Wings are king at Smokey O’Grady’s

Irish nachos (Marisa Nadolny/Special to The Day)

As summer approaches, burgers, fries, hot dogs and their fancier pub food cousins are appearing at my dinner table more times than I care to admit. Apparently, there’s something about the weather shift that fuels a craving for all things smoked, fried and fun, with the added bonus of not cooking in steadily warming homes.

Naturally, because this is New England, the weather shifted recently from blazing, sunny 90-degree beach days to cool, raw, rainy days more remnant of fall. Time to head indoors again, hopefully briefly.

Despite prime cooking conditions, the two of us, exhausted from a weekend of chores and the first big hike of the season, headed out into the region in search of comfort/cookout food and a cocktail. We landed on Smokey O’Grady’s Barbecue & Pub in East Lyme because, having passed the nondescript bar on Flanders Road about a million times over the years, it was time to see what went on behind the doors of the cleverly named establishment.

First, I didn’t expect such an expansive menu at a venue such as Smokey’s. I won’t use the term “dive bar” (dives don’t have beautiful patio areas just waiting for Memorial Day weekend like Smokey’s), but it’s perhaps, say, the opposite of the Ocean House. However, aside from the dozens of flavors of chicken wing sauce (includes dry rubs), Smokey’s offers entrees, sandwiches, burgers, wraps, apps, and even dessert.

Initial research indicated that Smokey’s chicken wings are among the best in the region (five bone-in wings for $4.95; boneless wings also available), and we must concur. We sampled three flavors and, while the Caribbean Jerk dry rub emerged our favorite, it was a narrow victory over the perfectly balanced, silky honey barbecue sauce. While there was nothing at all wrong with our Buffalo lemon-lime wings, we detected neither lemon nor lime while sampling the otherwise spot-on buffalo sauce. In all samplings, the wings were cooked perfectly, and the dry rub added a layer of light, aromatic crispiness to the wings without too much spicy heat.

Wings seem to want an appetizer on the side, and when you see something called Irish Nachos on a menu ($6.95), science demands an investigation. You might be able to guess what Irish Nachos entail: potatoes, right? Correct, but these potatoes are fried then baked then smothered in cheese, tomatoes, olives, and jalapenos. It’s a fun concept that was executed well (the potatoes were nicely done), but I prefer my nacho mess with chips.

Imagine my delight when I saw that the cup of chili I ordered ($3.95) came with a pile of tortilla chips and loads of cheddar cheese (optional). Chili snobs will say beans don’t belong in chili, but I disagree and appreciated the addition of them in Smokey’s recipe. The beans provided a subtle smoky backdrop to the cumin-infused ground beef and mild tomato flavor. It was neither too thick nor too broth-y, and no one’s taste buds were blown out by hot peppers. I generally prefer a little more heat to my chili, but we enjoyed the chili and chips all the same.

Since Smokey’s bills itself as a barbecue destination and because we’re big BBQ fans, we had to sample the Barbecue Trio ($15.95) found on the Dinners portion of the menu. Don’t blanch at the price: the trio features three large mounds of barbecued meats, including chicken, pulled pork, and boneless ribs, plus a side (we opted for mashed potatoes). Three people could attempt to take down the piles of smoked meats and leave the table stuffed. My husband loved all three parts of the trio equally; the boneless ribs were my unequivocal favorite. Where the ribs were tender and flavorful and well paired with the BBQ sauce, I found the pulled pork a bit greasy and at odds with the sauce and the barbecued chicken — sliced breast meat, which seemed unusual — a bit underwhelming. As for the mashed potatoes, they were terrific, with the skins mixed in and great roast-y flavor.

Chicken got some redemption when we sampled the Chicken Philly Grinder ($9.95) with a side of very creamy, tasty macaroni and cheese. I ordered the grinder to go and didn’t take a look at it until I got home. While the interior of the sandwich seemed chicken Philly-esque, the nicely panini-grilled roll it came on didn’t. The addition of lettuce and tomato suggested we’d accidentally received the chicken Philly Sandwich ($5.95). Still, the chopped, grilled chicken merged perfectly with loads of American cheese, and it was a very good roll after all. A bit messy, but that’s what wet-naps are for.

Now, I mentioned dessert up above and must encourage you to at least sample one of the three sweets on offer at Smokey’s, and that is the Chocolate Chip Square ($6.95). Don’t let the name dissuade you, because that square of thick, nobly chocolate chip cookie is covered with a thick layer of cream cheese filling that is sweetened just a bit. (Read: It won’t make your teeth ache from sugar shock.) It’s a fun, very, very tasty, and would be heavenly with (Irish) coffee — a fitting ending to a night at an Irish pub full of surprises.

 

Honey barbecue chicken wings (Marisa Nadolny/Special to The Day)
Honey barbecue chicken wings (Marisa Nadolny/Special to The Day)

If you go

Smokey O'Grady's 

306 Flanders Road, East Lyme

(860) 739-7084

Cuisine: Barbecue and pub fare with about a dozen beers on tap

Atmosphere: Basic sports bar set-up with several TVs set up all over the interior; no frills but clean. The jukebox was popular on a recent night, and we were treated to a strange mix of speed metal, Rod Stewart, Carly Simon, and Creedence Clearwater Revival, then back to the metal. Pool tables available.

Service: All-business, but courteous

Prices: Affordable and good value; our $15.95 BBQ Trio could’ve fed three people

Handicap access: Accessible from both front and rear entrances; spacious interior

Hours: Monday through Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Reservations: N/A

Credit cards: Accepted

 

 

 

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