A new “barbecue fusion” restaurant on Anna Maria Island is challenging the notion of what a fast casual restaurant can be.
Smoqehouse opened its doors less than three weeks ago and is already proving to be a hit with residents and tourists. The Bradenton Beach restaurant offers a creative variety of smoked foods, including a burger that incorporates shredded brisket into a ground beef patty.
“We call ourselves the ‘un-restaurant,’ because we do things nobody else would do — not because it’s smart, but because it feels right,” said co-owner Andrew Kubes.
Smoqehouse is Kubes’ brainchild, who runs the restaurant with his wife, Heidi. She calls herself his “sidekick,” but Andrew said Heidi’s role encompasses more than her modest title.
“I couldn’t do this without her. She runs our marketing, our website, our logo,” he said. She used to do everything but cook and now she does that, too.”
They’ve opened their restaurant at 1701 Gulf Blvd., the former site of Jamrock’s Jamaican Grill, which relocated to Bradenton.
Within the past 18 months, the Kubes also opened two other Smoqehouse restaurants in Minnesota. But friends are running the Minnesota restaurants while he establishes the business in Manatee County.
“We’re here for the locals,” Kubes said. “We want to focus on the people who don’t have that much time or expendable income. We want to make sure that they get good, fresh food for an affordable price.”
Everything in the restaurant is made from scratch, from the hand-painted wall art to the Smoqehouse Cubano sandwich to the handmade dark mahogany wood furnishings.
Kubes, 34, says he has more than 20 years’ experience in the food industry and has worked every restaurant position imaginable, including bartending and working at Beach Bistro.
“I loved cooking at home, so we decided how we’re going to bring that to the table,” Kubes said. “We’re still able to showcase flavor profiles that I was using for the cocktail world, but now I get to bring it to the food world.”
And Smoquehouse is affordable, remarkably so for a restaurant situated right across the street from the beach. Sandwiches are either $7 or $8, along with kids’ meals for $6. Kubes said they also try to incorporate three special dishes every week. Customers can also find unusual side dishes such as poutine (a northern staple) and a homemade vanilla ice cream with olive oil and sea salt.
Fast casual restaurants (like Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread) that offer higher quality food, but without tips and table service, are some of the fastest-growing in the United States, and Kubes said that factored into his decision to open his own.
And the fact that barbecue-style cuisine only accounts for 2 percent of restaurants nationwide played a role as well. Kubes suggests that customers rethink their expectation of what barbecue is before they step into his restaurant.
“People assume that Smoqehouse means barbecue,” he said. “Everything we do has an aspect of smoke to it. Our cheeses are smoked inhouse. We smoke our fruits for our vinaigrettes. We smoke our vegetarian sandwich. Smoqehouse is not necessarily barbecue. It’s barbecue fusion.”
The Bradenton Beach location held its grand opening on July 31, the same day that Tropical Storm Emily thrashed its way through the area. It rained so hard that there were leaks in the roof, but Kubes said that was still one of his busiest days.
“The tropical storm was awesome! We were really nervous that it was going to affect business,” Kubes said. “We were worried that it was going to be a bomb, a failure. It ended up bringing people out and it was really fun.”
Kubes said he looks forward to studying more cultures and understanding how they incorporate smoke in their foods to expand his menu.
“We always struggle to find restaurants that feel fresh and different,” said Kubes. “It’s hard to find that. We want to be that place for people.”