At the Table: Cold-weather blues? Time for a little Smoke in Halfmoon

Beef brisket and pork ribs, along with homemade mac and cheese and cornbread, at Rollin’ Smoke Handcrafted BBQ in Halfmoon. 

Beef brisket and pork ribs, along with homemade mac and cheese and cornbread, at Rollin’ Smoke Handcrafted BBQ in Halfmoon. 

I submit that barbecued meat is a perfect winter food. Its substantial fattiness sustains you through these frigid nights. I’d put it up there with beef bourguignion and coq au vin as one of the best, stick-to-your-ribs, cold-weather meals.

Rollin’ Smoke Handcrafted BBQ started out as a food truck and has since rolled into its permanent home, a strip mall on Guideboard Road just off Route 9 near the Halfmoon Diner. It’s convenient to Waterford and points south, Clifton Park and Halfmoon, and it’s not too far from exit 8A of the Northway.

Most of business at Rollin’ Smoke is takeout, and given the current pandemic situation we decided that was a good idea. Happily, barbecued food holds beautifully.

You enter smack-dab at the counter where you order; the dining area, with a half-dozen tables, is to the right. But you need a minute to take it in: the stainless steel commercial smoking oven behind the counter; the incredible, welcoming smell of barbecue; and that beautiful, blackened hunk of brisket that’s being carved up on the counter in front of you.

“Can I help you?” asked the counterperson politely. I put up a finger: Wait, please. Who can concentrate on ordering when a smoked, blackened brisket is being sliced into thick, rich, fat-seamed slabs right there? Not I.

The menu is straightforward. You have a choice of meats: beef brisket, pork ribs, pulled chicken and pork in various size permutations and on buns — your basic barbecue. Add standard sides. There are specialty sandwiches like the Texas Twister ($13) made of chopped brisket, queso cheese sauce and crispy fried onion straws, more sauce and jalapeños. Don’t think the Classic Burger is just a burger here ($10.99). There’s lettuce, tomato, onion and cheddar, as you’d expect, but candied bacon that puts it over the top. Served with chips, it’s a half-pound patty and reasonably priced.

Not everything from the online menu was available. I wanted pig on a stick (who doesn’t?) — bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin. For specials, it’s stuffed with ham and cheese. They didn’t have it, nor wings or tacos, from what I could see. There are daily specials in addition to the regular menu.

We ordered two of the smaller meal specials ($16 each), with two meats and a side apiece. They come with cornbread and pickles.

“I hope we can wait until dinner,” said husband Eric after I’d stowed the bag into the back seat.

We did, but I had to keep myself occupied baking a batch of cookies so I wouldn’t sneak anything before then. At 5 we had drinks; at 6 I set the photographed, plated dishes at the table, with the sauces between them, and we were ready to go.

“The pickles are delicious,” said Eric, starting slow. “I taste dill.”

On to the coleslaw, sweet-tasting and creamy, with pretty purple cabbage and carrot, dotted with celery seed. “Fresh and crunchy,” he pronounced.

I dug right into the pulled pork and a slab of brisket. The pork was as good as it gets, juicy, rich, delicious. Burnt ends here and there added heft and more flavor. Excellent.

The chicken is tender enough, and varnished, but the leaner meat doesn’t develop the addictive, smoke-flavored richness of pork or beef.

Brisket is barbecue’s crown jewel, and Rollin’ Smoke’s was sublime — those thick slabs I watched being cut ended up on my plate. There was a seam of slightly sticky fat in the middle and a layer of pink just below the surface of the meat, exactly where it should be. The blackened exterior was packed with seasoning that finished with lively ground black pepper.

Out of respect for the meat we took out a bottle of Conundrum 10th Anniversary Red Blend 2019, medium-dry, smooth and assertive. It held up to and paired beautifully with the beef.

We tried the ribs. They were as good as ribs get. “The bone fell off the meat,” said Eric, who likes to eat them with a knife and fork. There’s a streak of fat through the meat; when sliced across it looks almost like pork belly.

Eric gave the pork full marks. And the brisket? Well, we agreed it was the best part of the meal.

Their smoky mac and cheese gets a kick from ground energetic black pepper, too. Its heat cut into the rich, cheesy sauce.

The cornbread is moist, tangy and carries smoke flavor all the way through. It’s cake-like and sturdy, and a little sweet. Very good, we agreed.

Would I like house-made sauces? The counterperson had rattled off a list of what was available, and I said yes, please, one or two. Imagine the pleasure of dipping smoked meats into five very different kinds. There were three dark, sweet sauces; two had enough heat to make me sit up. There’s a vinegary, Southern-style sweet sauce that paired well with the chicken and pork, and a mustard sauce that wasn’t overpowered by its characteristic ingredient.

Thank goodness they don’t have dessert, we agreed.

The tab for dinner, including tax and a 20% tip, came to $40.64.

We’ve already planned our next visit to Rollin’ Smoke. On another subzero night, we’re sharing a fortifying meal of brisket and ribs. We’ll open a bottle of good red wine and enjoy an evening of comfort food in front of the fire.

And that’s how we’ll get through the winter.

Rollin’ Smoke Handcrafted BBQ

WHERE: 222 Guideboard Road, Clifton Park; (518) 903-9906; rollinsmokegrill.com
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. (or until they sell out) Tuesday to Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.
HOW MUCH: $40.64
MORE INFO: Credit cards: Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover. Children’s menu. Parking lot. ADA compliant. Delivery within 10 miles, $20 minimum.

Categories: Food, Life and Arts


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