Smoke Berkeley: Restaurant Info + Video | reviews | full episode video

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Location: Map
2434 San Pablo Avenue (between Channing Way and Dwight Way)
Berkeley, CA 94702

Parking: Street (difficult)

Phone: (510) 548-8801
Facebook: Contigo
Twitter: @SmokeBerkeley

Restaurant Owner: Tina Ferguson-Riffe
Executive Chef: Tina Ferguson-Riffe
Pastry Chef: Tina Ferguson-Riffe

Type of Cuisine: BBQ + Southern Cuisine
Signature Dishes: Tea Smoked Salmon, Hickory Smoked Brisket of Beef, Jalapeno Mac and Cheese, Collard Greens, Seans Cheezy Rice, Chocolate Pecan Pie, Sweet Potato Pie

Vegetarian Options: 3+ items
Alcohol Served: BYOB – Bring Your Own Beer or Wine
Corkage Fee: N/A
Bottle Limit: N/A

Restaurant Hours:
Monday: Closed
Tuesday: 12:00pm-8:00pm
Wednesday: 12:00pm-8:00pm
Thursday: 12:00pm-8:00pm
Friday: 12:00pm-8:00pm
Saturday: 12:00pm-8:00pm
Sunday: Closed

Meals Served: Lunch, Dinner
Prix Fixe Menu: N/A
Take-Out: Yes
Delivery: Yes (Party packs and catering only)
Average Lunch Price Range (Per person, full meal, tax, 15% gratuity, w/o alcohol): under $15
Average Dinner Price Range (Per person, full meal, tax, 15% gratuity, w/o alcohol): $15-$25
Payment Options: Cash, Visa, Master Card
Accept Reservations: Yes
Do you accept reservations through No
Need Reservations: No
How far in advance should reservations be made? no requirements

Accommodations for Children: Kid-friendly
Dining Style: Casual
Disabled Access: Yes
Restaurant Size: Small (under 30 seats)
Accommodate Groups (10+): Yes
Private Dining Room: No
Tables with Scenic Views: No
Outdoor Dining: Yes
Entertainment: No

  • Caitlin McShane

    We love Smoke Berkeley! So much so that we invested in them! Go, Tina!

    Opportunity Fund

  • Erich

    After watching the roundtable review of “Smoke Berkeley” on Check Please Bay Area I had to give it a try! I have been a big fan of open flame (Barbecue) all my life and a patron of BBQ pits almost as long. Am I about to qualify what I am going to write about my experiences with dining at a Barbecue pit that was rated highly around the Check Please round table? No, I think it is important for you to know who I am offering my opinions on what is essentially Check Please’ product (restaurant reviews) by the peeps, for the peeps. Now for the disqualifier, I am the person at the table who has absolutely no issue in communicating the good the bad and the ugly with products I am paying for, having said that . . .

    Smoke Berkeley: I have driven past many times on my way to or from a smoked meat love-in in the area and other errands and never remembered to try this pit, until last weekend. I have been watching the PBS Saturday morning line-up of food shows since I was about six years old and last weekend I stood the mop in a corner and put down the rag & windex long enough to watch the check please segment on Smoke Berkeley. Finally, Smoke Berkeley had made it to the top of my bucket list of “to tries” I headed down to South Berkeley with visions BBQ Nymphs dancing in my head and a new pit to try! On my way I passed a new pit and added it to my “TT” list and reminisced on some BBQ greats of days gone by.

    I had no problem remembering or finding Smoke Berkeley as I passed a few veterans of the Barbecue Wars along the way. The line out front waiting in the warm sun a clear marker that the empty pit I had passed in the blink of an eye many times before was indeed present and open for business. Looking for parking I passed the growing line of BBQ/Check Please fans grow longer; “That smoked lamb had better be as good as it looked on the show!” I mumbled carnivorously after my third pass. I parked a couple of blocks away and dropped $2.50 in the old time parking meter. I took my place in line behind the 30 – 40 peeps waiting patiently ahead of me. OK Smoke Berkeley I have now invested 45 minutes of my glorious Saturday afternoon and $2.50 in introducing myself to pay foody homage to your smoked offerings. On the bright side the choice between waiting in line and cleaning the bathroom was a no brainer, or so I thought . . .

    I first came to this part of South Berkeley with a buddy on a mission filled with BBQliciousness back in 1970. I had saved 2 weeks wages doing house chores stuffed in my trouser pockets. Like a starter’ gun at the beginning of a race the lunch bell rang and I raced to meet my buddy at the designated spot. We snuck through the chain link fence into the South Berkeley neighborhood where our grade school was located and walked south at a clip towards our destination “K.C.” BBQ about a half a mile away. Another gorgeous Spring Day long ago passing the bungalows and liquid amber lined streets. Old folk iin their front yards & sitting on their front stoops watched black & white gastronomes whisk past. A few of them scolded us with smiles “You boys should be in school! Whatcha doin’ down here this time of day?” and we picked up our pace. K.C. BBQ was blindingly dark as we exited the warm spring day and entered what I would much later consider an alter to cooking Gods! Perfumed with hickory incense, and decorated in what to this very day I describe as working class kitchen chic . . .

