A little work is needed to make Southern Moon shine

Bryce Balluff's Conway barbecue joint holds promise, so we hope it hangs in there


3000 Curry Ford Road | 407-895-8076 | southernmoonsmokehouse.com | $

When word came that Bryce Balluff, much-lauded chef-owner of the Fork in the Road food truck, had decided to go brick-and-mortar by opening his own ’cue-and-brew joint, many a local yokel got justifiably excited – I, personally, was happier than a dead pig in the sunshine. After witnessing Holy Smoke BBQ’s failure to establish itself in this very same spot, my hope was that Balluff’s reputation, coupled with the promise of house-made brews, would make Southern Moon Smokehouse a fixture in the Conway neighborhood.

Well, let’s just say that Southern Moon is going through a phase. Though they brew their own beers, they’re still not licensed to sell them – they’re at least three months away, I’m told, depending on Tallahassee’s response time – so they’re working on some aged beers in the meantime.

Another facet they should work on is their smokehouse offerings. Their “smoked and sliced” and “smoked and pulled” options are priced by the quarter-pound, but as my dining comrade noted, “The quality just doesn’t warrant it.” Case in point: the pulled pork shoulder ($2.59 for a quarter-pound). The shreds were just too dry and underseasoned. In this instance, we made good use of the five house-made sauces, all served in small ramekins (no squeeze bottles here). The five regional sauces (Texas, Alabama, Kansas City, and two from the Carolinas) cater to all tastes – a smart tactic – but sauce alone does not good barbecue make.

We ordered a half-pound of brisket ($3.59 per quarter-pound), but were only served a quarter-pound on our tray. Our server had a look of incredulity when we inquired about the missing quarter-pound, but it was soon delivered. That said, the brisket was moist and had a nice bark, but – maybe it was the tepid temperature of the meat or the insipid rub – we felt the flavors just fell a little flat. For that matter, everything served was tepid, including the half-rack of meaty, fatty St. Louis-style ribs ($13.99), arguably the best item we sampled.

“Fixins,” available a la carte ($3.99 each), fared a whole lot better, particularly the skillet of mac & cheese topped with house seasoning and the jalapeño corn bread served with honey butter. The braised greens drew mixed reactions, ranging from “It’s growing on me” to “too bitter” to “meh.” Smoked corn on the cob served in Mason jars with herb- and spice-infused butter was simply outstanding – at least the first of the two cobs was. The top half of the second cob was cooked, but the bottom was just plain raw. When we mentioned it to our server, he noted it, but never offered to substitute it or take it off our bill. Now, the staff and servers here couldn’t have been more friendly or welcoming, but as the corn and brisket incidents showed, there’s room for improvement.

If you happen to be a vegetarian who misses barbecue, the smoked jackfruit ($2.99 per quarter-pound), which bears a slight resemblance to pulled pork, has the requisite texture and tang to satisfy. There are a number of craft brews offered, though quite a few were unavailable on our visit. We did sample one of their popular house-brewed sodas – a tart, rooty root beer ($3.50) that puckered up my whole face. Ending our meal with an uninspired slab of carrot cake with tangy cream cheese frosting ($6.99) was not going to happen; thankfully, the three-layer pumpkin spice cake ($6.99) came to the rescue.

For a Friday night, the place was surprisingly empty, but my hope is that we’re just witnessing a waning before Southern Moon’s waxing.

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