Smoke BBQ Brings Southern Cooking to Downtown Audubon


Aaron Clark’s fast-casual barbecue eatery will open up shop in the former Crux Cafe building October 16.

By Matt Skoufalos | October 12, 2017

Aaron Clark at the counter of Smoke BBQ in Audubon. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Although big changes are still marinating in the Audubon business district, one of its newest additions is ready to serve.

Smoke BBQ, a fast-casual, family restaurant replacing Crux Cafe at the corner of West Merchant Street and East Atlantic Avenue, opens its doors Monday, October 16.

In the past two months, chef Aaron Clark and his parents, Jim and Susanne, said they’ve been warmly welcomed by the neighborhood.

Having shored up the restaurant from the foundation to the roof, they’re now ready to offer Audubon a taste of Southern hospitality.

Since 2001, Aaron Clark has worked in prominent Philadelphia restaurants like Gayle, Rae, and Parc. But in a household with three young children to mind, having his own place was always a distant dream.

Two years ago, however, his parents joined him in New Jersey to be closer to their grandchildren, and “the time just got right.”

Smoke BBQ in Audubon. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Arriving in Haddon Heights from North Carolina was the latest in a lifelong series of moves for Jim and Susanne, who’ve lived everywhere from Pennsylvania to Texas.

They picked up a number of cooking influences along the way, but no matter where they resided, “We would gravitate to the barbecue,” Susanne Clark said.

Regional variations on those barbecue staples inform the down-home recipes at Smoke: macaroni and cheese, baked beans and cornbread, slow-cooked, beef brisket prepared Texas-style.

Aaron Clark spent months refining a trio of house-made barbecue sauces in his Haddonfield test kitchen. There’s a sweet, vinegar-based, Carolina-style sauce; a spicy, mustard-based, chili-infused sauce; and an espresso-infused sauce that lends a distinct depth of flavor to the brisket.

Barbecued chicken, cornbread, baked beans, and potato salad at Smoke BBQ. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

“You’re hitting sweet, you’re hitting savory, you’re getting the right tang from the vinegar,” Aaron Clark said.

“But if we’re doing our job properly, the meat will not need sauce. That’s the goal for us.”

For ribs, the first step towards getting there is starting with Duroc heritage pork.

Noted for its marbled fat, the quality of the meat is “the difference between filet mignon and sirloin,” Jim Clark said.

“It dissolves in your mouth,” he said.

Fat content and distribution are critical to surviving a 12-hour slow cook: the better the meat is marbled with fat, the better the end result. Since every barbecue recipe only turns on a handful of key ingredients, each one matters.

Colorful posters add to the ambience at Smoke BBQ in Audubon. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

“With barbecue in general, there’s no real mystery to it,” Aaron Clark said.

“Everybody has ribs, chicken, brisket. You’re using the same bases for sauces; the same seasonings on your rubs.

“It’s our commitment to freshness and the quality of our product that we think will be our differentiating factor.”

With recipes fully tweaked and the building completed, the Clarks are working to cultivate a casual, quick-serve dining experience at Smoke.

There’s no wait staff or table service.

Livestock-themed concert posters add to the colorful décor—“If we smoke ‘em, they make the wall,” Aaron Clark said—which also includes classic rock tunes.

“I just want people to be relaxed,” he said.

“We’re a casual place. We want people with families to feel comfortable.”

Smoke BBQ is located at 34 West Merchant Street in Audubon. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, starting October 16. For more information, call 856-672-0007.

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