published Friday, June 21st, 2013

Smoke on the Water Boathouse Grill makes waves at Hales Bar Marina


by Drew Johnson
  • photo
    A specialty at Smoke on the Water, Da Smokehouse Porker is a half-pound burger topped with the restaurant’s own pulled pork, shredded cheeses and a house barbecue sauce for $9.95.
    Photo by David Barto

IF YOU GO

* Where: Smoke on the Water Boathouse Grill, 1265 Hales Bar Road, Guild, Tenn.

* Phone: 423-602-7626.

* Website: www.smokeonthewaterboat housegrill.com.

* Hours: 5-11 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday; 5 p.m.-midnight Friday; 8:30 a.m.-midnight Saturday-Sunday.

* Price range: $3.95 (cup of soup)-$19.95 (filet mignon).

* Directions: From Chattanooga, take I-24 west to the Shellmound Road exit (Exit 161) at Nickajack Lake; exit right on Shellmound Road; at end of road, turn left on state Highway 134 (J.E. Clouse Highway); at end of road, turn right on U.S. Highway 41 (also routes of state Highway 2 and U.S. 64 and 72) and go 1.3 miles; turn left onto Hales Bar Road; restaurant will be on right.

What feels more like summer than sitting by the lake, grilling up a few steaks or burgers? Smoke on the Water Boathouse Grill, which opened in May on Nickajack Lake, takes care of the grilling, allowing patrons to sit back and take in the views in a reformatted houseboat docked at Hales Bar Marina.

Smoke on the Water is the brainchild of John Lopopolo, formerly an executive chef at Chattanooga’s Mount Vernon Restaurant. Lopopolo has refocused his skills and attention on creating a steak, burger and barbecue restaurant in a laid-back marina atmosphere, a stone’s throw from Hales Bar Dam.

On a recent Sunday, Sarah (the wife-to-be) and I took the half-hour drive from Chattanooga to try it out.

THE MENU

You don’t call a restaurant a “grill” if you’re not going to place a special emphasis on grilling. Smoke on the Water does just that, featuring grilled steaks and burgers, as well as slow-smoked ribs, pork shoulder, pulled pork, beef brisket and hickory chicken prepared in the restaurant’s dockside smoker.

The menu offerings go far beyond the grill and smoker, however. Appetizers tend toward upscale bar food, such as crab cakes, hand-battered onion rings, loaded potato skins, smoked chicken wings, buffalo shrimp, stuffed mushrooms and nachos.

Salads, including an appetizing concoction of mixed greens, seared shrimp, smoked mozzarella, black olives, diced tomatoes and tobacco onions, dot the menu. Fried seafood po’ boys and a Black Angus French dip are among the sandwiches.

The Nickajack Chicken Rockefeller — a sautéed chicken breast, glazed with mozzarella and topped with applewood bacon, creamed spinach and mushroom — came highly recommended, as did the Tennessee whiskey pork chop. A limited seafood menu, a soup of the day, a few varieties of hand-tossed pizza and a couple of desserts round out the menu.

THE ORDER

Sarah and I began our meal by sharing drunken shrimp ($8.95). The dozen large shell-on shrimp were steamed in Corona beer and spices. While well-prepared, the shrimp direly lacked seasoning. The spices promised on the menu’s description were imperceptible, leaving the shrimp bland. Fortunately, the horseradish-spiked cocktail sauce provided a much-needed kick.

Since steaks and burgers are claimed as specialties, we got one of each. Sarah ordered the 8-ounce grilled filet mignon ($19.95). I chose Da Smokehouse Porker, a half-pound burger topped with pulled pork, shredded cheeses and a house barbecue sauce ($9.95).

Sarah’s filet came out a little more done than the medium-rare we requested but was juicy, tender and captured the great smoky char flavor of the grill. Unfortunately, the steak lacked the rich, beefy flavor expected in a filet. Sarah noted it tasted a little “gray” and had the unfresh taste of a school cafeteria hamburger. Maybe the steak had been frozen, or it wasn’t a great piece of beef to begin with, but the meat itself failed to do the preparation justice.

The pulled pork and barbecue sauce were the highlight of the hamburger. The hamburger patty was overcooked and unimpressive. But the pork was moist and bathed in a mild smoke flavor. The house-made barbecue sauce was thick, almost like a jelly, and provided a sweet heat that compensated for the burger’s lack of flavor. We made quick work of the french fries that accompanied the burger. They are battered before frying, giving them an inviting crunch.

We finished the meal with the Tennessee River Mud Pie ($4.95), which turned out to be the high point of the meal. The filling has the same gooey texture as an undercooked brownie. The pie is topped with marshmallows and chocolate chips partially melted with a brulée torch, uniting with the graham-cracker crust to create an improvised s’more. It might just be the best dessert in the area.

THE SERVICE

After a noticeable wait to be greeted and receive our menus (we seated ourselves), the service was friendly, attentive and expeditious. Business was slow, and servers outnumbered customers two-to-one.

THE SPACE

The lakefront setting is the star of the show at Smoke on the Water. The top level, which is partially open to invite lake views and breezes, features a jukebox and a number of TVs tuned to sports coverage.

Wooden booths and AstroTurf flooring dominate the space, meaning that still-damp swimmers and jet skiers are welcome.

THE VERDICT

For a restaurant open barely a month, Smoke on the Water is showing great promise. Lopopolo has proven in the past that he knows how to turn out great meals, and the relaxing location is tough to beat.

Hopefully, Smoke on the Water can address the issues of flavor and spice that held back a few of its plates while continuing to produce the great barbecue pork and amazing desserts we experienced. If it does, a meal will be worth the drive to Hales Bar Marina, and the restaurant will survive even when the boaters have gone home for the winter.

Contact Drew Johnson at djohnson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6300.

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