In early 2018, Jeffersonville saw a new barbecue joint open in the form of American Smokehouse Stadium. A couple of months later, it closed.
But that closure was really more of a reboot, with owner Nathan Todaro bringing in a new chef, Chris Klingenstein, to revamp the menu and get the kitchen processes in order. Two months later, the menu is still undergoing a few changes and the recipes being tweaked, but things seem to be looking up.
American Smokehouse Stadium — a curious name that seems specifically chosen to create the acronym “A.S.S.” — is set in a strip mall not far from I-265 in Southern Indiana, and as such it looks like anything but a barbecue joint from the outside.
Inside, however, it has a cozy feel with muted colors and bare wood. Lots of bare wood. Décor is spare and quirky, highlighted by a noticeable “The Outlaw Josey Wales” movie poster on one wall. The small dining room gives way to an even smaller, and cozier, bar.
The menu is packed with barbecue standards, plus a lot of different dishes that make use of that aforementioned acronym, with items like the Big A.S.S. Burger, the Smokin’ A.S.S. Wings and even the Fresh A.S.S. Salad.
With a professional looking logo that features a donkey and the “A.S.S.” acronym prominently, the fast-casual restaurant looks primed for growth — assuming this one works.
In addition to barbecue favorites like ribs, burnt ends, brisket and pulled meat, there’s a codfish dinner and pork chops, plus to-go “crates” and bulk meats for home catering. American Smokehouse Stadium also delivers food and beer, as well as offers catering services.
I started off a recent lunch with a small order of the smoked wings, which you can get tossed or plain.
I stuck with plain so I could experiment with the three sauces available: sweet BBQ, spicy BBQ and bourbon BBQ.
The wings came out quickly, medium-sized, with a shimmering char. The crispy outer layer nicely held in the chicken’s juices, and the meat retained a slight pull.
With a non-intrusive smoky flavor, the wings are just fine on their own, but I found the sweet smokiness of the bourbon sauce in particular made a nice companion.
For my main course, I ordered a spicy brisket sandwich and a side of deep-fried corn on the cob, choosing from classics like green beans, fries, baked beans, mac and cheese, tater tots, Texas toast and plenty more.
When my food arrived, I first munched on one of the two small corn sections that were fried slightly crispy with browned edges. I added a little salt and pepper and made them as delicious as any corn on the cob I can remember tasting.
Certainly a worthy side, and the corn’s sweetness was a nice counter punch to the spiciness of the finely chopped brisket.
And the brisket is where I found my surprise. With the first bite of the ample sandwich, I noted the flavor of habanero peppers. I inquired, to make sure my taste buds weren’t experiencing a form of wishful tasting, and Klingenstein himself emerged to assure me I wasn’t tasting phantom flavors.
Jalapenos and cayenne pepper seasoning also are in the blend, and I’ll just say that the sandwich was possibly the spiciest thing I’ve ever gotten from a basic menu, which usually cater to more middle-of-the road heat desires.
And not only was it spicy, leaving a lingering burn, it was flavorful and satisfying, if a bit on the dry side (adding a few squirts of the spicy BBQ helped). I had expected sliced or chopped brisket with some added spices, but this was quite a fun surprise.
Klingenstein went on to tell me that the sandwich is actually in its third form after he decided to tone down the heat to get closer to the middle of that aforementioned spice road.
He then told me of an off-menu version seasoned with ghost and Carolina Reaper pepper powders. Eat the whole sandwich, and you not only get the sandwich, but you also get $100 for your bravery. He offered me a sample — I made it three bites in before I had to stop out of self-preservation. Klingenstein said it was an impressive attempt.
He also offered a taste of the standard brisket, a tender, medium-thick sliced beef coated with peppercorn. Quite tasty, and he noted that he normally uses coarse ground pepper, but also changes up now and then to keep things interesting.
He said in the coming weeks, a couple of small changes will be made to the menu and the restaurant will shift from fast-casual style to full service, giving it more of a restaurant feel.
It will be interesting to see how American Smokehouse Stadium progresses and whether it makes good on the prospect of expanding to further locations. Those folks with a taste for extreme heat certainly will be rooting for it.
American Smokehouse Stadium, located at 5580 S.R. 62 in Jeffersonville, is open 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m.-midnight, Friday and Saturday.