Don’t let the long line snaking through the parking lot scare you off — in fact, consider it validation that you’ve found true barbeque! Grab a paper menu, ask the guy in front of you (who is most likely a regular) for tips and, before you know it, you’ll be bellying up to the bar to order some of the best ‘que in the area.
Sabra Kelley and Tom Montgomery opened 12 Bones Smokehouse two years ago this January. From day one, this little eatery plunked down in a dirt parking lot on Riverside Drive has made Asheville buzz. You’ll see white collar, blue collar and everyone in between plowing their way through the generous portions served in deep metal platters.
Tom is the keeper of the pit, slow smoking upwards of 250 pounds of pork butt every night over hardwood. He keeps turkey, chicken, beef brisket and baby back ribs on the smoke as well. From there, you can have it your way — in a sandwich, salad, on a platter with sides or by the pound. “We go through so much of it that it’s always fresh, never dried out,” says Sabra. Get saucy with several choices (the meat is generally spiced, but not sauced) that range from brown sugar to jalapeno. New sauces make their way into the mix of standards and have recently included butterscotch and a blueberry-chipotle blend.
The blackboard above the counter top offers about ten regular sides that customers have made impossible to rotate. There are always several new choices that vary according to the season, so you can always count on a variety of difficult decisions to make. Thomas Ward, a culinary student at A-B Tech, generally goes for the smoked turkey sandwich. “They make their own pesto mayo. It’s my favorite, ” he says. His friend Jessie Curcio regularly orders pulled pork, corn pudding and jalapeno grits. She loves the fact that 12 Bones is “incredibly fast and the owners are really nice.” Last, but not least, Thomas adds, “They have great local beer on tap!” Pisgah Pale Ale is the most popular draught and stays available year-round with seasonal brews making cameo appearances throughout the months.
Tom and Sabra have been in the restaurant business for years and make everything from scratch. In order for a dish to make it to their blackboard, it goes through taste-testing by the staff to make sure it passes muster. Sabra says, “Our sides are good and consistent. We have a lot of repeat customers who value that consistency.”
Straightforward classics get punched up with a little something extra, such as white cheddar mac n’cheese, sun dried tomato pesto in the smoked mushroom salad and cornbread sausage stuffing with fresh herbs.
My personal favorites were the jalapeno grits, mashed sweet taters and the slightly sweet oversized chunk of cornbread. And while I am a fan of Tom’s pulled pork, I voted the baby back ribs number one in the oinker category, tender and falling off the bone. I’m a wimp and mop everything in a traditional sweet sauce, but the jalapeno, complete with seeds, will knock your socks off if you like that level of heat.
Even the desserts are hand-made; local baker Bettie Rost bakes up pecan and key lime pies for the restaurant and cookies are made in-house. Cobblers and banana pudding have been known to make appearances as well. “Our goal is to create wholesome, basic food…the best we can,” says Tom about the care they take in making everything the old-fashioned way.
This is an informal lunch spot that provides lots of paper towels to catch any wayward sauce and you can eat inside or venture out to a large, covered area with picnic tables to the side of the restaurant. It’s a perfect place for large groups or families to feel comfortable and relaxed as they clean those bones. And, speaking of large parties, Tom and Sabra can accommodate take-out for up to 150 people or more.
“It’s worth planning your day around 12 Bones — they are open only during the week, from 11am – 4pm. Tom wanted “something low key and mellow.” So, although they could pack the house till the wee hours, you’ll have to content yourself with a hearty lunch that will linger on your taste buds for hours to come.
12 Bones Smokehouse, 5 Riverside Drive • Asheville 828-253-4499