There is definitely something in the air at the Santa Barbara Public Market. As you make your way around the downtown Santa Barbara food hall, a hint of spice-tinged barbecue wafts through the aisles.
The source of the seductive scent is Soul Cal Smokehouse, which opened about two weeks ago in the space previously occupied by Belcampo Meat Co. Stoking the fires are owners Justin West and Jason Carter, who are hoping to light a fire with their California regional barbecue.
“When people think of barbecue here, they think of tri-tip. But there’s more to this region than just that,” Mr. West told the News-Press during a recent visit to the eatery. “Just like other regions in America have their own way of doing things, we have our own regional cuisine here.
“We’re surrounded by farms growing amazing produce and we’re right on the ocean, which is another huge influence. Vegetables and seafood are a big part of life here. If barbecue is America’s cuisine, saying that tri-tip is our regional representation is doing this place a huge injustice.”
Mr. West’s introduction to barbecue came via a smokehouse called West Bros. BBQ in Eugene, Ore., that his father, Mike, owned and operated for about 15 years with his brothers. After moving to Santa Barbara in 2008, and branching out into fine dining with Julienne restaurant, Mr. West opened Wildwood Kitchen three years later. It was there that he met Mr. Carter, his executive chef, who, after growing up in Austin, Texas, and working in his family’s catering business, most recently spent time as a sous chef under Gregory Gourdet at Departure in Portland.
“I know barbecue from growing up in Texas, stoking fires with my grandpa and cooking for our church,” Mr. Carter said. “I was working with a restaurant group in Portland and about to leave for the East Coast when a friend told me about Justin wanting to do barbecue in Santa Barbara. I came down to meet with him and after visiting Santa Barbara in winter, you don’t then move to Philadelphia.”
Having previously applied for the space Soul Cal Smokehouse is now occupying, the Public Market has been on Mr. West’s culinary radar for some time.
“I interviewed for this particular spot when they were first curating vendors for the market,” Mr. West said. “Somewhere between the second and third interview, my wife and I found out we were pregnant, so I put the brakes on it because we already had Julienne and I wanted to also focus on being a dad.”
Five years later, the location, with its built-out kitchen and generous cold storage, was available again.
“What I like about the Public Market is that everybody who comes here, comes here with the intention of spending money on food and beverage,” Mr. West said. “Sure there are other places to eat here, but I don’t see them as competition because we’re all working together to create something. What’s good for the market is good for Soul Cal Smokehouse.”
While Soul Cal Smokehouse is heavily influenced by local produce, its foundations pay tribute to Mr. West’s family legacy.
“The heart and soul of the menu is a reflection of my dad’s restaurant,” Mr. West said. “The coleslaw, beans, potato salad, dry rub, sauces, and the way we cook our meats, all that comes from original family recipes.”
It’s difficult to know where to start when perusing the smokehouse’s packed menu boards. To get things going, there is a selection of Snacks, including the market-priced Chicken Liver Toast, Pork Pate, Smoked Salmon and Smoked Mussels. There is also a selection of beer accompaniments, including Artichoke Toast ($7 to $13), Frito Pie ($8 to $11) and Smoked Chicken Wings ($8 to $15).
The two Soups are either the Soul Cal Chili ($11) or a Daily Special ($6 to $9), while the Salads ($10 to $12) include a Kale, Thai Cobb, Soul Cal Cobb, Kale Caesar and Little Gem Wedge. There is also a hearty offering of sides ($2.50 to $12) ranging from Cole Slaw and Potato Salad to Smokehouse Caviar, BBQ Beans, Braised Greens, Mac & Cheese, BBQ Tempeh and Corn Bread.
Burgers are $12 to $14 and include a Cheese Burger, Bacon Blue Burger, Mushroom Burger, Patty Melt, Cowboy Burger and Beyond Burger, while Sandwiches are $9 to $14 with choices including Smokehouse Chop, Brisket, Pulled Pork, Fried Chicken, Tri-Tip, Pork Belly and Salmon. You can add fries for $3 or a salad for $4.
But it’s the Smoked Meats that fuel the smokehouse. They start at $5 for a 4-ounce serving and range to $13 for 8 ounces. There is Brisket, Tri-Tip, Pulled Pork, Pork Belly, Smoked Ham, Smoked Chicken, Smoked Turkey and Baby Back Ribs ($17 per pound). A selection of house-made sausages ($3 to $4) includes Bratwurst, Jalapeno Cheese, Turkey Andouille, Soul Cal Hots and Kielbasa.
You can make it a combo with any Smoked Meat (6 ounces) and two BBQ sides (Cole Slaw, Potato Salad, Smokehouse Caviar — a black bean, corn, red onion, smoked tomato and cilantro combo — or BBQ Beans) for between $10 to $14, depending on the meat.
You can also try one of three Sampler Platters: The Chef’s Plate features 2 ounces of Pulled Pork, 2 ounces of Brisket and 2 Pork Ribs, served with Potato Salad and Beans, for $17; the BBQ Sampler comes with Chicken, Rack of Ribs, 4 ounces Brisket, 4 ounces Pulled Pork and Texas Toast for $24; and The BBQ King includes the BBQ Sampler plus three sausages of your choice for $32.
Seating includes counter stools or you can take your box and devour the contents at any of the shared tables around the market.
“This might be counter service, but there is more talent in this building than on any single block in Santa Barbara,” Mr. West said. “And it means that we’re all 100 percent focused on the food.”
Soul Cal Smokehouse is located at the Santa Barbara Public Market, 38 W. Victoria St. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Follow Soul Cal Smokehouse on Instagram @soulcalsmokehouse.