Honky Tonk Smokehouse: Strumming the Right Chord

Stephanie and I were invited to visit Honky Tonk Smokehouse to try their offerings and report to our readers (and listeners). I will say that we were very pleasantly surprised at what we found.

I actually had never heard of them before they reached out to me. I will honestly recommend folks give it a try and push that point from now on. They are located at 145 Jonestown Road in Winston-Salem. The location had been home to B&D’s BBQ and another barbecue restaurant before now-owners Sam and Susan Platt bought the restaurant and turned it into what it is today. The older restaurants were take-out only and from what I knew only had a so-so reputation as far as barbecue goes. But, the Platts have done some great things.

Honky Tonk Smokehouse Dining Room

Let’s focus for a second on the fact that we live in one of the areas of the country known for “barbecue.” In this state, while there are several unique styles, they usually fall into two categories: “Eastern” and “Lexington.” Eastern is more of a vinegar-based liquid where Lexington is tomatoed up and is a bit thicker. Personally, I prefer the Eastern style, but I do love me some Lexington as well. There are people in this town who say they are “barbecue fans” or they “love barbecue.” However, those folks will only go to one restaurant and deem it “the best.” These same folks have a propensity to not visit anything new. And, yet, they still call themselves “barbecue fans.” What they mean is that they’re “Brand X fans,” not fans of barbecue. They are closed-minded and that’s fine; not a bad thing. It just means they’re missing out on the other facilities that this area has to offer. This is the case here at Honky Tonk Smokehouse, I feel.

Let’s also get something straight, this isn’t rocket surgery. There is an art to barbecue and I will never say it isn’t tough, but it really doesn’t open to a lot of experimentation. So, when some say they’re fans of this place or that place, it is because most places do one thing and they do it well. I don’t mean they only serve pulled or chopped pork or may serve chicken or a hot dog or whatever. I mean, it’s barbecue. Now, on the converse of this, we will have to agree that familiarity can be a glorious thing. That’s where we get “comfort food” from, right?

The Parade of Sides

At Honky Tonk Smokehouse, they have all the comforts down pat. They don’t necessarily do “chopped” sandwiches as they serve at many of the area’s BBQ restaurants. That’s not saying they won’t do it, it’s just not what they do. What they do do is take regional and national staples and offer it their way; the delicious way, and yes, that does include BBQ sandwiches, just not chopped. Sam Platt hand-rubs the meats with a proprietary blend of spices, long-rests them and slow-cooks them over a hickory fire. That’s traditional, right? No rules broken, no dissenters complaining. Some of their meat offerings are baby back ribs, turkey, chicken, chicken wings, brisket, pulled pork, and smoked sausage. They also offer a wide variety of veggies and sides. All the items are made in-house.

Stephanie and I were treated to a full complement of delicious offerings both in the meat and sides department.

We had white meat chicken, baby back ribs, brisket, turkey, pulled pork, green beans, hush puppies, jalapeño-baked beans, “honky tonk taters,” mac-n-cheese, collard greens, cole slaw, and a broccoli salad that was a special “side of the month.”

To appease the good graces of my lovely wife, we started with the veggies first, each taking just a bit at a time of the same thing to compare notes to see what we tasted and if we liked it or not. We started with the broccoli salad. It was crisp, sweet and creamy with craisins which gave it a bright fruity taste, as well. Sam said they had partnered with Little Black Dressing (made locally, served broadly) which is the dressing that helps make this dish what it is. This is only for September and in October they will have another month-long surprise for you.

Baby Back Ribs

The green beans were hearty and savory. That surprised me, but I really liked it. They weren’t mushy as some can be and still had a bit of snap. I really enjoyed the green beans as did Stephanie. We both remarked about enjoying them.

The hush puppies weren’t every spiced or overly fried. They had a great flavor and it was subtle. That enabled them to be the perfect accompaniment to the selection of sauces that Honky Tonk Smokehouse has available (but more on that later). Crispy and good. They way hush puppies should be, I think.

The jalapeño-baked beans were dark and rich and the pepper wasn’t too spicy. It really just added a little kick that broke from traditional baked beans. You still got the brown sugar sweetness and the pepper helped to offset that a bit. I really enjoyed them. Stephanie who has a well-documented aversion to beans outside of black beans and green beans also enjoyed them and that was a big win for Honky Tonk Smokehouse’s recipe!

The “honky-tonk taters” were boiled red/new potatoes that were seasoned, buttered and filling. I don’t really know what to say other than they were good. I eat potatoes but they’re not my favorite thing, but I did enjoy them.

