Four years ago, Hillel Braun was working in the construction business. He’d always loved cooking, but not in a way that would’ve distinguished him from any number of people you might know. That’s when he got into smoking meat.
He started off small. Making charcuterie boards for Shabbat became a side job that was enjoyable for Braun, but it wasn’t something he was planning on expanding anytime soon. That is until COVID-19 came along. Being out of work from his day job led to Braun having time to focus on his side job.
“I decided to put my heart and soul into it and do it full time,” said Braun, who started to build quite the customer base in short order.
Soon enough, his house was no longer a viable option for Smokey Hill and he started looking for an industrial kitchen space to rent. But after months of trying to figure out how to make it work, he wasn’t having much luck.
That’s when he was approached by someone in the restaurant business. It wasn’t long until Smokey Hill was opening its doors as the only fine dining restaurant with a focus on smoked meats in the kosher world.
When I was invited to Smokey Hill, the first thing I noticed was the smoke. While not visible, the smoky smell will certainly hit your nostrils when you first walk in the door. That smell is sure to get your mouth watering as you sit down and try to make some tough decisions about what to order.
The Buttersoft Brisket is a must-have item if you’re looking for the full smokehouse experience. Served with pickle and slaw, this brisket is smoked for 18 hours and sliced beautifully before it gets to your table. As soft as its name promises, the fat cap helps contain the deep smoky flavor that makes brisket a staple of the smoked meat menu.
Looking for something you won’t find anywhere else? The Chitacos are grilled tacos (kind of like a quesadilla) filled with pulled smoked chicken. The juicy center has a mild smoked taste and pairs perfectly with the crispiness of the grilled tortilla that comes out as a happy medium between a hard and soft taco.
I’d also suggest you try the chili, which means ordering the El Paso Chili Nachos or the Rancher Chili Fries depending on your preference. Either way, if chili is something you enjoy, you’ll want to try Braun’s version. The secret recipe has so many ingredients that he wouldn’t say much, though he did reveal that he uses house-ground prime beef.
What you order for your main is really a question of what road you want to venture down. If meat on bread is your goal, there are a handful of choices, but I suggest the Sliding Smoke Stack. This sandwich features a sturdy bun with a smoky duo of pulled brisket and sliced sausage, finished with house slaw and barbeque sauce. It’s a hefty sandwich (and it comes with a side of house-made french fries) that could be a meal on its own and you’d go home happy. With a brilliant mix of textures and well-balanced flavors, you won’t regret your order.
If it’s chicken you’re after, be prepared to choose. Grilled or fried? Smoked or not? White or dark? If you want it, they make it.The Smoked Fried Chicken is my personal choice. Two boneless dark cutlets are smoked before being fried, leading to a deep smoky flavor inside of a crunchy exterior that will have you relishing every bite. The fries come along for the ride, but it’s the chicken for which it is worth crossing the road.
While my previous recommendations are worthwhile, the last two fall into the “you only live once” category. Despite my petitions, very few restaurants have a section of the menu just for ribs. Choosing one item might be tough, but go with the Dino Rib. This long rib is smoked in Braun’s secret dry rub and served with potato wedges and an assortment of grilled vegetables. When I say the meat was falling off the bone, I’m being factually accurate. The meat fell off the bone in one big chunk while in transit to my table. It was so soft that you could’ve served it with a spoon, and the flavor was simply superb.
Finally we arrive at the Pitmaster’s Cowboy Steak. If you’ve never had smoked steak, it’s an interesting experience. Steak obviously takes more chewing than other foods, so it’s amazing if you really enjoy the smoke flavor as it’s truly integrated deep into the meat. Braun smokes this 28 oz steak low and slow so it can be finished with a sear of your order. It also comes with the potato wedges and grilled vegetables, though you’ll likely be too preoccupied by the steak to notice.
At Smokey Hill, everything is crafted with intention. From the lanterns on the table to the house-made peach iced tea, Braun has put a lot of time into his restaurant. And to think, only a few years ago it was just a side job.
Meat - Southern Steakhouse -
Sunday - Thursday:
5:30 p.m. - 10 p.m.
681 River Avenue
Lakewood, NJ 08701
Kashrut Council of Lakewood (KCL)
Nati Burnside is a freelance writer living in Fair Lawn and is a man of many interests. He can be reached at [email protected]