Bites Nearby: Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill
Generous portions and friendly service distinguish this smokehouse-style restaurant, but suggestive décor is not appropriate for all ages.
Overview: Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill is a chain restaurant with a focus on smoked and grilled food. Bottles of four different barbecue sauces are at each table for dipping. Its menu is primarily meat-based, with other grilled features as well. It also offers a "party packs" menu with larger food portions for takeout. There are a number of $5 lunch specials on weekdays and a late-night menu after 10 p.m.
A dining room is to the right when you walk in. Beyond that is a larger, more open room in which the bar is the central feature. Off that area are two other dining rooms, which are open to the bar/dining area. One room has a pool table and two dartboards.
Because of the suggestive posters everywhere except in the first dining area, the restaurant is probably a more appropriate choice for older teens and adults unless you can request seating in that dining area.
When we arrived we were told there was a 30-minute wait, but we waited only 10 minutes and then were seated in the bar area at a table with high stools. We originally were going to wait outside, but the music was so loud we opted to wait at the bar itself, which was practically empty. There was still a wait for seating when we left an hour or so later.
Décor: Rustic, with lots of raw-looking wood and timbers. Photographs line the walls. There are quite a few televisions.
Unfortunately and inexplicably, beyond the first dining room the main feature of the décor are large posters with offensive jokes (called "boneisms") about "racks" and "pulling pork" and other juvenile attempts at humor.
Thinking maybe I was just an old fogey, I asked my 17-year-old son and 23-year-old daughter if they thought the posters are offensive.
In fact, my son pointed out that they may not be so bad if it weren't for the exaggerated drawings of, well, racks.
Note to the decorator: If a 17-year-old boy doesn't think you're funny, you are not funny.
Drinks: There is a full bar, a full selection of beers and a number of specialty drinks. Martinis run from $6.25 to $8.25 and spiked lemonades and teas $4.95 to $7.69. Everyday drink specials include beers, shots, margaritas and martinis. The wine selection is sparse and offerings are not the best quality.
And yes, I know this is a barbecue joint, but really, how hard is it to have a couple of decent wines on the menu? Per-glass prices run from $4.99 to $7.69 for whites and $5.29 to $6.99 for reds. The restaurant does have daily specials on beers that vary and generally are good deals. An excellent house beer, the "Bones Brew," is very tasty.
Appetizers: Called "Fire Starters," the appetizers are actually a little more creative than usually found. There are two shrimp dishes, a Cajun Shrimp Skillet ($8.79) and Crispy Shrimp Dunkers ($8.79), as well as Chicken Chili Nachos ($9.99), Kettle Chips ($4.99), Skillet Corn Bread ($5.99) and a selection of other starters.
We opted for the Cajun Shrimp Skillet and the Kettle Chips. The chips came with three dipping sauces, including a spicy buffalo garlic that my husband begged me to figure out how to make. The chips were thicker and more substantial than I expected, and we all liked them. The shrimp dish was well-prepared, but absolutely swimming in butter which made it difficult to eat because we were not given appetizer plates by our server. We had to hold our hands under the shrimp so it wouldn't drip everywhere.
Entrees: Smokey Bones is a meat-lovers' paradise. There are several steak entrees, platter choices, and eight value-priced meals ($6.99 to $12.79). The focus is on the Create-your-own-combo option with a selection of "favorites," the favorites being meat: pulled pork, beef brisket, ribs, chicken, turkey and sausage. A pick-two option is $11.99, a pick-three is $14.69, and you can pick as many as you want after that for an additional $2.89. All combos come with two regular sides, or you can upgrade to a fancier side for $1. Soup or salad will run an additional $2.49.
Two people in our party had a Choose Two combo of the pork and brisket. Portions are generous, and all the meat was very good, tender and flavorful, although the brisket was quite fatty. Generally, brisket does have a layer of fat it's cooked in, called the fat cap, that is trimmed before serving. Looked like they missed a step.
Baby Back Ribs ($17.99 for a house rack) were the hit of the table, while the Smoked Wings (8 for $8.79, 16 for $13.99) brought a very different flavor to the usual fried wings.
For our sides, we chose mashed potatoes, roasted corn, baked beans, a baked potato and sweet potato sticks. All were fine, but the corn was a standout.
There are also salad entrees ($9.49 to $10.79), an Asiago Chicken Penne ($11.59), Fish and Chips ($8.79) a large selection of burgers and sandwiches ($7.99 to $8.99) and two grilled flatbreads ($7.99).
Desserts: If one of our party had not been trying to avoid sugar, I'm sure we would have been trying the Hot Bag of Donuts ($5.29). Other options include chocolate cake and "sweet shots," which are small glasses of sweet concoctions that look like small sundaes.
Service: Everyone was very nice and friendly, and the bartender was highly efficient. Unfortunately, we got a waiter who perhaps was not the sharpest tool in the shed. We had to ask several times for water and pop for two of our party -- he would listen, but then seemed to forget as soon as he walked away.
As mentioned earlier, we also had no appetizer plates, which made eating the appetizers very awkward. When I looked around, I noticed that every table except those he was responsible for were given appetizer plates with their flatware. We couldn’t tell him because he spent a great deal of time off in the corner chatting with two of his fellow servers. Finally, as soon as he appeared after our entrées were delivered, I put on my stern-mom face and told him we needed extra plates, napkins, drinks, wipes, etc. After that he was much more attentive, and he was also cute and nice and he grew on us, so we forgave him.
Signature Dish: Slow-smoked meats.
Cost: $ to $$
1708 Route 228, Cranberry Township
Open daily 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.