If you like barbecue as much as my husband does, the chance to try a new barbecue joint is worth even the 40-minute drive it took us to get from our home in Elma to the East Eden Tavern & Smokehouse.
The tavern reopened in November with a specialty in smoked barbecue. “We’ve got a smoker and we’re going to be doing it in-house, low and slow,” owner Brian Mathews told Buffalo.com. “We’re going to do American-style barbecue, beef brisket, pulled pork, smoked chicken.”
Smoked barbecue? Sign us up. We headed out to Eden on a cold, dreary winter weekday, ready to see what Mathews and his crew could do with that smoker.
We entered the tavern to find a mostly empty dining room with few patrons seated at the bar. Strung-up Christmas lights and ceiling fan lights reflected against the metal tile ceiling, giving the room a cheerful and surprisingly un-barlike atmosphere. There are historic touches -- the ceiling, for one -- but the dining room doesn't look like it dates back to the 1800s. A low-key waitress told us to seat ourselves.
We started off with a couple appetizers: burnt ends and pretzels served with beer cheese. The burnt ends, served on top of slices of garlic toast, were heavily sauced, but the sauce was good: not too sweet and not too greasy.
My husband, who is something of a barbecue purist and disdains sauce, was disappointed in them, but I thought they were tasty. The pretzels were bland on their own, but the cheese sauce had a good, subtle beer flavor. All three pretzels disappeared.
For the main course, we decided to split the Smokin' Chef Joe's Favorite barbecue combo (a half-rack of ribs, pulled pork and brisket) and an order of the house-smoked wings and the E.E.T. Potato Feast.
What's the Potato Feast? Basically a pile of fries or chips, loaded up with one of five different topping choices. We picked No. 1, a classic: cheese, bacon, chives and sour cream. The sour cream was missing in action from our Feast, but the fries were perfectly crispy, and it was real bacon on that plate, always a plus.
As the burnt ends led us to suspect, the Smokin' Chef Joe's Favorite barbecue combo -- the most eagerly anticipated dish of the meal -- relied heavily on sauce. The ribs weren't falling off the bone, but they were decently tender, and they had a good charcoal flavor. The pork was more lightly sauced but also a little dry, so it would have benefited from more sauce.
"Where's the brisket?" I asked my husband, who lifted the ribs with his fork and pointed.
"It's the darker meat mash," he said, only half-joking.
Like the ribs, the smoked wings were well-cooked, but a good, smoky flavor was mostly buried under lots of sauce. (But again, if you're a fan of saucy barbecue, this was a good sauce -- sweet, but not only sweet. Good depth of flavor.)
By this point we were pretty full, but the dessert menu listed an Oreo Mousse Cake with "whipped cream cheese mousse," and I've never met a cream cheese filling I didn't like. We ordered one slice to share, and good thing: When it arrived, it was a behemoth. It was also clearly house-made.
But more to the point, the chocolate crumb crust was deliciously chocolate-y, the mousse was smooth and creamy, and the whipped cream was real. As much barbecue as we'd eaten, we found room for every last crumb of that cake.
Would we drive 40 minutes back to Eden for the barbecue at East Eden Tavern? Maybe not. But if we were in the area anyway, I'd happily go back.
Email Sara Meehan at email@example.com