Every Friday through the end of 2018, the Rant will feature a dish that stands out among Lee County’s restaurant scene. We’ll usually focus on lunch, but there are no rules – we just want to let you know (if you don’t already) about the many dining options we have that are owned and operated by people right here in Lee County. Today we’re going to make your stomach rumble with the Smoke & Barrel’s smoked brisket sandwich.
Upon its arrival in 2015, the Smoke & Barrel fit right in with downtown Sanford – from serving up a fantastic variety of barbecue and deli sandwiches, to being a provider of live music and nightlife, owner Jeff Towson’s second restaurant (he also owns the City Tap in Pittsboro) has been a welcome addition to downtown and Sanford as a whole.
THE DISH: Towson says the brisket sandwich isn’t the Barrel’s biggest seller, but that he considers it his signature dish – one that maybe wasn’t an obvious choice in an area where pork BBQ reigns supreme (don’t worry, the Barrel also offers an absolutely great pulled pork sandwich).
But it’s not traditional Texas-style brisket either – instead of straight salt-and-pepper rub and a blast of oak or pecan smoke, Towson uses hickory and dusts the meat with a hotter spice blend which includes chili pepper, red pepper, paprika, and more. Combined with the restaurant’s house-made BBQ sauce and a helping of sweet and spicy pickles, there’s plenty of heat, but it’s more than offset by the addition of a creamy aioli.
$11 gets you the sandwich – served on a grilled hoagie that’s strong enough to hold up to the ingredients, but not so doughy that you lose all the smoky, meaty flavor – and a side. The Rant recommends the Barrel’s beer-braised collards for a funky offset to the meatiness of the brisket, while Towson goes for either the collards or the cheesy smashed potatoes.
WHAT ELSE TO TRY: Towson says his other menu favorites are the Italian hoagie ($11) or the BLT ($9), while the Rant is partial to the pulled pork Banh Mi ($11), which combines the flavors of Carolina BBQ with southeast Asia to amazing effect. The Barrel also shines with its daily specials (posted daily on the restaurant’s Facebook page). They range in price from $8.50 to $13 depending on the item, and include a variety of items that appeal to BBQ lovers – smoked ribs, veggie quesadillas, smoked mac and cheese, specialty hot dogs, Alabama style chicken, and more.
The Smoke and Barrel is located at 120 S. Steele St. in downtown Sanford and can be reached at (919) 292-1374. The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday through Wednesday, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. To see the full menu, visit their website.