The customers are lining up at Hambone Opera in the Trenton Farmers Market. They can’t get enough of “Smoke Chef Jeff” McKay’s barbecue specialties. The tempting smoky aroma (“It’s the cherry wood and the seasoning,” reports Chef Jeff) invites them in, and then they receive a sample. After that, they’re hooked!
Opened in April at the popular Farmers Market at 960 Spruce Street in Trenton, the new Hambone Opera BBQ offers a variety of favorites. Pulled pork, beef brisket, baby back ribs, and Smoke Chef Jeff’s special Smoke House beans and cole slaw are all on the menu. Available in sandwiches or platters, they tempt the taste buds both of seasoned barbecue aficionados and those new to this culinary experience.
Reviews from food critics and the public alike have been showering Chef Jeff with compliments, and he is delighted with the response and with his location. “I liked the idea of being in the Trenton Farmers Market. It’s a very popular place, with lots of people here all the time.”
Smoke Chef Jeff has a history and love of barbecue. Originally from Michigan, he spent 17 years in Texas, perfecting the art. “It was there I learned how to smoke a barbecue,” he explains. “Later, I worked with Billy Bones, the BBQ Legend in Michigan. He was my guru.”
Smoke Chef Jeff came to New Jersey in 2009, and decided he wanted to bring his special brand of barbecue to the Garden State. The decision was clearly the right one. It has been successful beyond his expectations, and he is making new friends and fans all the time.
If they wonder about the unusual name of his establishment, he explains that he and friends used to get together in years past and enjoy making music and cooking up barbecue. “My specialty was playing the spoons!”
“Most customers who come in are familiar with barbecue, while some others are new to it,” he says. “The first-timers are so impressed they always come back for more. They are all ages, including families with children. The other day there were two four-year-old twin girls dipping ribs right into the hot sauce!
“Everything is a specialty,” he continues. “The pulled pork is perhaps the most popular with customers, but they really like everything. They come in and tell me ‘There is no BBQ like mine.’ It’s my ingredients. I use nothing but cherry wood logs in an off-set fire box. Slow cooking is the key. And it’s all the love and care I put into it. The brisket takes 12 to 13 hours to prepare and the pork 12 hours. I really love to do it. Ever since I was a kid, I had my head over the grill. I have even designed grills.”
Chef Jeff looks forward to even more customers discovering the tangy taste of his BBQ specialties, and he is available for fund-raisers, block parties, graduations, and as he says, “Any Event, Any Time!”
“I am happy the catering has started to do well. We have already had seven jobs in the very short time I’ve been open, and I look forward to many more. I think barbecue is so popular because it tastes good, and it’s true American cooking. Also, we are very focused here; it’s just barbecue. People say why not have tacos or French fries? But barbecue is what I do, and I want to offer the best barbecue there is. Things are going so well. I am very encouraged.”
Seating is available for 20 at Hambone Opera, as well as additional room for four to stand at the counter. Prices include $7 for a pulled pork sandwich ($9 for a platter), $8 for beef brisket sandwich ($10 for a platter), $10 for baby back ribs. Platters are served with Smoke House beans and cole slaw. All the specialties are also available by the pound.
“I want people to know they will have the best BBQ here. I use real wood logs; seasonings are mild, medium, and hot. I already have so many repeat customers, we must be doing it right!”
Hambone Opera is open Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (609) 325-7357.