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As students returned to campus this fall, they were met with a changed landscape. Local staples such as Cafe Pamplona and Blue Bottle Coffee had left, whereas new businesses such as Lovepop — what even is Lovepop? — have sprung up in the Square. On Holyoke Street, a bright neon sign standing out in contrast with the dull brick background reads “Smoke Shop.” No, this is not a vape or hookah shop, as one might think; it is Cambridge’s newest barbecue joint. Chef Andy Husbands opened the restaurant on Halloween Day 2020 as the fourth location of his local chain. Approaching the one-year anniversary of the Harvard Square location, it was time to give “The Smoke Shop” a try.
Approaching the restaurant on Holyoke Street, the massive, open windows immediately create a welcoming environment for the customer. Even while outside, it feels as if you are already a part of the atmosphere. On the inside, the chic bar — complete with over 250 whiskey and bourbon options — is juxtaposed with the TVs and family-friendly environment. This is a place where one could get dinner with the family or grab a drink with friends.
However, it is not the ambiance which determines the restaurant’s true worth. It’s the food.
The “Pit Boss,” which includes your choice of three meats and three sides, is a clear highlight of the menu. The beef brisket was so incredibly tender that it could be cut with a butter knife. Likewise, the pulled pork and chicken themselves were completely juicy and flavorful. With the sauces, however, the flavor profile of the meal was at a whole different level. For those with a classic taste, the “Sweet Victory” barbeque sauce is the perfect combination with the pork. For those with a love of spice, the “Hot Streak” nicely complements the pulled chicken.
The true hidden gem is the assortment of sides. Specifically, the pimento mac & cheese is heaven in every bite. Covered in breadcrumbs, the cheesy, crunchy, spicy conglomeration makes for a gastronomical delight. Additionally, the warm corn bread — covered in honey — almost makes for more of a dessert than a side.
The one downside of the dining experience is the portion sizes. For the price, the amount of food received is less than expected. Compare this to restaurants in the South or Midwest United States, where you can get a plate of barbecue for the price of a round-trip T pass. Such is the nature of operating a business in Harvard Square; rent ain’t cheap. However, part of the appeal of barbecue as a “soul food” is that it’s cheap, messy, and for the people. Spending large amounts of money feels a bit paradoxical.
Regardless, “The Smoke Shop” is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise barbecue-less Cambridge. The pulled pork, mac & cheese, and whiskey selections are three must-try items for your next visit.
“The Smoke Shop” has five locations, all in the greater Boston area: Assembly Row, Seaport, Kendall Square, Harvard Square, and Hub Hall.
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