Chef Bill Espiricueta is feeling pretty emotional. After all, it’s been more than four years since he began dreaming and planning and cooking in preparation to open Smōk, his pan-regional, pit-style barbecue restaurant inside the new Source Hotel & Market Hall. And with opening day approaching on Saturday, August 18, it’s finally time to share those efforts with hungry Denverites.
Whether you’re willing to travel for succulent burnt ends or not, you won’t want to miss what Austin-born and Kansas-City-trained Espiricueta is serving inside the bright, breezy space adjacent to Acorn, where he worked alongside chef-owner Steve Redzikowski (also of Brider and Oak at Fourteenth) for the past six years. Espiricueta brings fine-dining technique and a refined palate to his soulful barbecue, spanning regions and introducing untraditional Asian elements in pursuit of gentle smoke, balance, and flavor.
Thanks to a Southern Pride gas-assisted wood smoker, which can hold 65 briskets at a time and maintain Espiricueta’s desired 220-degree smoking temperature, Smōk will continuously turn out juicy briskets, house-made sausages, hot wings, jalapeño poppers, and much more throughout the day—in other words, there’s no such thing as running out of meat at Smōk.
Service will be as close to pit-style as Espiricueta could make it: Customers begin their experience by walking down the line, talking to Espiricueta and his team of meat cutters to pick out the exact cuts, and amounts, they desire. Worried that the smoked chicken will be dry? (It won’t be.) Espiricueta will let you taste a piece, and serve you as much, or as little, as you want. Thinking the jalapeño-cheddar sausage might be too spicy? (It’s not.) Ask for a taste, then figure out how many links you want; you can also take sausages, hot dogs, brats, kielbasa, and other porky products to-go for cooking at home. It’s an interactive, informative set up designed to customize each guest’s meal.
Or, if you already know what you want, feel free to head straight to the bar, helmed by long-time beverage pro Alexis Osborne (also formerly at Acorn). There, you can grab a seat, choose a drink from Osborne’s thoughtful menu of boozy slushies, cocktails, 30+ beers, and wine options, order food, and hang out for as long as you like. Try the ‘Bout Thyme cocktail, which marries vodka, Greenbar Grand Poppy Amaro (an organic, bittersweet spirit made in California), ginger liqueur, blood orange and lemon juices, fresh thyme, and a hint of wormwood bitters; it’s an elegant-yet-crushable drink that works beautifully with Espiricueta’s smoky fare.
There will always be a bounty of meats smoked over red and white oak, from 18-hour smoked briskets to pork belly to turkey to a fish-of-the-day; sandwiches built with those items, house-made pickles, and ginger-inflected coleslaw on squishy Harvest Moon Bakery buns are outrageously tasty. But Espiricueta, ever the imaginative chef, will play with Smōk’s sides, shared dishes, and daily specials, highlighting seasonal ingredients and new preparations. He’s already planning for Wednesday smoked prime rib suppers, Friday fish fries, and Sunday fried-chicken-and-Champagne parties; seasonal sides will range from smoked tomato-mozzarella caprese salads in late August to Brussels sprouts hash with sweet potatoes in the fall. “At most barbecue joints, the meats are the focus,” says Espiricueta, “and the sides can suffer. At Smōk, we want the sides and drinks to be just as good as the meat.” Mission accomplished.
Smōk opens at 8 a.m. on Saturday, August 18 inside the Source Hotel & Market Hall, 3330 Brighton Blvd., Suite 202, 720-230-0792.