Hours: 6:00 a.m.-9:30 p.m., daily
Prices: Starters $3-10; sandwiches $4-7; entrées $6-18
Fare: Smoked meat, fried vegetables, and salads with both
Atmosphere: Indoor/outdoor patio
Smoking: Permitted throughout
Pittsburgh may not be known for barbecue, but that doesn't mean Pittsburghers don't like it. The trouble is where to get it. Storefront shops open and close with alarming swiftness and no apparent relationship to quality: We've seen the good, bad and ugly all go under just as quickly. As a result, Jason, our family's designated barbecue expert, keeps an alert eye open for new places, and tries to get there quickly.
A recent errand in the North Hills took him past We're Smokin', an unexceptional little roadside building along a slightly faded strip of highway. Far from being put off, he was intrigued. A little roughness at the edges being essential to barbecue's allure, we trekked out to try "The Only Backyard BBQ in da 'Burgh."
While the strict accuracy of that slogan may be debatable, its influence on the décor is not. From wall sconces painted to look like torches to actual Astroturf on the floor, We're Smokin' does what it can to evoke sitting out by your neighbor's fire pit.
The menu is perhaps less single-minded. Pittsburgh-themed "sammitches" like the So' Sider (a BLT) and the Libity (grilled cheese) sit alongside Southern icons like gumbo and greens. Standard bar fare burgers and fried whatnot and Pittsburgh-style salads round out the menu. When we were there, an impressive array of seafood was also on offer for Lenten observance, and massive breakfasts were promised.
Did we mention gumbo? Indeed we did, and Angelique ordered a cup before we'd even been offered water. Her Alabama childhood is never as close to the surface as when that thick Southern seafood stew is before her, and this one met her high standards, thick and chunky with rice, okra and slightly spicy sausage. Her only objection was the extra charge of 50 cents for shrimp, which, when it comes to gumbo, are not optional, in her opinion.
While Angelique contemplated the true flavor of the Gulf Coast, Jason tried to figure out how to maximize his sampling of We're Smokin's heart and soul slow-smoked meat in all its guises. A pulled-pork sandwich was a given, and the "Field Goal" half a chicken with a quarter rack of ribs rounded out his plate. Best of all, We're Smokin' employs a true pit-style method: The meat is slow-cooked before being sauced. That allows mixing and matching sauces, so he got his ribs with Cajun sauce and the chicken "Pittsburgh" style, which our waitress described as "regular barbecue."
And yet, the description was somehow apt: The homemade sauce was a little bit sweet, a little bit spicy, and mainly unremarkable. Meanwhile, the chicken it coated was most impressive, with juicy meat falling from its bones and a golden skin still crisp beneath the slather of sauce. When the meal was over, we learned that the wings on the menu are also from the grill, not the fryer. What better way to sample all eight sauces on offer?
Meanwhile, the ribs were the inverse of the chicken. The meat was slightly chewy, although its smoky flavor was excellent. The Cajun sauce, however, was outstanding: slightly thinner than what was on the chicken, and more assertively flavored with hot peppers, cumin and other spices. Finally, the pulled pork was top notch fine shreds of pork shoulder studded with larger chunks and mixed with "smokey mild" sauce, and served up on a generous, crusty roll.
We're Smokin' is at pains to offer a barbecue-meat-lovers' menu that is also herbivore-friendly, even billing itself as a "Restaurant and Salad Shoppe." So Angelique first ordered stuffed peppers, a dish that seemed to promise home cooking without the big bones. But, upon finding the peppers unavailable that night, she defaulted to the Dahntahn Cheesesteak sandwich. Tender chopped grilled steak mingled with sautéed but still-crisp peppers, onions and melted provolone on a fluffy yet crusty bun for a fine, hearty meal-in-one.
In all, We're Smokin' was true to the spirit, if you will, of barbecue: casual, even humble, homemade picnic fare, served with palpable hospitality and pride. To re-appropriate a corporate catchphrase for a deserving local business: We're Smokin' is finger-lickin' good.
Jason: 2.5 stars
Angelique: 2.5 stars