Jason Sobocinski's love for cheese is well-documented. But he loves barbecue, too. And thanks to a lucky equipment find, he's brought another one of his food passions to life in the New Haven area, introducing Smoke Box BBQ on Whitney Avenue in Hamden in early March.
Sobocinski, owner of Caseus Fromagerie & Bistro and co-owner of Ordinary in New Haven, was looking for a way to serve smoked meats at each location while maximizing each restaurant's tiny kitchen, he said. When he found an old Peking duck smoker box, he worked with a blacksmith friend to retrofit it with stainless steel racks and holders. They set up the smoker in the alley by Caseus, and smoked pork butts, beef brisket and chicken thighs to supply both the bistro and the cocktail lounge on Chapel Street.
"[The meat] was doing really well over at Ordinary," Sobocinski said. "But we didn't want to be smoking in the alley every day."
The solution was just outside city limits, in Hamden, where Mikro Beer Bar owner Mike Farber - one of Sobocinski's business partners at Ordinary - had a venue in mind, the former Monster Grill. The smoker moved there and Smoke Box BBQ was born, serving as both a convenient commissary kitchen and a lunch destination in its own right.
At Smoke Box, diners choose their meat - Berkshire pulled pork, grass-fed beef brisket or Bell & Evans pulled chicken, and then a preparation: atop a BBQ Caesar salad, over hand-cut fries dusted with Smoke Box's secret dry rub, in corn tortillas or on thick toast. Next comes a choice of housemade sauce: North Carolina style with apple cider vinegar, spicy/sweet/sticky Texas style with molasses and honey or South Carolina/Alabama mustard sauce. Toppings like crispy slaw, smoked tomatoes and pickled red onions are free; add $2 for fresh avocado, Mystic Cheese's Melville (one of Sobocinski's other ventures) or extra-sharp Cabot cheddar. A "full box" of meats and fixings is $12, a "half box" is $9.
There's also a smoked Pat LaFrieda cheeseburger on griddled thick ciabatta bread, for $12. Specials run daily, with features like smoked turkey sandwiches, burritos and BBQ-rubbed grilled mahi mahi. NoRA Cupcake Company of Middletown supplies dessert, with daily cupcake offerings.
Smoke Box is currently open on weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., but Sobocinski says they plan to open on Saturdays soon, and have applied for a beer and wine license to extend their hours into the evening.