221 Pantigo Road
Monday to Friday from 5 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday from noon
So first, a little background. Turtle Crossing, which for years served up delicious Southwestern barbecue and other cowpoke grub, was transformed a few years ago into Turtle Crossing American Bistro. Gone were the cornball signs and signature dishes. Gone too, were the fans of the original. The owner, Stanley Singer, then sold the restaurant to his longtime chef, Arthur Wolf, who this season has reopened the space as Smokin’ Wolf.
Some of the American Bistro interior renovations remain, large comfortable red Naugahyde booths, hanging light fixtures with big black shades, and nice wood plank floors. Some smoky mirrors have been added and the bar is bigger and prettier with a copper-topped surface. The only remaining kitschy elements are a startlingly ugly cement bulldog wearing a cowboy hat at the entrance and some suede chaps hanging on a hook by the door, as if Rusty and Slim just stopped by after ropin’ some city slickers.
We began our meal with the hushpuppies, arugula salad, and the barbecued pulled duck quesadilla. The hushpuppies, 10 huge ones, were served with a chipotle mayonnaise and they were delicious. Crunchy cornmeal on the outside, moist with cheese and scallions on the inside. The arugula salad was lighter and more sophisticated than one would expect from a barbecue joint. The baby arugula leaves were mixed with slivers of endive and radicchio and bits of roasted cherry tomatoes. They kindly substituted goat cheese for the gorgonzola, which went very nicely with the simple vinaigrette.
The barbecued pulled duck quesadilla is one of the returning stars from the old Turtle Crossing and it has always been one of my favorites, almost like Peking duck in a flour tortilla. It is filled with smoked duck meat, sautéed mushrooms, and what tastes like a bit of hoisin sauce, adding a touch of sweetness.
For entrees we ordered the Six Gun loaded baked potato, fish tacos, and combination meat platter with one rib added. The Six Gun potato was loaded indeed. It was filled with chopped brisket, perfectly seasoned, melted cheddar cheese, sour cream, barbecue sauce, and scallions. The fish tacos were just right, crisped cod with a judicious amount of tangy crema topped with shredded purple cabbage and julienned carrots. Served alongside was a bowl of yellow rice, appropriately bland, and some outstanding black beans. They were spicy, smoky with bits of meat and a hint of oregano.
Everything on the combination barbecue meat platter was delicious. You can get from two to five choices. We went for three meats, brisket, chicken, and pork, with one rib and two sides, coleslaw and baked beans. All of the meats were tender and smoky. The cornbread served with it, also reminiscent of the original served at Turtle Crossing, was sweet and moist and dense, and the coleslaw was really, really, really good.
Perhaps this would be a good time to point out that Smokin’ Wolf offers many healthy options for those who may not go for the meaty, fried, and cheesy selections that dominate the menu. There are Satur Farms salads, veggie burgers with black beans and sweet potatoes, grilled salmon, pan roasted fish with spinach and quinoa, along with plenty of attractive sounding vegetables sides.
Smokin’ Wolf was very busy on the night of our visit and, as we went on the early side, it was filled with families with small children. The service was excellent and efficient, mostly young staffers who were well trained, busing tables, refilling water glasses, and keeping things moving along. Prices at Smokin’ Wolf are moderate, possibly even more reasonable than Turtle Crossing’s were. Appetizers, quesadillas, and salads are $5 to $15, sandwiches, barbecue platters, and entrees are $14 to $34, sides are $7, and desserts are $8. I guarantee you will get enough food to need a doggy bag for leftovers.
For desserts we tried the key lime pie, “cup of mud,” and fruit crisp. They were good, but perhaps not as good as everything else on the menu. The key lime pie was nice, had a good graham cracker crust, and the filling was dotted with lime zest, a nice addition for extra limey flavor. The cup of mud was hilarious, a layer of crumbled Oreos was topped with chocolate mousse, whipped cream, and warm fudge sauce. The fruit crisp was made with apples, which seems more appropriate for fall and winter, not summer when it could be composed with mixed berries or peaches. It was good nonetheless, with a nicely seasoned filling and crunchy streusel topping.
The loss of Turtle Crossing was sad, the arrival of American Bistro a mistake. The new incarnation is most welcome. Congratulations, Mr. Wolf, your place is smokin’!