If you’ve been on Coast Highway in north Leucadia lately, there is a good chance you’ve caught a whiff of one of life’s great aromas — low and slow burning wood smoking a variety of meats. This, my friends, is an authentic BBQ, and it’s happening at Smoke & Salt, a fun backyard environment behind The Leucadian Bar featuring the creative culinary touches of chef/owner and longtime Leucadia local Jarle Saupstad.
Both Saupstad and the Leucadian have a long history in this neighborhood. Jarle’s grandparents settled in the area decades ago, giving Jarle one of those enviable youths spent growing up in a much simpler Encinitas.
I was delighted to hear that his first restaurant gig was at Olyo’s Pizza, the classic, old-school joint is known for great pizza and being very narrow. It closed in 2006, which gave me a few years to enjoy it, and I feel lucky. Jarle cut his culinary chops on big yachts in Florida and some fine dining establishments nationwide. He was part of the culinary team that opened Union in Encinitas.
The pandemic derailed a planned BBQ theme restaurant and brought him back to Encinitas, where a fortuitous meeting with the owners of the Leucadian presented what he calls a “micro eatery concept” that resulted in Smoke & Salt taking shape.
If one concept was lacking in Encinitas, it was a solid BBQ joint. And Smoke & Salt has filled that void nicely.
Before I dive into my recent culinary adventures there, I should mention that if you’ve not been to the newish Leucadian, it has been given a modest freshen-up that updated it just enough but not too much. The newly-renovated bar has a killer pinball machine, darts and pool tables, and a cool backyard providing a whole new experience. It’s a perfect space to watch sports or hang with friends outdoors.
All that combined with Smoke & Salt cranking out food perfect for a beer-fueled appetite, and it’s become quite the local scene. I should also mention that they also have a Touch Tunes jukebox, perfect for creating a fun dance party while drinking, then segueing into some country-twinged tunes for the BBQ chow down that awaits.
As much as I lament the death of traditional jukeboxes, the convenience of Touch Tunes and the like can make for a fun evening.
I had a chance to interview Jarle for Lick the Plate radio on The Mightier 1090 ESPN Radio before my meal there and got the backstory on his BBQ with a twist menu. Other than all your smokey favorites, like his dry-rubbed brisket smoked for 18 hours, a 24-hour brined-then-smoked chicken and smoked pork spareribs finished on the grill, he has provided some fun new twists that will probably play better with the healthy coastal dwellers.
Chicken fried cauliflower, Korean fried chicken sandwich – a super crispy thigh with Nashville style hot sauce and house pickle, and the Brisket Bahn Mi with smoked brisket, pickled veggies, Korean inspired BBQ sauce on a fresh baguette.
Not healthy food, but somewhat lighter fare that is not lacking in flavor or texture.
Jarle also mentioned that his Smoke & Salt Burger created quite a buzz. When he described it as an American Wagyu patty with house pickles, cheddar and American cheese, shaved lettuce and secret sauce, I had to give it a shot.
Simple burgers are the best, and shaved lettuce gives it an elevated Big Mac quality. It’s delicious. For those of you unfamiliar, Wagyu is a Japanese beef cattle breed known for its marbling which are the intra-muscular fat cells that give beef flavor and tenderness. You don’t want to put too much stuff on a piece of meat like this, which is evident in Jarle’s simple toppings.
Sides include Brussels sprouts, mac and cheese, Korean-inspired coleslaw, Caesar salad, cornbread and house fries.
Everything I saw on the changing menu was under $20, except for a rib platter that fed a couple of people. And please, please consider the time that goes into making a good BBQ. It’s a labor of love, and the margins are thin. This is not a full-service restaurant; it’s a BBQ trailer.
I only request they offer Mexican Coke and other soft drinks that pair well with smoke and salt in the backyard. I also hinted that Encinitas does not have a Cuban sandwich, and they could pull that off easily at Smoke & Salt.
That aside, this is a welcome addition to the Encinitas dining scene, and I highly suggest it.
Find them at 1542 N. Coast Highway in Encinitas or on Instagram @smokeandsaltrestaurant.