market was operated for years.
Food is displayed in glass cases, allowing you a good opportunity to inspect what you’re going to be eating. Custer describes the different styles of pulled pork and offers samples of each so there’s no guesswork involved.
There are the side dishes you’d expect to find at a barbecue place — collard greens, corn bread, baked beans and Hoppin’ John, a Southern dish of black-eyed peas and rice. You can also get chili over rice, mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes with maple syrup and macaroni and cheese. You can order these dishes in larger quantities, too, in case you want to give a dinner party and let your guests assume you cooked for days.
But the big draw is the meat — rotisserie chicken with spice rub, Memphis and Kansas City-style ribs, Texas-style brisket and pulled pork in three varieties, which are in a separate steam table where Custer offers up samples along with his descriptions. There is a North Carolina variety that is tangy but with a nice bite, a South Carolina style with mustard in the sauce and a sweet and spicy barbecue sauce version called “Okie Pig.”
You can order meals by the plate — a pile of pulled pork with cornbread and coleslaw and an additional side dish — for $8. It comes in a lidded plastic foam container because Capital Q is mostly a take-out place, though you can eat in. There’s a counter at the front window with stools where we camped out to eat our lunch.
The sandwich buns are quite large, and Capital Q packs the pulled pork in them in generous quantities. I had the North Carolina version, which is topped with coleslaw, providing a cool foil to the spicy meat. My lunch partner opted for the South Carolina version, which was topped with sweet pickle chips. Both sandwiches were very good. I had baked beans with mine and they were nice and spicy hot. The Hoppin’ John, which accompanied my guest’s sandwich, was tasty as well.
I didn’t love the coleslaw. Not enough tang for my taste, but it nevertheless was a good addition to the spicy hot pulled pork, adding a different texture and contrasting flavor.
You can also get a smoked sirloin sandwich for $9.50, chicken fried steak with country pepper gravy for $7.75 and fish fry — cornmeal-breaded fish topped with a Cajun remoulade and coleslaw — for $8.75.
Ribs are sold individually for $2.25 or a full rack for $13. Capital Q has its own smoked chicken wings tossed in a sauce of your choosing at $11.50 a dozen.
The place got busy as we ate our sandwiches and admired a mural across the street, but the service never seemed to lag.
Our tab for two pulled pork sandwiches, two sides and sodas came to a modest $18.01 with tax and tip.
Hoppin’ John, a side dish featured at Capital Q Smokehouse, is a dish of the storied South, from the low country cuisine of the Carolinas. It features black-eyed peas (or beans) cooked with garlic, onions and other chopped vegetables in a tomato sauce flavored traditionally with smoked ham hocks or a ham bone or sausages. It is considered good luck to eat Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day and some Southerners have a dish of it with their champagne toasts to welcome the new year.