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Stanley Cup Final

Stanley Cup Final postcard: Pittsburgh columnist Nicholas J. Cotsonika gives 'nine thumbs up' to SMOKE barbeque taqueria

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

PITTSBURGH -- Before we get to the best burger of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a disclaimer: I am more Homer Simpson than Sam Sifton.

Remember that episode of "The Simpsons" when Homer starts reviewing restaurants for the Springfield Shopper? At first, he doesn't know he's supposed to be critical. He loves food and writes with innocent enthusiasm. 

"Everything's a rave," a fellow critic says. "Nine thumbs up? What the [heck] is that?"

I'm all thumbs when it comes to food reviews too. But I've got to tell you about this place in Pittsburgh called SMOKE barbeque taqueria. Where there's SMOKE, there's fired. As in I'm going to be fired if I keep spending so much company money there.

Having been to this city so many times to cover the Pittsburgh Penguins, I'd developed a routine, which is a nice way of saying I'd gotten stuck in a rut. Same hotels. Same restaurants. Mostly downtown or close to it. I knew Pittsburgh had all these great neighborhoods and wanted a new place to go.

So I sought the advice of Penguins defenseman Ian Cole, who has been such a good blogger during the Stanley Cup Final against the Nashville Predators you'd think he was Cam Cole. He told me about the neighborhood Lawrenceville and listed several spots. He mentioned SMOKE... and Burger Tuesday.

Did he say burger? Considering my diet and physique, maybe my opinion on burgers carries weight. If you are what you eat, I'm largely ground beef.

So after flying from Nashville on Tuesday and checking into my hotel, I took a short Uber ride to Lawrenceville, a hip neighborhood with shops and restaurants past the Strip District. Even though the car dropped me in front of SMOKE, it wasn't easy to find. There was no big sign, just a logo on a door. You had to be in the know. Thanks, Ian.

They have brunch on Sunday, a taco menu on Monday, a burger menu on Tuesday and a larger menu the rest of the week with barbecue treats like you'd find in Predators country. Pulled pork. Brisket. Burnt ends. Beans. Cornbread. 

On Burger Tuesday, they bake their own brioche buns. They grind their own meat, a mix of Waygu brisket and sirloin. Waygu must be Japanese for "way good." Because when they cook it medium, it's way juicy.

I ordered the More Deluxer with bacon jam, gouda, mustard-mayo and, for health, lettuce. Let's just say bacon jam is my jam. Sweet. Smoky. I'd put it on toast. On the side were vinegar fries, house-made ketchup and a pool of drool.

As if that weren't enough, when you go to the back to use the ATM -- the place is cash only -- you see fresh donuts cooling on the counter. I took out more cash, because I had to try to the donuts. I mean, I'm writing a review here.

Yeah. Nine thumbs up.

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