231 West 145th Street between Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Avenues
about $31 for four people, with two sodas, without tip
The day Oklahoma Smoke opened in west Harlem, they ran out of meat. I stopped by to check their menu and they told me they just didn’t anticipate how many people were going to show up. Really? You knew it was your opening day, right? The next day, I stopped by at 2pm. They were open, but the guys in the front had to ask the kitchen what time they think they’ll be ready. 5pm, someone said. Two days after that, I called to order dinner for pick-up. It was loud in the background but I managed to order a rack and a half of their pork jerky ribs. The guy on the phone said two side dishes come with my order, so I picked collard greens and rice and beans. He also reminded me that I can have a can of Coke with it.
Half an hour later, I walked in to pick up my order. There were a few of us standing around and waiting for our orders. Once in a while, someone would announce a number. They finally stopped when they realized their customers don’t know what the numbers mean. (Them: Who ordered number 23? Us: What the hell is number 23?) They packed up my order while I waited, but then realized someone had done it already. When I looked at that bag, the wrong sides were included. So I waited some more. When I received the sauce-stained paper with my food items checked off, the young girl at the counter didn’t know what buttons to press to register my order. One of the older men had to help her. At this point, I’m not quite sure who’s working for the restaurant. When I was finally handed my order, they told me they ran out of Cokes. I picked an orange soda instead. They gave me two.
Back at home, I served the ribs to three others. I had to use my hands because the meat easily fell off the bones. I wasn’t quite sure why they were called jerky; they tasted more like they were boiled before they were slow-cooked. Without the orange-colored sauce, the meat barely tasted like barbeque. Curiously, I texted Aaron, a friend who grew up in Oklahoma, and asked him what makes barbeque an Oklahoman barbeque? All I got in response was, We use a hillbillie recipe.
Harlem is going through a lot of changes. Business owners need more practice in running a restaurant to please more than just their neighbors. At Oklahoma Smoke BBQ, they’re trying really hard–at least they do their collard greens right.
Another Harlem restaurant I’m holding out hope for