Bill Cary, For the Poughkeepsie Journal
After many years of successfully helming Coco’s Italian restaurant in Hyde Park, Dimitris Psichas and his wife, Nike, decided to switch gears completely in 2014 and open a barbecue place of their own.
The old-fashioned wood-smoked barbecue had long been a backyard passion for Dimitris, a native of Greece, and he wanted to try his hand at it full time. In May 2014, the couple opened Smoky Rock BBQ in the heart of downtown Rhinebeck, with Dimitris as the full-time chef and pitmaster.
We stopped in for lunch on a recent weekday and were quite taken with the place – very good food, all made from scratch and sourced from Hudson Valley farms, in a nice relaxed setting.
“It’s all very authentic,” says Nike (pronounced “Nicky”), who works the front of the house as general manager (and bartender and hostess and server). “It’s all New York-style barbecue – we’re not Southern.”
“We created our own recipes and our own rubs,” she adds. “The ribs and brisket are our most popular items.”
And it’s very much a family affair, with all three of the Psichas children – Alex, Christiana, and Vasiliki — working in the restaurant.
In this age of Covid-19 and the preference for outdoor dining whenever possible, Smoky Rock is a smart choice, with seven tented tables on a large stone patio that’s surrounded by low stone walls with an attractive fountain in the middle. Each well-spaced rectangular table in the front patio had eight chairs, and you could easily squeeze in a couple more. There are six outdoor tables in the back yard.
In pre-pandemic times, they have room for 170 diners, with 100 of them at outside tables, Nike says. With Covid-19, that’s down to a total of about 120 now.
The front patio is also pet friendly, with doggie bowls of water brought out by servers.
The menu is big and somewhat pricey, with lots of options for larger parties who are ordering a lot and sharing. Portions here are quite generous. We had enough lunch leftovers to almost make an entire dinner that night.
What they call their “signature meats” include two kinds of brisket, half and whole chickens, pulled pork and chicken, pork belly, and smoked turkey breast or Long Island duck. They average about one pound each and are served either a la carte or with two sides.
There are also wings, spare ribs, smoked baby back ribs, and beef ribs. The menu lists eight burgers along with a few Greek dishes, salads and sandwiches, and fish and chips.
There are no shortcuts in barbecuing here. The brisket, for example, is slow-smoked with a dry rub for 14 to 16 hours, and the pork belly is brined for two weeks.
Dimitris uses 19 different spices in his dry rubs, and four types of wood – cherry, hickory, apple, and maple – are used in various combinations, in two smokers, to get the flavors just right.
We had Nike as our hostess and server and she could not have been nicer and more helpful about the menu. Our food came out from the kitchen very quickly.
What we tried
Starter soups: We were offered a complimentary cup of homemade soup to start things off. The soups on offer that day were a meaty and spicy gumbo and an equally good and smoky split pea soup. The soups could have been hotter, but they were both delicious.
Cheese Fritters: This appetizer consisted of four large round fried fritters loaded with fresh corn and a blend of four kinds of cheese and served with a smoky, not-too-hot roasted red pepper chipotle dipping sauce. Very nice, and really hot and crispy.
Smoked BBQ Sampler: We thought that this $22 sampler plate on the Starters menu offered the best way to get a feel for the menu and the different smoked meat options. The heaping plate – with triangles of flatbread on the bottom to soak up the juices – including hot and sweet sausages that were split and grilled, piles of pulled pork, and pulled barbecued chicken, melt-in-your-mouth brisket, and two tender, not-too-dry ribs. A total winner — even the pulled chicken, which is not normally something I would order. The pulled pork – a standard I use to judge most barbecue places – was particularly good. Their spicy homemade barbecue sauce, from a bottle on the table, was a good addition (though not really necessary because everything was well cooked and already juicy and flavorful).
Collard greens: There are a dozen side dishes on offer, including three coleslaws, regular or sweet potato fries, baked beans, dirty rice, and cornbread. We chose the small size ($4, or $7 for large) for both of the sides, and they were quite generous. The collards were vinegary and long-cooked but still bright and tasty, not at all swampy and dull like they can get after a long day on the stove.
Creamy macaroni and cheese: The pasta was hot and creamy and cheesy – good, not great, just what you’d expect in a barbecue joint.
Pies: The pies, like all of the desserts, come from a New York City bakery, and we tried the lemon meringue and the peanut butter ones. Both were standard fare, just what you might find in a Greek diner with an old-fashioned revolving refrigerator case. The peanut butter one, with a Graham cracker crust, layers of chocolate, and a creamy peanut butter filling, with a chocolate-caramel drizzle, was more interesting and the better of the two.
Drinks and dessert
There are usually eight craft beers on tap, for $5 or $6, along with a tasting flight of four seven-ounce beers that sounds like a real bargain at $12. There are 12 wines by the glass, priced from $8 to $11. The menu lists a dozen or so specialty drinks, for $12, and the bar offers more than 35 bourbons.
There are a dozen or so desserts on the menu, priced from $5 (brownie or rolled baklava) to $10 for the chocolate mousse bomb. Pies include Key lime and chocolate or banana cream, or you can get a slice of cake – carrot, chocolate layer, red velvet, or raspberry lemon.
Bring your Tesla – there are three charging stations in the back parking lot. They have a very attractive menu of take-out packages (very popular in the pandemic, Nike says) and catered offerings. Law enforcement, firefighters, EMS, nurses, doctors, and veterans get a 10 percent discount (ID required). Look for their products at Taste NY stores.
What we will order next
One of the BBQ sandwiches (pulled pork, pork belly, brisket, smoked turkey, and house-made pastrami) or maybe a burger and a Greek salad, and definitely that flight of beers.
The restaurant is in the heart of the village of Rhinebeck, with lots of shops and cafes nearby. Oblong Books & Music, at 6422 Montgomery St., and Hammertown, a furniture and home goods store at 6420 Montgomery St., are both worth a visit. The Sunday farmers market is quite popular.
411 on Smoky Rock BBQ
Cuisine: American barbecue, with a smattering of Greek dishes
Entrée price range: Signature meats (a la carte or with two sides), $15 to $28; ribs, $24 to $43; combo platters, $44 to $104; sandwiches and burgers, $14 to $20
Noise level: Moderate
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays to Saturdays; noon to 9 p.m. Sundays; closed Wednesdays; call to make reservations.
Go: 6367 Mill St., Rhinebeck, NY, 845-876-5232, smokyrockbbq.com