The Smokehouse and Cooler is many things. It’s more than barbecue. It’s more than a bar. It’s more than Asian, Cajun, or Tex-Mex.
But it is all those things, and more.
The Smokehouse and Cooler, which opened in 1999 on Shore Drive in Virginia Beach, gives diners a spicy, saucy, sensual taste of national and international cuisines, coupled with great drinks and great times.
Diners got a little education about The Smokehouse and Cooler when it was featured on the Food Network’s “The Best Of” show, highlighting best barbecue bites. The show, which originally aired in 2002, continues to be rebroadcast occasionally. The Smokehouse and Cooler was one of only five restaurants highlighted on the program, and the only one in the Mid-Atlantic.
The eatery has also been recognized two years in a row as one of the 50 best restaurants in Hampton Roads by Hampton Roads Magazine, the region’s city and lifestyle magazine.
“We really appreciate the attention,” said Chef Rob.
And customers appreciate the cuisine, from an appetizer of Crispy Beef Eggrolls, a dish made famous by Chef Rob on the Food Network to delicious lamb, chicken, salmon, pork and steak entrees to a great selection of beer, wine and cocktails.
There are also nightly chef specials, Rib Night on Tuesday and Prime Rib Night on Thursday.
“I’m always trying to find new ideas for customers to try,” said Chef Rob.
Brothers J. P., Dan and Rob Murphy partnered up to make their notion of a chic beach eatery with national and international cuisine a reality. “We like to do smoked, grilled and barbecued food from around the world,” said Chef Rob, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). “We’re not just a barbecue joint. We like to work with different cuisines. We have lots of Asian, Caribbean, Cajun, and Creole dishes on our menu.”
Chef Rob said there is a commonality in many of the world’s cuisines where similar ingredients like peppers and spices are used. Those flavors, he said, work well with the methods of smoking and grilling.
After graduating from CIA, Chef Rob worked at the Ritz Carlton in Houston and was “surrounded by Texas barbecue.” That experience, coupled with visits to Japan, Korea, Australia and South America during his four years in the Coast Guard, was a major influence in opening the eatery.
J. P. had experience in the hospitality industry too: he has worked at several local hot spots such as The Edge and Worrell Brothers bartending and running the front-of-the-house. In fact, J. P. has been an icon in Virginia Beach for more than 15 years.
It was Chef Rob’s idea for the “smokehouse” and J.P.’s concept of creating the “cooler” side of the restaurant, the bar, along with assistance and ideas from Dan that made the whole thing gel.
“I knew that one day J. P. and I would get together,” said Chef Rob.
The brothers opened their eatery in a cozy corner of the Lynnhaven Beach Square Shopping Center (between the church and sports bar).
Menu selections have gone through a renovation recently as has the rest of the restaurant, but Chef Rob stays true to the concept of The Smokehouse and Cooler by offering multicultural cuisine with a bit of heat and a bit of spice.
Some new additions are a nod to those eating fewer carbohydrates, including a duck dish with non-starch side items.
“People on Atkins or other diets, we try to accommodate any way we can,” said Chef Rob. “Some people come to us very health conscious, wanting to eat healthy, while some want to sit down and eat a whole rack of ribs. They can do either here.”
In addition to accommodating special needs, Chef Rob says he also tries to expand his customer’s tastes. An example: recently with a marinated boneless leg of lamb, Chef Rob added as a side, along with grilled yellow squash and zucchini, mashed sweet potatoes with a hint of truffles shaved into the starch.
“Someone might say, ‘Oh, I don’t think I’d like truffles,’ but they might like sweet potatoes, and give it a try. Then they might find out they like truffles after all,” he said. “It’s all about educating the consumer.”
– Patrick Evans-Hylton
Restaurant & Menu Guide