The mac-n-cheese was cheesy, creamy, thick and not overly baked. Sometimes mac-n-cheese can be too crusty and that makes the top cheese taste kind of tinny and this wasn’t like that. Again, I emphasize the thick part (I love that). Stephanie is a big mac-n-cheese fan and enjoyed these as well.

White Meat Chicken

The collards, as one would probably want, were a bit bitter, fatty and wilted but still firm. They had a great deep green color and were vinegarish-tart, which I love about collards. I never liked collards (or greens of any kind) until I was much older and now, it’s one of the things I seek out. These were good. Earthy, pungent and slightly salty.

The coleslaw reminded me of my mother’s coleslaw, minus the carrots. My mom used to put shredded carrots in hers. But, it’s fine granules and not long thick pieces of cabbage. I like that. This is a barbecue restaurant, right? That’s what goes on barbecue in this area (and yes, they do have a BBQ slaw as well). It was sweet and creamy. Again, Stephanie, who has never liked coleslaw remarked about how much she enjoyed this. Great stuff, this. But, you didn’t read this blog to hear about sides, did you? I didn’t go for the sides, so let’s talk about the star attractions.


We started with the baby back ribs. At first glance, I thought they were going to be dry because the rub was so firm and I noticed they weren’t doused in sauce. Well, I was wrong. The meat was plentiful, it was moist and tender. I don’t like my food all over my hands so I eat with a fork and knife when I eat ribs and I didn’t have to fight this rib at all. It literally fell right off the bone. I tried it plain, with their honey chipotle glaze, and with their brown sugar glaze. The rub wasn’t overpowering but certainly enhanced the meat.

The white meat chicken had a small wing attached and that literally fell apart while eating it. It tasted so good. The breast was tender and still juicy which sometimes is difficult with white meat. The rub on it was delicious as well. We tried this with the sweet apple glaze. We tried all the meats plain before putting sauce on them to know what they each tasted like. The chicken and ribs each have their own special rub and then they are smoked. The turkey is brined and then smoked. Speaking of the turkey!

Turkey with Sweet Apple Glaze

I don’t usually get excited about turkey, even at Thanksgiving. It’s just a lackluster bird in my opinion. However, I will say that the turkey was my absolute favorite item that I tasted. It was coated in a bit of the sweet apple glaze, too. The flavor was smoky and sweet. The slices were thick and tender. Whether it was plain (with the glaze), or embellishing the turkey with more of the sweet apple glaze, the brown sugar glaze or the honey chipotle, it was delicious all the way around.

We tried the brisket next. The spicy rub created a crust and the meat fell apart as we tried to pick it up. It was so good. Not at all dry, either; very moist. Stephanie said that the brisket was her absolute favorite and we both agreed that while it was great plain, we really enjoyed the brown sugar glaze on it. Thick, meaty, sweet.

Finally, we had the pulled pork. I realized with this as with most of the other meats (except the turkey), that Sam and Susan don’t pre-sauce their meat. That’s brilliant. I know a lot of BBQ restaurants have their “sauce” that they put on the pork/beef when they serve it, but not at Honky Tonk Smokehouse. Their meats are sauceless and you are free to dress them as you like, not as someone else likes. The pulled pork was smoky and tender. I tried it with their “original” sauce which is a Memphis-style sauce that they make in-house, as well as the brown sugar glaze and the honey chipotle glaze. I could pictures that as a sandwich. Again, pulled, not chopped.

Pulled Pork

I believe Honky Tonk Smokehouse has a fantastic thing going on. They offer styles not only in the “Lexington-” style but have an Eastern dip, their ribs are kind of Kansas City-style and the brisket is definitely Texas-style. They’re touching the standards and they’re making them right. The flavors from the food and the touches the sauces bring, there are plenty of mouth-watering options at Honky Tonk Smokehouse. Their dining room is open and inviting. Don’t forget $.50 wing night Tuesdays from 5-8pm. And Wednesday night is Brisket Taco night. They also offer catering services, as well.

Again, I know that barbecue can be boring but it doesn’t have to be. This isn’t. It’s nothing flashy, though and it isn’t supposed to be. The Platts aren’t trying to dazzle you. They are trying to satisfy you with good food and a great food experience. I believe their location is good but not a lot of people know they’re there. It’s kind of off the road and unless you are coming from Country Club Road toward US421, you may miss it, but then again, you’ll be on the other side of the road. There are several other restaurants in this shopping center and if you stop for those, you can certainly stop for Honky Tonk Smokehouse. I’m putting it at the top of my list of recommendations. Is it my favorite BBQ restaurant? I can’t say, but I know it is right up there. I am a fan of barbecue and this is one darned fine place to get it. You won’t be sorry. Tell them that I sent you!!!

