Where: Up in Smoke, 28 Hopkins Street Footscray
What: American comfort food
Bloat score: 4 – If I was lying prostrate on my tummy, it would have looked as though I was levitating
When your friend suggests going to an American barbecue restaurant and you’ve just returned from gorging your face on pasta, stew and beer in Europe, what else is there to say but ‘yes’?
Especially after I found out that the person behind Up in Smoke is the person who launched esteemed burger joint 8Bit — I’m having painful flashbacks to how I felt after their fried chicken burger, but that’s for another post (in a nutshell, it involved me lying facedown on my workplace’s couch to the laughs of my very unsympathetic colleagues).
Housed on a corner not far from Footscray Station, Up in Smoke has a lovely beer garden out front — they have heaters, so fret not for everyone’s “winter is coming” warnings — and a bustling indoor diner which houses 60-odd guests. I’d recommend making a booking. Yes, this place actually accepts bookings and you can even do it on their website, which is a plus for people who hate phone interactions like me.
But the food, oh, the food. I rightly predicted that I’d feel sick by the end of it, so there was no beer to be had for me, but do know that there are good Australian craft beers for those mythical creatures who don’t get bloated after a pot. But I digress. I went as part of a trio, and we ordered three things from the ‘smalls’ menu, a tray of pork ribs, and two sides. After careful deliberation on whether we would order a salad, we eschewed the idea of a balanced meal with the realisation that the only salad we wanted was one modelled after a Caesar Salad – hardly a healthy side.
It was the mac and cheese, and one of the dishes that I was most looking forward to, which came first. After popping down two Lacteezes (if you lactose-adverse saps haven’t heard of this shit, please jump right on it because it’s my favourite possession in my handbag), I dug into it. Unlike the fancy schmancy mac and cheese elsewhere like Meatmaiden — that includes heavenly bits of lobster atop, not that you can find these bits with a naked eye — Up in Smoke’s mac and cheese was full of the traditional creamy goodness that you sometimes don’t get from that 2am drunkenly concocted Kraft mac and cheese. With toasted breadcrumbs as garnish, I was mightily sad when this ended. Or more like when it became socially unacceptable to eat more than my one-third share.
I shouldn’t have despaired. We had also ordered the mozzarella sticks, the smoked hot wings with ranch dressing, and jalapeno, bacon and cheese-stuffed potato skins as our three entrees, and they arrived soon after.
The mozzarella sticks were incredibly moreish, and came with Up in Smoke’s homemade barbecue sauce, although I took to dipping them in the hot and spicy sauce that came with the wings.
We had the choice of ordering either the ‘mild’ or ‘hot’ smoked hot wings, but why would we choose something that didn’t exemplify the name of this mighty dish? Also note this: although an apple can send me hurtling to the restrooms before you can say ‘Granny Smith’, I am incredibly tolerant to spice. These chicken wings were spicy in a good way — they had a fair kick, but were nothing like the hottest wings you can get at Belle’s Hot Chicken. Doused in ranch dressing, these were finger-licking good (I almost got booed off the table for trying to tackle these with cutlery, and rightly so).
Because I took one for the team and ate chicken wings on behalf of those that weren’t as equipped to, I missed out on the loaded potato skins, although my friends assured me that they too were good.
And then for the main course — the pork ribs. This is scandalous and something that I’d only admit behind the safety of a computer screen, but I’m not the biggest fan of ribs. Something about all that unctuous meat coating your lips in grease and leaving you feeling sick (okay maybe that’s just me — thanks missing gallbladder). But Up in Smoke’s ribs were delicious and funnily enough, weren’t perhaps as melt-in-my-mouth as I would have liked.
I washed this down with a handful of addictive bbq-rub fries, and I was as full as can be.
I hear on good authority that Up in Smoke’s banana cream pie is not to be missed, but by this stage, I was already squirming uncomfortably in my seat and trying to converse under the suffocating experience of wearing a belt. With other menu items such as the intriguing jalapeno and cheddar sausages and a selection of delicious sounding tacos yet to be had, I told myself I would be back – if only for the mac and cheese, if nothing else.
After my restless seat shifting became apparent, I buckled and requested the bill because all I wanted to do was lie on my bed sans belt and watch Aziz Ansari make poignant observations on race and discrimination in America.
Up in Smoke is open daily from 11am until late, although smoked meats are only available from 6pm until they sell out.