On our way to a little mini retreat near Welshpool (more coming up on that), Mr M and I decided to stop for a bit of lunch. We were thinking a country pub maybe, a cosy little place with a log fire. That was until we zipped past this sign in Ford, a little village near Shrewsbury in Shropshire.
You all know mine and Mr M’s love of meat, especially smoked meat, from our fun trips to places like Grillstock and Meatopia. So cue a speedy u-turn. We were intrigued – Smoke Stop looks more like it should be at the side of a road in the Deep South of America than a little A-road in Shropshire, so we were keen to see whether it really takes this smoking stuff seriously, or was just another gimmicky wannabe roadside diner.
Other than signs advertising ‘the road to bbq’ and tempting words like ‘nachos’, wings’ and ‘rack of ribs’, the exterior is more akin to traditional pub than American eaterie. But inside, you’re transported to somewhere far removed from a quaint English pub. Big booths, a bar stocked with American beers and sodas, a smattering of neon signs and American flags all start to build up the picture. But it’s the menu that really transports you to Texas.
It’s not just the burgers, the ribs, chicken wings and pulled pork. It’s things like the brisket burnt ends, mac’n’cheese, humongous milkshakes, root beer and coke floats that make it that little bit more. At 1.30pm on New Year’s Eve they were pretty busy, but managed to squeeze us in despite us not booking.
I haven’t had a coke float for years so started off with one of those for old time’s sake. A glass of coke, with a huge dollop of ice-cream, topped with an Everest-sized peak of whipped cream. Wow. Dunno about started off, it nearly finished me off!
Anyone who knows us Mannings will know we rarely pass up a chance for some smoked meat – we haven’t really had any since Meatopia, although we’ve got a lot of 2016 plans to try some good smoke joints across the Midlands. And so we decided that one of our last big treats of 2015 would be a big old meat fest and ordered the Texas Taster Platter.
At £38 it’s not cheap, but it is a fair old load of food and – more importantly – good food. BBQ pulled pork, meaty pork ribs, maple glazed baby back ribs, smoked Texas sausage, smoked BBQ wings, and southern fried popcorn chicken. Oh, not to mention a bowl of fries, corn lollipops and some deep south slaw.
Unable to resist burnt ends, we swapped our popcorn chicken for them and they’d run out of babyback ribs when we ordered, so we were offered some brisket instead. Fine by me.
This is an imposing plate of food. Correction, this is an imposing wooden board laden with food. Impressive to look at, but we were keen to see if it would taste as good as it promised – especially given the claim that it had been cooked in on-site smokers for up to 14 hours.
This boast is, I’m pleased to say, no lie. Well, not according to my humble tastebuds anyway. The slabs of brisket were tender and smoky. We’ve had brisket before when it’s proved slightly tough, but there wasn’t a hint of that here.
The Texas sausage was rich as hell, but packed with flavour and smokiness, while the chicken wings, in contrast, were quite plain – a nice break from the otherwise rich stack of meat on the board.
We tried to rank our favourites, but I was torn between the pulled pork, burnt ends and ribs. The ribs were tender and juicy, with a decent amount of meat as well as fat (sorry, but I love the fat when it’s cooked right, and it was here).
The burnt ends were encased in a crispy coating and worked best when dipped in the bourbon glaze they came with. That way you got an almost bitter smoky taste from the glaze that balanced out the rich deep-fried crisp of the coating, all before you get to the fall-apart meat inside. Yum.
I think the pulled pork won. A big bowl of shredded pork slathered in a rich smoky sauce. So often pulled pork is just a bit of a mess of meat in a sauce that’s plenty rich, but has none of the hint that anything’s actually been smoked. This wasn’t the case here, and you could really taste the hours of smoking.
The fries were fine – how hard is it to do fries? Either way, they didn’t mess them up. And the corn was delicious, albeit slightly excessive. Hey, how about we make the meal even more full on and melt a load of cheese on top of your corn? But the coleslaw, my friends, has to get a mention. This was some of the best coleslaw I’ve ever had. None of that droopy veg drowning in mayo. Crunchy veg, with a nice onion tang, in a light coating, making for exactly what you’re supposed to get from coleslaw – a crunchy, light, refreshing accompaniment that complements your meal rather than being some gopping afterthought.
We didn’t manage to finish the platter. Apparently some people complain that this is too small for the money. I’m not sure I agree. Yes, you can get bigger platters elsewhere. And yes, £38 isn’t cheap. But this is some of the nicest cooked smoked food I’ve had, and the guys behind Smoke Stop are clearly passionate about what they’re doing – you can taste it. I guess they could pile you high with more food and make it cheaper, but would you get the same decent meat with the same time, effort and love put in to cook it? I’m not sure.
We were offered the dessert menu, but as tempted as we were by some of the heavenly-sounding calorie-laden indulgent sweets, we just couldn’t manage anything else. We left just as it started to get really really busy with the last NYE late lunches and made our way off to our cosy shepherd’s hut in Wales for a quiet few days. In case you’re wondering, no we didn’t eat again until the next day. That lunch was more than enough, and a wonderful meal to finish off 2015.
There’s nothing quite like happening upon a little gem that you had no idea existed, didn’t plan to go to, and proves to be rather fab. The gamble that paid off turned out to be a bit of a theme to our weekend and the Smoke Stop was a big part of that. I’m not surprised at all that it was packed when we went, from couples to groups of lads, and families (yes it’s kid-friendly).
The service was great, the surroundings well done, and apparently they can even cater your wedding or special occasion, plus the whole thing is made more special by the fact you just don’t expect to find it here. Bravo Smoke Stop, keep it up. We’ll be back.
We paid in full for our meal at Smoke Stop. They didn’t know I was a blogger.