by catherine de orio | July 2, 2013 | Food & Drink
Barbecue tri-tips with creamy cheese grits and mac and cheese.
The first Vegas location, at the District.
The décor mixes Americana and Southern flair.
The Southern Pride smoker at Lucille’s adds to the authenticity.
You can’t get more Southern than a mint julep.
The South is known for many things, but it may be most beloved for its charming hospitality, of which serving heaping helpings of comfort food is the cornerstone. And that is what Craig Hofman, founder and owner of Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que, set out to do in Las Vegas in 2004 when he opened a Lucille’s in The District at Green Valley Ranch in Henderson. Locals have been so welcoming over the years that he has now decided to extend that hospitality to Summerlin this summer.
Before opening his first Lucille’s, in Long Beach, California, Hofman took to the road, gathering information and inspiration as he sampled barbecue in the Carolinas, Texas, Tennessee, and many spots in between. “When I went to visit all of these places, I had good barbecue, but it was all in small shacks or in the ’hood,” he says. “I wanted something a little more upscale.” So when he returned home, he hired Executive Chef Chris Ferrell and set to work bringing authentic barbecue to the West.
Barbecue aficionados are a passionate bunch, filled with regional pride and unwavering opinions on which animals to cook and which parts, what type of wood to use and which sauce. Lucille’s, however, is a melting pot of barbecue, offering the best from each region rather than focusing on one style. “We didn’t want to just be a Texas barbecue,” Hofman says. “We wanted to have a little from the South, too.” So what does that mean for the diner? St. Louis–style spareribs neatly trimmed, rubbed with seasoning mix, and served with the restaurant’s original sweet, tomato-based, Carolina-style barbecue sauce, as well as Texas-style certified Angus beef brisket that’s slowsmoked for hours until it’s perfectly tender, then handcarved and served with the mop sauce (a thinner sauce usually used to baste meats).
The original Lucille’s menu has been expanded to include Southern staples like fried chicken and New Orleans cuisine such as jambalaya and gumbo. The barbecued meats, however, remain the stars. In true Southern style, Lucille’s welcomes diners to the table with a basket of homemade biscuits, accompanied by addictive apple butter. Cornmeal-crusted fried green tomatoes and spicy fried dill pickles are popular picks for starters. And of course, Hofman adds, “Southerners are passionate about their sides.” With selections like creamy cheese grits and macaroni and cheese, as well as honeyroasted peanut slaw and fresh watermelon, there’s something for everyone (and with dinner you get to choose two). Although the portions are generous, be sure to save room for decadent desserts like bread pudding made with sourdough bread, sweet custard, peaches, and pecans, all drizzled with warm bourbon sauce. Wash it down with mason jars of sweet tea or strawberry lemonade.
Because authenticity is the number-one priority at Lucille’s, there is a Southern Pride smoker in the heart of the dining room, and customers can watch as it’s loaded with wood. A chalkboard hanging nearby records how long each piece of meat has been cooking. “Low and slow” cooking—at a low temperature for a long time—renders the meat meltingly tender and imparts the distinct smokiness of true barbecue. “We smoke with hickory wood, which gives the smoky flavor,” Hofman says. “It’s a great way to eat meat.” The smoker also entertains children, who get a kick out of ringing the cowbell hanging above it as food is being loaded inside.
All of these little touches add to the restaurant’s warm, homey feeling. “The food had to be great,” Hofman says, “but I wanted to give it a really good ambience as well.” The décor is a mix of Americana and objects chosen for their Southern flair, with some commissioned original pieces from Southern artists. While blues music is piped through the restaurant’s speakers during the week, blues musicians perform in the bar—affectionately named the Flying Pig Lounge—on Saturday nights. The familiar look and feel of Lucille’s will be maintained in the Summerlin location.
“Barbecue is real American food,” Hofman says. “We didn’t borrow it from someone else.” So it fits right in in a city that could have been imagined only in America. 2245 Village Walk Dr., 702-257-7427, and 11011 W. Charleston Blvd., 702-288-7427
photography by sabin orr