For Stick to Your Ribs Meals, Go to Smokey Joe's
Beth Fowler

Smokey Joe's Rib House & Tex-Mex Restaurant's Spanish-American mission-style exterior is coated with salmon-colored stucco. Inside you got your pictures of James Dean and Norma Jean. You got your sombreros and piñatas. You got your dried Indian corn and lava lamp - all conjuring images of a D.I. Y. Restaurant Kit arriving in Kaohsiung Harbor from America's southwest....Wrong.

"Amy Wu, the owner, buys decorations on her travels to Mexico and Texas. The waiters and waitresses installed the decorations themselves," says manager Becky Zhen, recalling when Smokey Joe's reopened about a year ago at its new location. "Customers want to buy the decorations. If the money is right, we might sell it." It's kitsch - that's part of the appeal.

The other part of the appeal is food. Our Macho Nacho Platter (NT$150), one of the more than 15 appetizers available, consisted of corn chips under melted cheese, fresh lettuce, tomatoes, onions, black olives and jalepeno peppers with a small bowl of chunky, mild salsa. The easily recommendable Texas Styled Smoked Barbecued Pork Sandwich Plate (NT$180) includes a small portion of coleslaw, French fries and a heap of shredded pork smothered in a tangy, smoky sauce you'd swear a grizzled cooky named Billy Bob or Jeb prepared. (Becky gives credit for the authentic recipes to Amy's husband Al, who is from Virginia, U.S.A.) Too bad about the dried out roll, though.

The Grilled Steak and Cheese Sub (NT$220), stuffed with tender sliced beef, onions, and cheese has "too much green pepper and needs a red sauce," according to my friend who'd lived in Philadelphia, home of Philly cheese steak sandwiches. Easily remedied with catsup and ubiquitous McIlhenny Co. Tabasco sauce standing by on every sturdy, rustic wooden table.

Smokey Joe's earns the right to call itself a rib house. Diners ordering beef or pork rib platters (NT$320 - 450) should receive warnings along the lines of "This meal will take a week to eat." Servings are gargantuan and delicious, judging by the clean bones the mostly young clientele wave around to the catchy beat of southern rock and country western tunes.

Becky, who's been in the restaurant business for ten years, says, "This is a great place to bring friends because there is something for everybody." The English and Chinese menu offers chow "From the Wok" - Clam With Basil and Spicy Sauce, Combination Fried Rice or Noddles {sic}, and Seaweed and Egg Drop Soup to name a few Chinese goodies ranging in price from NT$80 to NT$280. Salads, soups and vegetarian dishes are featured, too.

My husband's hobby is blowing his head off with hot chili peppers. He's met his match twice, once with a sauce so fiery it came with a medicine drop dispenser and waiver, and the second time with Smokey Joe's Very Hot & Spicy Thai Style Ossobuco Fire Pot, a good pick if you're into that sort of stimulation.

Besides San Miquel on tap, there are a dozen other brands of bottled beer, two-and-a-half menu pages' worth of cocktails from Margaritas to Orgasms, shooters, house wine, wines by the bottle, champagnes, liquors, teas, hot drinks and non-alcoholic frozen drinks. And one activity naturally leads to the next . . . Both levels have spacious, clean restrooms for Senores and Senoritas. With toilet paper!

Because the meals are filling, I've never gotten around to tasting the luscious looking mousse, cheesecake, apple pie or brownies displayed in the glass case beside the cashier counter. Smokey Joe's prepares its own food and provides take-out. Fridays and Saturdays, you can buy bags of whole-wheat bagels measuring in at a hefty 43-centimeter circumference.

Every time I've eaten at this architectural anomaly, bilingual waitstaff have served us cheerfully and promptly. Despite Smokey Joe's capacity for 200 or more diners, you'd better go early or you'll be queuing in the red-tiled foyer with other hungry Joes.