    . . . My first impression of Smoke Please was that it was trying to plant roots in an area steeped in the hickory ashes and sweet smoke of BBQ Lore, and that the diversity of the patiently waiting peeps was great to see but also a neon statement about gentrification. Gone were the monochromatic days of segregation, my second was that I did not smell wood smoke and my expectations dropped perceptively as I struck up a conversation with the peeps ahead of me in line. We spoke of many things that sunny afternoon waiting between an old car wash and an active interstate. I related my tale of daring do with a buddy long ago; “I had a hot link wrapped in a warm tortilla with a wash of BBQ sauce sponginsponging into the tortilla.” My first experience with BBQ was filled with hickory smoke and that first bite! My teeth clamped down intrepidly though the soft tortilla, BBQ Sauce flowed over my tongue as teeth broke through sausage skin with an audible snap and coarsely textured beef sausage until meeting in the middle. My life was changed forever! Like Ted Turner colorizing old black & white movies my diet had just entered a technicolor world. The peeps ahead of me began telling their experiences we walked down memory lane like hares in this tortugas of a line. $1.00; I began to be observant of our lack of movement. Items were being removed from the menu as Smoke Berkeley ran out of product. The wait to pickup orders was about as long as the wait to order. I did the math, an investment or $5.00 plus time and I only had $0.50 time left before that $50 parking ticket hit the windshield. In the event there was anything left to order would it be able to match let alone better my expectation for it?

    Would I judge the overall experience lower than if I had waited a reasonable amount of time? Why are these peeps going so slow? I knew why, it is the old adage of a great review can kill a restaurant quicker than a bad review if the restaurant is unable to match the expectation of future customers. In fairness to Smoke Berkeley I decided to go plug the meter again or make my way to one of many other BBQ Pits in the area. I said to the peeps around me; “Would you mind holding my place until you make it to the counter? If I am not back enjoy! I have to go feed the meter and there is actually an old favorite around the corner so it’ 50/50 on weather I return.” I began to walk away, half a mile to the left was Everett & Jones, and half a mile to the right was K.C. BBQ. and then there was that new place up on Alcatraz & Shattuck? The BBQ Hut? Now that was a bold move for a new contender in the BBQ wars; to open within a stone’ throw of one of Berkeley’ most iconic BBQ Pits . . .

    I walked back to the car and expired meter and decided I would return another day. That other day was yesterday! Just as I had thought, the line to order did not pass the threshold and I parked for free in back. There was no lively banter in front or behind the counter. There was no smokey perfume filling the small space the prices were high enough for me to elevate my expectations a notch. The owner/chef and the crew had not learned a lesson from the previous weekend, in fact the crew was surly, not elated at the opportunity to serve the masses and all the trickle down from that i.e.; steady employment. The molasses pace of service was not as I had hoped due to sudden mass advertising it is the service standard at Smoke Berkeley and unfortunately Smoke Berkeley has not earned anywhere near the street cred needed for me to return. I have to wonder if the Irony of Smoke Berkeley is as apparent to the owner and patrons as it is to me? I live in Berkeley, I am not allowed to fire up my own BBQ without the fear of neighbors complaining to the fire department about my BBQing in public and homeless victims of gentrification begging like a dog at my feet as I BBQ my Easter lamb. The Irony of “Smoke Berkeley” in a republic that was the first to ban smoking in public spaces? A city which has no tolerance whatsoever for smoke of any kind including ones living space. Please, don’t even get me started on the expensive reticulating hood needed if Smoke Berkeley had decided to open in an area of Berkeley where their target market congregate in profusion. I wonder?

  • Blake

    Happened to be in Berkeley yesterday in the middle of our April heat wave and remembered the episode about this place, so after googling directions decided to take a nice walk (about 1.5 miles each way) from the University … have to say beautiful neighborhood … love the old homes, but when I got there I was both thirsty and hungry. Ordered the combo plate with brisket and pulled pork with sides of beans and potato salad and the “homemade” lemonade. Was a little wait, but not as bad as some of the wait’s I read afterwards on “Yelp” as it was only about 10 minutes, but I must say there wasn’t a crowd … only about 2 other parties waiting. Was disappointed because they didn’t offer a taste of the sauce (as indicated on the show), and I had to wait for my drink with the meal and given my walk and heat yesterday I was thirsty! When everything came I was a bit taken aback at the size of the portions … SMALL!!!!!!! for $20 and a dinky cup of lemonade for $2.50. The pulled pork was bland, the corn bread was bland and dry, but the brisket was good and the STAR was the BEANS, so much so I drug the pork through the remaining bean sauce as the workers were all huddled in the back corner … I guess putting orders together and I didn’t see any sauce at the counter. I ordered the “mild” sauce and again because of the show was expecting a “kick” … it was okay, but not killer, but needless after all that and the heat I needed a bit more than a tiny glass of the lemonade which I have to say for homemade was really bland, so I went to the counter and asked if there were refills on the lemonade and the woman from the counter said, “No” it’s $2.50 …. she wasn’t rude, but given the size and price of the meal I was a bit taken aback and said, “Okay” and got some water they have in a cooler. About 3 minutes later one of the guys from the back brought me out another glass of the lemonade on the sly which I thought was really sweet … unfortunately when I took a sip it tasted like lemon water. That said I bussed my table and started my walk back to BART … about 1/3 the way there I started to get a kick outa the lemonade … all the juice was on the bottom :( So I wanted to see if I was crazy or what and went on Yelp to see what the rest of the world was saying and it turns out I’m not! Maybe it’s just too busy for them since the review on TV, but this is the third time I’ve hit up a place after a review on Check Please and been very disappointed. I really love the show, but I’m starting to wonder :(

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