Around this time of year, I tend to pull my dog-eared copy of H.P. Lovecraft's collected stories off the shelf, looking for something to send a chill up my spine. The plot of every one of the old hack's stories is the same: some deeply troubled soul trying to warn an unsuspecting world of the dangers lurking just out of sight — in that eldritch house full of unnatural angles, amid the Cyclopean masonry of a long-dead civilization, in the degenerate rituals of debased people calling up dead Cthulhu from his grave in R'lyeh.
For uptight calorie-counting diners, the menu at East Rochester's Good Smoke BBQ might serve the same purpose. It's the vegetarian equivalent of a horror novel in which a desperate cardiologist tries to alert otherwise happy and oblivious diners to the danger hiding in that basket of delectable meatballs wrapped in bacon and tossed with barbecue sauce, or the damnation that is sure to follow eating a whole basket full of crispy "pig candy" in one sitting. If someone told me that the smoker at Good Smoke hung over the fires of Hell itself, I'd nod thoughtfully, and then return to gnawing on a pork rib like a zombie in a George Romero movie.
The best horror novels and movies always rest on a great back story. The genus of Good Smoke BBQ goes back to when co-owners Brian and Kelly Wemett and their friends, husband and wife Josh Bickham and Rachel DeBlieck, met in high school. Since then Brian and Bickham have stacked up long histories in the restaurant industry developing some serious cooking chops and more than a little bit of twisted whimsy, which shows itself in Good Smoke's appetizer menu. Brian worked his way through college in the kitchen at Salvatore's in East Rochester. His wife says that he never really stopped cooking, becoming an accomplished amateur chef with a passion for barbecue. Josh Bickham helped to open the kitchen at Black & Blue in Pittsford, and held down the line at Salena's for a time, learning and perfecting his craft in the trenches.
But it wasn't until 2006, when Wemett and Bickham took Wemett's recipes for rubs and barbecue sauces to an event called Oinktoberfest in Clarence, that Good Smoke was truly born. Six years and countless barbecue competition trophies later — every windowsill in the Good Smoke dining room is full of them — the quartet, now a quintet with the addition of partner John Vallone (another high-school friend), opened Good Smoke BBQ in March 2012.
Located in a nondescript-looking building on the edge of East Rochester, nothing but the sign out front screams barbecue. If you aren't looking for it, or if the light at the intersection of Washington Street and West Commercial Street doesn't slow you down, you might miss Good Smoke altogether amidst the other commercial clutter. That would be a pity, because the food that pitmaster Brian Wemett and chef Josh Bickham are turning out is nothing short of stunning.
Wemett's barbecue sauce is heavy on the spices but not terribly hot, with a good balance of sweet and salty that complements just about everything you might think to put it on. It's sensational as a glaze for some of the meatiest pork ribs I've found in a long time of searching, it soaks into pulled beef and pulled pork in ways that are almost obscenely good, and it's even nice drizzled over slices of smoked turkey breast or dabbed on bits of smoked sausage (billed as Texas hot links on the menu). There is no dainty way to approach this sort of food, so abandon decorum and dig in with your hands, cutlery be damned. The lingering scent of smoked meat and sauce will stay with you for a long time, a pleasant reminder of past orgies of meat consumption. (Combo platters feature two or three meat options with two sides and cornbread run $15.95-$18.95.)
I have never been to a barbecue competition, but talking to Kelly Wemett about the ones that the Good Smoke BBQ team has competed in makes me want to correct the error of my ways. There's a lot more than barbecue going on at these things. The contestants also develop sides, and appetizers, and even desserts, coming up with combinations that push the boundaries of propriety and good sense. Many of these prizewinning creations have ended up on the menu at Good Smoke BBQ.
Take the signature moinkballs, for instance: a dozen cocktail-size meatballs wrapped in bacon, passed through the smoker, and then tossed with barbecue sauce — inspired and totally sinful ($6.95). Or the pulled-pork eggrolls ($5.95), which turn the typical Chinese carry-out snack on its head substituting slaw for the cabbage and pulled pork for the usual mystery meat inside a crunchy shell. A plate of tater tots ($5.95) certainly doesn't seem out of place, but it's even better tossed with Cajun spices and doused with nacho cheese sauce (a guilty indulgence that you probably want to eat alone with the shades drawn, lest the neighbors see what you are up to). Or you could give up all pretense of restraint and just order a basket of pig candy ($7.95), crispy fried bacon dusted with pork rub and slathered with barbecue sauce. As good as it is, half the pleasure of eating a whole basket of bacon is how subversive, how unholy, it feels.
Sure, there are vegetables on the menu. There's corn and slaw, and there's even a single salad ($7.95) for those who want to feign virtue (even if it is full of cubes of tangy smoked cheddar and dressed in a house-made creamy barbecue ranch dressing for which I desperately want the recipe). But if you look around, all you'll see is meat, meat, and more meat. And that's absolutely the way it should be. Dig in; you can repent some other time. (Add bacon to anything for $1.95. Seriously.)