Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, January 25, 2006
The Smoke Pit’s Sam Gibbins has a simple mantra: ‘Good service, good food, good-looking women.’
The Hillbilly Hooters?

Sam Gibbins’ Smoke Pit barbecue joint isn’t just \r\nabout the view.


The Smoke Pit

2401 E Belknap St, FW. 817-222-0455. Mon-Thu 10:30am-8pm, Fri 10:30am-9pm, closed Sun. All major credit cards accepted.

It’s early in the lunch hour at The Smoke Pit, and on a table in front of me sits a huge, 2-inch-thick pork chop — one and a-half pounds of juicy, tender meat spiced up with a chili-powder dry rub. The slab is accompanied by creamy handmade cole slaw and potato salad.

But as tasty as the food looks, it’s only half the reason some of us are willing to cross the Trinity River from downtown to visit this place on East Belknap. The other half: the scantily dressed and bodacious waitresses.

As I’m sitting there talking with Sam Gibbins, one of the restaurant’s owners, I’m having a hard time staying focused on him, and he knows but doesn’t seem to mind. At one point during our conversation, one of the waitresses comes over and asks me if I want a hug. Sure, I say, and then proceed to get up out of my chair. No, no, she says — stay in your seat. She then grabs the back of my head and shoves my face between her ample breasts, knocking my eyeglasses askew and leaving me with a big, sloppy smile.

Gibbins is pleased: In a world of Hooters, Coyote Ugly, and other chain establishments that rely on attractive women to keep the cash registers a-ringin’, The Smoke Pit is an anachronism, an independently owned cheesecake factory. How Gibbins manages to compete with the chains and their huge advertising budgets is simple: Treat the talent with respect, make sure the food tastes good, and help out in the community. “Good service, good food, good-looking women,” he said. “But we don’t hire women here who don’t have great personalities.”

Gibbins’ girls are also like down-home versions of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders — they’re often called on to pitch in after-hours with some of the charity events that The Smoke Pit sponsors.

Since taking over the 53-year-old joint in 2001, Gibbins and his partners have been cruising right along, even though none of them had much restaurant experience. The only — and biggest — snafu happened a few years ago, when Gibbins had an altercation with two vending machine company employees. A former Golden Gloves boxer, Gibbins won the fight but not the purse. The case, he says, is still in litigation, and all he would say about it is that it’s “been a nightmare.” The fight gets a spirited re-telling in a court document from the appeal hearing: “Gibbins [was] the last man standing. Gibbins and three eye witnesses testified that [Gregory S.] Berlin and [Robert M.] Merz started the altercation when Berlin shoved Gibbins, but Berlin and Merz claimed Gibbins ‘sucker punched’ them without warning. The fight consisted of two punches. Gibbins, a former golden glove [sic] fighter, hit Berlin once and broke his jaw and then hit Merz and broke his jaw. They were both down and out.”

Married and with a 9-year-old son, Gibbins spends most of his time at work fine-tuning the restaurant. The brisket is smoked for 16 hours. The resulting chopped beef sandwich, smoky but not drowning in sauce, is one of the best and most affordable I’ve ever had — Gibbins says it sells out every day. The hot links are also meaty and not greasy, and the ribs are big and chewy but tender.

The walls of the homey-looking joint are hung with a couple of plasma-screen televisions, and the internet jukebox contains about 350,000 songs. The early lunch crowd consists of many blue-collar folks, while a little later in the afternoon brings the suits. As expected, the crowd is mostly guys, but a lot of women also eat at The Smoke Pit, giving credence to the notion that Gibbins’ place isn’t all about the waitresses.

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