Steven Goldsmith is used to people driving for hours to order his food. Families regularly travel once or twice a month from Seattle, Bend, Eugene. Phone calls come in from across the country—the world actually—to confirm his hours and whether takeout is an option.
Holy Smokes Righteous Eats (3975 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, holysmokes.house) has won no prestigious culinary awards nor boasts an opulent dining room. In fact, the handful of wooden folding chairs wedged between the candy-apple red trailer that serves as the kitchen and the neighboring gas station convenience store may mean your lunch comes with a whiff of unleaded.
What’s driving crowds to Goldsmith’s business on the far edges of Southwest Portland is that he’s making barbecue that abides by Jewish dietary restrictions. Holy Smokes is one of only four kosher food trucks Goldsmith knows of in the nation—though that’s not what he set out to be known for.
“The whole idea was to be barbecue first,” he explains. “A Jewish person who hasn’t had beef ribs in forever, if at all, is an easy mark. So if the barbecue wasn’t competitive as far as quality and taste, I wasn’t going to fool the non-Jewish people.”
Launching a restaurant is tough enough, but abiding by the rules of kosher cooking laid out in the Old Testament present an additional set of challenges. Supervision of the meat is key—Holy Smokes’ supplier is a kosher distributor in Seattle that brings everything from beef ribs (pork is forbidden) to brisket straight to the trailer. But using kosher protein isn’t the only step. A mashgiach who both observes the kashrut (Jewish dietary law) and shomer shabbos (the sabbath) must oversee the whole operation.
“He lights our fires and supervises that the vegetable material is clear of insects,” Goldsmith says, “which is ironic, because in any other business chopping heads of lettuce, and you had any moral compass, if there was something wrong with it, you wouldn’t serve it. Because of the kashrut, we have to go the extra step to make sure our vegetables are clean to prescription.”
The barbecue itself attracts a varied crowd. Whether he’s interacting with 21 yeshiva students on a road trip or the autistic man who orders brisket for his dog, Goldsmith swears he’s seen enough colorful characters to launch a sitcom. What’s best, though, is when kosher adherents bite into his barbecue for the first time.
“They’re so giddy,” Goldsmith says. “Reluctant at first, and then all of a sudden they eat. They’re planning their next visit.”