Beautiful BBQ, Bourbon and Bluegrass

by Timothy G. Beeman II

Friday night, October 23, 2015, Old Salem’s Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (known as MESDA) celebrated it’s 50th Anniversary, the completion of a six-year renovation, and the opening of two new self-guided galleries. To commemorate this, they put on a party that included BBQ, bourbon and bluegrass. The event, held in the Horton Meadow, just below, and even under the bridge and walkway of the wooden bridge that crosses Old Salem Road from the Visitor Center to the museum entrance, boasted a showcase of fourteen master distillers from sixteen distilleries, as well as two of the areas’ popular breweries. While all of the distilleries brought some good products, some really stood above the rest of the field.


(photo © Susan Jones)

Both versions of the Limoncello (regular and jalapeno-infused) from Seventy-Eight ºC Spirits (Raleigh) were not only good, but the spicier-flavored of the two was a true standout; not hot but flavorful. From Asheville Distilling Company (Asheville), the Blonde Whiskey is one of my favorites, overall. It was smooth and full-flavored. Trey Herring’s Carolina Bourbon (Charleston, SC) had a more robust and earthy, yet still pleasant flavor and aroma. You certainly can’t forget local up-and-comers, Sutler’s Spirits from Winston-Salem. Distiller Tim Nolan was on hand to promote the brand.

The highlight of the tasting table, however, was the Krupnikas, a Lithuanian style honey liqueur from The Brothers Vilgalys Spirits (Durham). The sweet of the honey ends with a spiced flourish. Beyond the tasting table was a special Reserve from an NC distillery that I’ll not mention by name because the booze was in a hidden stash under the table. I was lucky enough to try it and it was possibly some of the most smooth tasting whiskey I’ve ever tried. The rep told me to wait until the tasting cup was empty and smell it. The aroma of tobacco swelled as the cup dried. Minutes later that aroma was even stronger. When this special reserve gets released, I’ll certainly purchase some of that.

Area celebrity bartender, Lele Nguyen, was the “guru-in-the-know” for the evening, dispensing the goodies at the tasting table and she was very detailed with the descriptions of all the various liquors, no matter the style. The true superstar of the “bourbon” part of the event was the resident mixologist and co-owner of The Tavern in Old Salem, North Carolina’s oldest tavern, Jordan Keiper. Keiper designed a bar program for this event that highlights the new generation of Southern craft distillers, creating a variety of signature cocktails featuring the four spirits that made the early South “wet:” bourbon, rum, gin, and moonshine, especially moonshine. There’s a push to show North Carolina’s distillers are more than just moonshine; so much more.

This event was also more than booze. There was Eastern style North Carolina barbecue and fried chicken from the Barbecue Lodge in Raleigh. Eastern style is my preference in the “Carolina barbecue” realm. I don’t mind Lexington style, but I prefer the strong vinegar taste over the ketchup heavy, if I have my choice. A white barbecue slaw that tastes like the “red” stuff we have here and hush puppies. The fried chicken was absolutely delicious. Just the right amount of seasoning and the inside was juicy and perfect. In fact, I had two breasts. I liked it that much. And let’s not forget to mention the banana pudding. That, too, was delicious.

In addition to the liquors and delicious food, both Gibbs Hundred Brewing Company and Hoots Beer Company had two brews each available. Gibbs Hundred had The Guilty Party ESB and Blind Man’s Holiday GPA (Greensboro Pale Ale). They were both quite tasty with the ESB (one of my favorite styles of beer) being my favorite of those two. Hoots had their Oktoberfest and a wheat on tap. Stephanie had the wheat and I, the Oktoberfest. Hoots is always solid and this was no exception. These beers made fine companions to the rest of the festivities. I feel the same is to be said of the breweries. The theme of the event, a celebration of southern arts, was represented well by the brewing artists at these two breweries.

If there was anything that I can say that was less than optimal was that the bluegrass band, Carolina Tradition Bluegrass Band was set up right beside the tasting station. They were a fine band, indeed, but the music was loud under that bridge and it was hard to hear what Lele was saying about the various libations. Again, it wasn’t the band, it was the positioning. However, if that was the worst part, that just goes to show how good this event was.

To Jordan Keiper, to MESDA, to Old Salem, many kudos for putting on such a spectacular event. Keiper himself said that he’s hoping that this will put Winston-Salem, North Carolina on the map. Not only the Southern map, no. The American distillers map. Not necessarily for the distilleries themselves, although those certainly don’t hurt, but for the city as a distillers’ event location. I can’t wait for the “second annual” version of the event. It has the potential to get support and attendance numbers of a wine festival and this town knows wine festivals. This was a bold undertaking on everyone’s part, but the event was a rousing success and was a complete sell out. Great news for the city, the museum, the distillers and the attendees. An honor to attend, indeed.