The Rim Country has never been known for great barbecue. We have a popular Thai restaurant and a few good Mexican and Italian establishments, but taste buds were bereft of smoked meats.
After the quick departure of MoJoe’s Grill in Payson, any resemblance of a smokehouse could not be found for miles, until the recent opening of the Pine Creek Smokehouse in Pine, 3885 N. Highway 87; (928) 476-6577.
Tucked in a nondescript building in the center of Pine’s main drag, the restaurant is putting out surprisingly tasty hand-smoked meats.
Evident from diners’ empty dishes, everything is amazing.
Sharon and Gary Zimmerman, part-time Pine residents, said the shaved prime rib sandwiches were some of the best.
“That was awesome,” Sharon said pushing back a clean plate. “I will definitely come back.”
Elsewhere around the restaurant, diners wore similar smiles of contentment.
The couple running the joint, Billy and Harley Searles, said the response from the community has been surprisingly great.
Business was so good, they nearly ran out of supplies three days after opening their doors May 1.
Asked if they consider their barbecue more Memphis or Kansas City style, the couple said they are doing their own thing and calling it Pine style.
On Thursday, Harley’s talkative son Nik Searles won diners over behind the counter with his southern drawl and charm. After living in Memphis for the last few years, Searles said he is happy to be living in a small town again and working in a job where he can make people smile.
Nic already has a few devoted customers. Reportedly, two teenage girls from Payson drove up after they heard from friends the restaurant had the hottest waiter in Pine.
Harley said she doesn’t let the episode go to her son’s head given the fact he is probably one of the only male waiters in Pine.
But back to the meat.
Pit master Billy said he smokes ham, prime rib, brisket, salmon, pork tenderloin and ribs every day in two small smokers.
Eventually, the couple plans to build a larger smokehouse so in the wintertime they can sell whole hams and turkeys for the holidays.
Some of the restaurant’s top sellers include the BBQ beef brisket sandwich and shaved prime rib sandwich, each $8.95. Sides abound, but the onion petals, with a slight spicy taste, top the list.
Nic said he loves the food so much he eats as many as three shaved prime rib sandwiches a day.
And who could blame him. Each bite is pumped full of the smoky flavor and tenderness that diners should expect.
Another crowd-pleaser has been the stuffed steak burgers. Diners have their choice of nine stuffing items, including bacon, green chilies, jalapenos or cheese. A patty is put on the grill, the stuffing item of choice added and then another patty placed on top.
For Harley, this is her second restaurant. She owned a restaurant/bar in Mayer, Ariz. After leaving the business, Harley said she knew she wanted to open another restaurant, but was not sure where.
Last summer, she worked at the Nifty 50’s Diner and learned the business was for sale.
When she heard Nifty 50s had closed several months ago, Harley made the decision to buy it and convert it into a smokehouse restaurant.
The transition from diner to smokehouse has been smooth in part thanks to the owners of Pine Creek Cabins. A cozy four-cabin vacation rental complex sits behind the restaurant.
Linda Lee Hoff, who owns both the cabins and the restaurant’s property, has been great to work with, Harley said.
For more information on the Pine Creek Cabins, visit www.pinecreek cabinsaz.com or call (928) 970-9511.
The Pine Creek Smokehouse is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.