I was recently saddened to hear that there’d been a pretty huge fire at the sister restaurant to a recent new opening in my home city of Coventry – Hickory’s Smokehouse. So I thought I’d share some smokehouse love.
The City of Villains, unlike its Birmingham neighbour, is seriously lacking in strong gastronomic credentials, albeit with a few under their belt. The Cross, of course, in Kenilworth, and a few decent gastropubs to name a couple, but Wagamamas only just arrived on the scene last year for god’s sake. So whenever there’s a new place in the city, everyone’s talking about it.
Hickory’s Smokehouse in Burton Green is no exception.
Having heard rave reviews and recommendations from friends, a Friday night dinner for two is my first and only trip so far to this new low n slow joint on the block (in actual fact a very leafy border of Coventry and Kenilworth.)
Whilst R guzzled his Goose Creek IPA & me a generous glass of a Marlborough Sauv B, we were ushered to our table (surprisingly quick sans-reservation) where we studied the menu, following keen expert advice & tips from the Hickory’s team.
I’d already been recommended their famous ribs and R (unfortunately) had a smaller appetite that evening, so he opted for the BBQ chicken skewers. Note: no starters.
Post-ordering, James greeted us at our table – introduced himself, asked our names and shook our hands. He arrived with a taster slider of Hickory’s beef brisket for us – one of their signature faves he told us, “just for us try.” With a drizzle of their homemade BBQ on the side, we devoured the beautifully succulent, melt-in-the-mouth meat, this surprise ‘appetiser’ raised satisfied eyebrows and left us eagerly anticipating our mains.
Having been warned only to have the half rack of ribs (I’m usually a full rack kinda gal), I was not disappointed with my choice in the slightest.
Never have I had such rare, fall-off-the-bone rib meat. I’ve eaten a fair few rib racks in my time, the US-variety included, and these were GOOD. There was slabs and slabs of the slow-cooked, pink, juicy stuff to enjoy, topped with lashings of a tangy, rich-but-not-too-rich sauce. Half rack my…
R’s skewers were also a generous, juicy helping of chunky cut chicken & crunchy, pleasantly surprising for an option that can sometimes be disappointingly dry.
Also shout out to the divine smokey dipping sauce we opted to accompany our meal – a secret Hickory’s recipe, a strong sauce in the glaze game.
From here, the evening just accelerated. James then returned, sat down with us and asked about our experience. Even though this level of personal service might be expected within month 1 of opening, we were still honoured to be given such treatment. Turns out James is actually Hickory’s Head of Training & Communications, one of five board members of the business. Well I never…
Working in our fields of interest we were naturally inquisitive so we then got chatting about the business, talking us through the 10 criteria all new openings must match (lots to do with space due to their massive smoking machines but also tradition of the building).
Having browsed, drooled over but swiftly and sadly decided against dessert, James came over again. “I’m taking you on the tour” he exclaimed. We were the chosen ones.
James’ full tour of the restaurant included; the open air kitchen-side dining, talking us through their extension of the original building and American-style veranda, the 12-seater cinema for children (yes really – free popcorn & everything), the wonderful outside garden area complete with ping pong table, ode to the former Peeping Tom pub sign, giant summer family games and blankets/HOT WATER BOTTLES to enable guests to enjoy those dry but chilly British nights,until last orders are called.
It really was wonderful. Arriving back at the entrance, we viewed the smokers, which smoke the meat 24/7 (I did think, slight fire hazard?), rotating around 40 (precise number forgotten) whole racks of ribs at once.
James then disappeared for a moment, only to arrive back with a takeaway portion of their churros & hot chocolate dip for us – an exceptional touch to pick up on and remember from our table discussion around the dessert menu.
We were blown away. And we’re not the only ones.
One of my very best friends and her long-term boyfriend recently became engaged. Celebrating at Hickory’s, the team topped off their evening by footing the entire bill! Others had overly pink burgers taken off the bill too…
Hickory’s is a very carefully thought through venture. Started by two guys wow’ed on a visit to Texas & Louisiana, they return to the region every year to maintain the real American smokehouse experience over here.
Yes, Hickory’s now have multiple restaurants – it’s not your independent butcher dude throwing some rare breed cow over an oil drum grill in his back yard.
However, by keeping their focus to a small number of five restaurants, I hope they manage to maintain quality & consistency, without losing the wow factor they’ve ‘hidden’ away in carefully selected pockets of British suburbia.
Old chain BBQ favourites such as TGI Friday’s & Harvester are certainly now tired, overly expensive and nowhere near the quality of food that places such as Hickory’s have risen to. They’ve taken the BBQ status quo and completely rewritten the rule book.
Hickory’s is a masterclass in customer experience, a real smokehouse, a joyous menu to read and you should all just go.
216 Cromwell Lane