Update: Holy Smoke shut its doors in the spring of 2016
Itaewon seems to be going through a southern BBQ renaissance right now. Last year, JR’s BBQ opened up on the main strip in Itaewon and I had a positive experience and a horrific experience. A couple of months ago, Linus BBQ opened up just off Itaewon’s main strip and thus far has been a huge success. So, it was only a matter of time before another BBQ placed opened up. Holy Smoke in Haebangchon (Noksapyeong Station) is the third member of the Seoul BBQ family and after going there for lunch, I feel as though they are kind of the middle child of the three. Linus is the oldest, the wisest, has the most responsibility and does everything it can to meet the expectations of his parents. JR is like your youngest, pothead brother who sits in mom’s basement playing Playstation all day. Finally, Holy Smoke is in the middle, not quite as successful as Linus, but not a complete dumpster fire like JRs.
How to get there: The easiest way to get there is to take the subway to Noksapyeong Station (Line 6) and depart from Exit 2. Walk down the hill with the US military base on your left. At the end of the hill, keep heading left pass the kimchi pots and up the small incline into Haebangchon (HBC). Once you make it to Bonny’s Pub, make a left and head up the small hill. About 50 meters up the hill is Holy Smoke on your left.
Atmosphere and Service: CY and I arrived just shortly after lunch. My impression as I stepped into Holy Smoke was that a church was taken over by a motorcycle gang. A red, neon sign of the Virgin Mary with the caption, “Love. Peace. BBQ.” reflects in the eyes of the skeletons on the beer taps. It is definitely a unique theme, one that represents the south well and is perfect for a neighborhood such as HBC.
Service was solid. There was only one guy working and he was cooking, serving and cleaning tables all at the same time. He was not overly friendly or chatty, but he was working hard and was polite enough, which was good enough for me. Our food came out quickly after we ordered it. However, there was a small error. CY requested mashed potatoes as one of his sides and he received cole slaw. After reporting the problem, the server apologized and made the switch quickly. No harm, no foul.
The Lunch That Almost Put Me In A Coma: We ordered the Meat Plater (24,000KRW) which included Pulled Pork, Brisket, Ribs, Sausage and three sides. I also ordered a couple of Cokes (2,500KRW x2). This was an absurd amount of food. I came seriously close to calling in sick to work, going home and taking a long nap.
The Sauces: Holy Smoke has three sauces for your BBQ’ing pleasure: Carolina Gold, Red Hot Chill and Kansas BBQ. The Red Hot Chill had some great heat. I would definitely recommend this sauce if you wanted to turn up the heat on your BBQ experience. The Carolina Gold is something I’ve never tried before, but have heard about. The mustard-based sauce, with a hint of Worcestershire Sauce or possibly liquid smoke, gives the sauce a tangy flavor. However, today I went with the Kansas BBQ sauce. The ketchup-based sauce had a little sweetness to compliment the flavor. Just enough heat to make me feel it, but not enough to overwhelm. I really enjoyed it and would probably get it again.
The Meat: As I’ve stated previously, the four types of meats almost put me in an early grave. Albeit, it would have been an excellent way to go out. As my eyes close, staring at the neon red Virgin Mary, only to awake in heaven to see St. Peter with a pulled pork sandwich in his hand waiting for me. Alas, I survived.
The pulled pork was tender and flavorful. A bit greasy, but nothing to write home about. I took the two buns that they give you and made a couple of pulled pork sandwiches with Kansas BBQ sauce. The buns were okay. I don’t think they were baked that morning and CY’s had a burn mark on one, but they were still satisfactory. However, they don’t compare to the fresh, warm buns of Linus BBQ.
The ribs had a little too much fat on them for my liking. After tearing through the meat, the bone had a layer of fat that dominated the bone. The ribs were also very peppery. The pepper overwhelmed the ribs. They could probably use to go a little easier on it.
The brisket was awesome. I loved it. The brisket was well seasoned and tender. It was easily my favorite meat of the lunch. My only disappointment was with myself. I wish I had saved a bun to put some brisket on.
The sausages were okay. I found them to be pretty standard Korean sausages that you might find at the local Western bar. They were nothing great, but they weren’t terrible either. Actually, I put some Carolina Gold on them and they tasted pretty good.
The Sides: The Mac and Cheese was okay. It was a little runny and you can tell the cheese was processed. Anyway, in a country were Mac and Cheese is hard to come by, it was acceptable and I would probably order it again. The coleslaw had way too much vinegar for my taste. I hardly touched it. The baked beans were great however, and I would definitely order them again. Large beans in a tomato-sauce really complimented the brisket. Finally, CY’s mashed potatoes were good. They weren’t grainy and had a nice texture. All they were missing was some good old southern gravy. Well, any gravy actually would have been nice.
Value: 29,000KRW is a lot to shell out for lunch, but that said, it probably the only meal you will need that day. The portions are generous and should easily fill one person. However, for all you non-gluttonous bastards, one meal could probably be split between two people, thus having better value.
Who Should Visit Holy Smoke: You can sit outside when it is not pouring rain all while eating various dead animals! If you don’t want to make that long walk up the hill into Itaewon or if the wait at Linus is too long, I would recommend Holy Smoke for fulfill your BBQ kick.
Who Should Avoid Holy Smoke: Don’t have the money to shell out 30,000KRW for BBQ? They do have cheaper options as well. That said, you won’t get a meatgasm. Also, vegetarians stay the hell way from this place.