We All Set Sail for Smalley’s

Their burger and hot dog buns come branded. Ahoy!

Shortly after I moved into a room of his house back in 2010, my old landlord (Code name: Masseur) took me to what he called “the pirate bar.” It was through Smalley’s Caribbean Barbeque and Pirate Bar that I became initiated with Stillwater’s riverside nightlife; and it’s been to Smalley’s that I’ve brought both sets of parents, my wife’s family, and anyone who had visited me from up north. I’ve rushed friends there and now my friends rush friends there.

Smalley's Caribbean Barbeque and Pirate Bar on UrbanspoonThree years, countless toasts, and dozens of pictures later, my wife and I loafed about our lazy Saturday and needed a change of scenery. Where do you think we ended up?

The Basics: Head chef Shawn Smalley and his crew operate in the first brick building you see if you enter downtown Stillwater from the south. The website is straight-forward and right here. In case you have any doubts about their attention to detail, I offer this nugget from their site: “[Smalley’s brain trust] took a trip to the Caribbean and worked side by side with the locals to harvest the authentic recipes for Smalley’s. In order to replicate these recipes and flavors back home, Jamaican Pimento wood is imported monthly to smoke the meat.”

If you want to eat outside and people-watch, outdoor seating is available in front of the building and right on main drag. A few tables are available on the back deck as well if you’d rather hide. Otherwise, Smalley’s consists of a restaurant connected to a main bar and a separate nightclub where karaoke is held and DJs set up shop. The bar gets cramped on the wrong night, but Smooth and I found a table right away on this afternoon.

Ideally, you would be eating at Smalley’s when the herd is thin and you can soak in the subtle notes of Caribbean matter. The discolored tin ceiling and hanging caged lights incite similes of a ship’s basement, and draw your eyes upward to see little heads carved out of coconuts. At eye level, the subject is supported by pirate-themed bumper stickers slapped up behind the bar and a shriveled-up mannequin watching the jukebox.

Genius Alert!:The bar features a drink board that allows you to surprise an absent friend with a drink on their next visit. Tell the bartender who it’s for, what it is, and who it’s from – simple as that. I would only recommend this to regulars for regulars, however, as an ill-timed entry could spell a free drink for an impostor.

Speaking of drinks, Smalley’s brings in new craft beers regularly and keeps their tap roster well-balanced … but what are you drinking beer for? It’s a pirate bar! Look at the rum list! I find their in-house creation, the Killdevil, a perfect compliment for their jerk-centric menu; Smooth recommends a Shark Attack.

Did you see the menu and get freaked out by its spicy impression? Unfreak yourself; my mother was on a restricted diet after her quadruple bypass and loved her salad. My wife has what she calls “Irish taste buds” and the build-your-own Pirate Burger moistens her every time we fill up here.

Mouth. It moistens her mouth … You know what, let’s move on. Here, let’s talk quickly about the jalapeños they offer free for the asking.

The jalapeños are two things: A cost-effective way to haze the first-timers, and a Price is Right game for your tongue. Is it going to be a dud, or is your nose going to be running for the next half-hour? Only one way to find out!

Back to Saturday’s trip, a game-changer because it put us into bed with new favorites on the menu. I was about to write “Smooth took a gamble on the tater tots” but really, tater tots a gamble? Well, she hit the jackpot if it was; it took her three hours to stop talking about them.

I dove into the pick-three barbecue combo, eschewing my tendency to roll with the burger, and I may never look back. I chose chicken, pulled pork shoulder, and shrimp; and tabbed the mac-n-cheese and beer-battered plank fries as my two sides. It came with a slice of cornbread. LOOK OUT BELOW!

Note: You can choose the sauce your food is seasoned with, and an Irish-taste-bud-friendly sauce is available. I dialed up the medium.

My lunch was was like drawing six aces. Ever ordered beer-battered fries and actually tasted beer? I can now say I have. I used the shrimp to sample Smalley’s other custom sauces, and the shrimp went well with the Scotchie’s hot sauce. The pork had a subtle kick by itself, but I ran that through the Scotchie’s and really detonated its taste. Pro-tip: Mix a little in with your mac. The chicken was the star: Bloused in jerk sauce, flavorful and moist, this bad-cop partner to Good Earth Cafe’s blood orange chicken had me tearing away at its bones like a Nordic savage.

The mac-n-cheese here is a monster all its own. It’s perfect in every way; the thick cheese and basic noodles, the bacon and roasted chiles on top … when I come, I don’t leave without it. If you haven’t experienced it yet, you need to. Today. It’s the most thrilling mac since pre-cocaine Bobby Brown.

Despite my absence of willpower, I had plenty of meats and macaroni to mix for another small meal the next day. Our meals and sodas totaled a mere $38 with tax, and that’s having ordered the second-most-expensive dish on the menu.

Whether you’re a jerk-on or a jerk-off, Smalley and his merry band have got something you’re going to enjoy. I could make your ADD hurt with stories of the Smalley’s Hot Wiener, their knockout happy hour menu, the various rums I’ve enjoyed, or the good words and great drinks their bartenders keep slinging no matter how busy they are … but, if you’re visiting this website because you know me, there’s a good chance I’ve already taken you there.