For most pitmasters, barbecue never really errs from the world of brisket and ribs. But when Smokecraft Modern Barbecue opens in Arlington in late July, innovation will be on the menu. “We see modern barbecue as continuing to evolve what barbecue is and can be. The only rules we have for our food is everything has to be touched by either smoke or fire,” says owner Andrew Darneille.
That might mean pork-belly burnt ends and homemade pastrami, but also decidedly sophisticated plates like cocoa-chipotle-rubbed duck that’s smoked, then flambéed tableside in orange liqueur, or smoked chocolate-cherry bread pudding. There might even be smoked spaghetti squash for ‘cue-craving vegetarians.
I include the word “might,” because dishes beyond the basics will rotate at first. That was not originally in the plans, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, not much has gone as planned for Smokecraft. Initially, Darneille says, he hoped to open the restaurant by the end of April. “Then COVID happened and it threw everything completely out of whack,” he says. “Everything.”
The biggest impact, he explains, was on construction of the North Highland Street space. “We were in the middle of construction and we had to come to almost a complete stop,” Darneille explains. Everything had already slowed to a near-halt, but when one subcontractor on the project was suspected to have the virus, everything had to be shut down. Contractors have been hesitant to return to work as restrictions are lifted. “It put a pretty big kink in our plans,” Darneille understates.
Construction will be completed soon, but there are still challenges to face. Social distancing is an issue for every restaurant, but to have enough seats for eager customers, it’s imperative that Smokecraft get its patio permit. Though Darneille says he’s working diligently to get it in time for opening, the process, never quick, is even slower right now.
With fewer seats and therefore fewer guests, the menu will have to be cut down, as mentioned above, with some dishes cycling through as specials. But Darneille actually sees this as a boon, allowing them to test the success of menu components before they’re added permanently.
Perhaps the biggest change, though, is the loss of original pitmaster Marc “Red” Leone. Darneille, who has been competing on the barbecue circuit with Leone for years, will take on the mantle. “With him departing the project, we have been able to bring in chefs that we might not have otherwise had the opportunity to have in our kitchen,” he says. “We got very lucky during the coronavirus that some of these individuals were available.” Besides kitchen staff, the team also scored award-winning mixologist Lauren Paylor. That means that a “fun, exciting” cocktail program will be part of the proceedings, courtesy of the 2019 Hardy Cognac Legend winner.
After working on opening for two-and-half years, Darneille is excited to finally welcome barbecue fans to his passion project. “We’ve had the windows covered for what feels like a year. I can’t wait to take that down,” he says. “Coronavirus obviously impacts things, but we adapt and move forward. // 1051 N. Highland St.,
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