If you’ve driven the stretch of road alongside the Intracoastal in Ponte Vedra Beach, you may have noticed a striking new contemporary farmhouse and lingering aroma of barbeque. That would be Valley Smoke, the latest concept from Southern Table Hospitality, operated by Chef/Owner Ben Groshell and COO Liza Groshell – the same folks that created Marker 32, three Fish Camps, and Safe Harbor. While all of these previous destinations feature seafood, the emphasis at Valley Smoke is wood smoked barbeque.
It all starts in the smokehouse that’s adjacent to the restaurant, operates continuously, and is fueled entirely with locally sourced oak. The carefully selected cuts of meat, including pork ribs, short ribs, brisket, pulled pork, hot links, and chicken, are all smoked low (temperature) and slow (time). In fact, most of the smoking starts the night before, ensuring ’que that’s always hot and fresh from the grill. What sets Valley Smoke apart, however, is the way in which the culinary team imparts Southern and smokehouse influences across the menu.
To start, try the Deviled Farm Eggs with crispy buffalo chicken skins, Fresh Milled Cornbread (made from cornmeal custom milled by Congaree & Penn), or Farm House Mini Ham Sandwiches made with buttermilk biscuits, house cured country ham and pepper jelly. These alone, coupled with something special from the floor to ceiling Bourbon and Scotch Library could be enough (there’s Pappy 23 at the high end, over one hundred and fifty other varieties, and more than you could possibly want). But it would be criminal to stop with drinks and snacks alone.
Check out the appetizers. There’s flavorful Wood-Fire Jumbo Shrimp with sweet potato purée, molasses gastrique (a sauce deglazed with vinegar), pecans and fried sage; a theatrical presentation of Oak Smoked Burrata served with arugula and tomato-peach compote (the peaches, along with other seasonal foods, are canned in house); and the Wood-Fire Boneless Beef Short Rib (see Chef Benjamin Groshell’s recipe here) accompanied by white hominy grits, baby spinach, goat cheese, bacon and charred sweet onion vinaigrette.
Of course, everything from the “pit” is remarkable. The Heritage St. Louis Style Ribs and Valley Smoke Beef Brisket are the restaurant’s best sellers. Accompanied by any one of seven varieties of barbeque sauce, you’re in for a real treat.
For patrons seeking more traditional dishes, the USDA Ribeye or Southern Chicken Fry are both quite satisfying. If you enjoy game, the Venison Jager Schnitzel served with wood roasted wild mushroom gravy and whipped potatoes gets rave reviews.
While all of this may be sufficient, there are alluring desserts that make a wonderfully sweet finale. The Fudgy Brownies and Lemon Pie are immeasurably enjoyable. The Hummingbird Cake, with its decadently rich cream cheese frosting, is impressive.
What makes all of this so special is that everything is made in house. According to Chef Groshell, “There’s a lot of technique that goes into everything we make … it all happens here … it’s about as authentic as you can get.” If you’re curious, there’s an open kitchen that allows patrons to watch these dishes come to life. It’s a compelling show.
When it comes to beverages, Valley Smoke offers a sizable variety of specialty and craft beers, as well as a large number of wines by the glass or bottle. For those who recognize Southern traditions, there’s Cheerwine and a few other specialties.
In the mood for something white? Try the French 2016 Vouvray from Marquis de Goulaine. It’s crisp fruitiness, coupled with a bit of sweet, makes it an enjoyable companion to many of the dishes Valley Smoke has to offer.
For red wine aficionados, these are just a few of the Californians that are worth your while: The Frank Family 2015 Zinfandel (Napa Valley) displays notes of cocoa, red currant, cinnamon and blackberry that partners well with the restaurant’s bold and smoky preparations. Of equal value is the Orin Swift “Abstract,” a velvety blend of Grenache, Petit Syrah and Syrah with bold notes of juicy red and dark fruits.
Then there’s Cooper & Thief’s Bourbon Barrel Red Blend. This dark and jammy five-varietal blend displays unmistakable notes of vanilla and is loaded with flavor. It is a full-bodied wine that is perfectly suited to the big smoky flavors of Valley Smoke’s ’que.
It would be short sighted to classify Valley Smoke as just another of Northeast Florida’s barbeque joints. It is classy, approachable, fun, decadent, relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable. So, the next time you’re craving some slow smoked ’que, are in the mood for great wine or whiskey, craving a truly approachable meal, or simply feel like whiling away the hours along the banks of the Intracoastal, just head for Valley Smoke.
11 S. Roscoe Blvd., Ponte Vedra Beach, 285-3235, www.valleysmoke.com.
Pair the Wood-Fire Boneless Beef Short Rib with:
Cooper & Thief Red Wine Blend
Grapes: 38% Merlot; 37% Syrah; 11% Zinfandel; 7% Petite Sirah; 4% Cabernet Sauvignon; 3% other red blenders
Description: This dark and jammy red blend, from California’s Cooper & Thief Cellarmasters, is loaded with bourbon-inspired flavors and aromas and toasty vanilla notes. Aged for three months in ex-bourbon whiskey barrels, it has soft, velvety tannins with subtle heat, and a rich flavor with a long finish.
Cooper & Thief is founded on risks and experimentation. “Cooper” represents influence in taste and craftsmanship — the skilled craftsman who hand-makes each wooden barrel. “Thief” represents the role of winemaking — the tool of the trade used to steal tastes of the wine as it is aging.
Cellarmaster Jeff Kasavan is a veteran winemaker who travelled the world studying winemaking traditions. He realized no two wines are made the same way, and there is more to wine than tradition. His philosophy is to create high-quality affordable wines that satisfy an adventurous consumer palate.