Still meaty, Central Smoke rises on E Jefferson

Eric Banh and chef Mike Whisenhunt (Images: CHS)

A rush of red meat in the Seattle restaurant scene has settled out with a transformation of E Jefferson steakhouse Seven Beef into a new concept centered on more accessible but still meaty offerings — Central Smoke.

With fried rice and pickled cucumber on the menu alongside ribs and brisket, Central Smoke now brings Texas-style smoked meats and a unique combination of Taiwanese, Japanese and Chinese flavors to E Jefferson. Headed by owner Eric Banh and chef Mike Whisenhunt, who together carry more than 40 years of experience in the kitchen, the new bar and smokery replaced Seven Beef on the corner of E Jefferson and 13th Ave last month.

“What we do is multicultural. I would call it very eclectic,” Banh said. “I want to do something that is very soulful and really feed our creativity and passion.”

The restaurant’s name was, of course, inspired by the neighborhood. “The name is very symbolic. The Central District used to be occupied by all colors. The Japanese. The Chinese. The Black community. They were only allowed to live here. They couldn’t live outside here, even back in the 70s,” Banh said.

The chefs at Central Smoke wanted to smoke meat but they wanted to do it right, so they travelled to Houston, Texas to find a proper smoker and get a few lessons from a local pit master. Then they shipped the smoker, which weighed more than 8,000 pounds, by semi-truck all the way up to Seattle.

“That’s double an SUV,” Banh said. “I fell in love with smoked meat about five years ago. Just fell in love with it. When it’s done right, it’s just incredible. Don’t get me wrong. I still have fun making Vietnamese food, but this is almost like I’m going back to college and learning a new course.”

Banh opened Seven Beef as a “steak shop” featuring classic, “familiar” cuts like the “porterhouse, T-bone, New York Strip” and the “unfamiliar” including “oyster, belly, Teres Major” in 2015. The opening was part of a small rush of cow-centered food+drink ventures including Renee Erickson’sFrench-flavoredBateau.

The transformation into the new Central Smoke concept is part of the ongoing refinement of the small set of restaurants run by Banh and his sister Sophie Banh including the 2014 expansion of Monsoon Seattle  on 19th Ave E. In 2011, the popular Ba Bar concept debuted in 2011 on 12th Ave just blocks from where Central Smoke is now located.

With options ranging from spicy hot wings and crab salad to ornate cocktails that more closely resemble art than alcohol, Central Smoke is trying to reclaim “fusion” food and dispel its negative connotation.

“Fusion has found a new footing in food that I see today,” Whisenhunt said. “There’s always this childhood idea of what you’ve tasted, you know. I don’t care if it’s a peanut butter and jelly or if its creamed corn from a can. You can always reinvent those things in a really modern way.”

Central Smoke is located at 1305 E Jefferson. You can learn more at centralsmokeseattle.com.


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