Clay's Smokehouse Grill

2932 SE Division St
(503) 235-4755
get there via trimet
find a bike route
Wed.-Sun. 11:00am-10:00pm

Clays is a little place, with a couple picnic tables out front, and a number of tables and booths built for people who tend to routinely overeat. It's not fancy, and everything is nicely mismatched and vaguely, humanly, kitschy.

The menu is impressive: smoked BBQ hot wings as a starter ($8), chowder/chili/gumbo ($3.75-$4.75), salads ($3.75-$10.25), sandwiches ($7.75-$9.75), BBQ platters ($10.75-$14.75), and even veggie delights (their words, $7.75-$9.75). BBQ purists will freak: there's catfish and salmon, and that's wrong. But I'm not a purist—I don't care unless someone makes me eat it.

When I was there, they had a bunch of beers on tap:

  • Bayern Doppelbock
  • Widmer Hefeweizen
  • Amnesia IPA
  • Anchor Steam
  • Bud
  • Jamaican Red

I ordered the brisket platter, and my companion the BBQ sparerib platter, and naturally, these are huge portions, piles of meat smothered in a sweet, not terribly hot sauce, with chunks of potatoes in ranch sauce (aka, home fries with garlic sauce), a vinegary slaw, and not-quite Texas toast.

My brisket seemed a bit lean, and the sauce bugged me, but it was nicely cooked. It just blanches before fattier, crustier briskets like Campbells or LOW. The pork ribs, however, were sweet, juicy, and moist, very tasty ribs. The slaw was sharp and complex. The potatoes—eh. Value for the meal, though, was very good.

Our service was incredible. Our server was the sort who was there when you needed him, and if he was there when you didn't, you sure didn't know. It was the sort of effortless seeming service that you should get with a very good meal, and here in Portland, frequently don't. So that was a tremendous pleasure.

I'm curious about the wings, and I've heard great things about the cold smoked seafood platter (like a lox platter, just not), and the turkey in the garden salad.

The highlight for me was the dessert. We got the apple crisp ($4.75), topped with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream, and wow! It was just a modest crisp, nothing fancy, but so very good, a combination of soft and crunchy and creamy. Next time, I'm gonna leave more room for that!

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May 31, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (2)


ExtraMSG said:

I really think Clay's is in the bottom half of Portland's BBQ. Here's what I wrote on about a visit there:

Stopped by Clay's today and picked up a sampler platter. They subbed brisket for chicken for me. I didn't try the toast.

I found the sides, the "home fries with garlic sauce" and the poppyseed coleslaw, rather mediocre. The home fries weren't fries at all, unless they subbed roasted potatoes for fries. Although they tasted more steamed than roasted. They were topped with a tangy sauce. As it was, I'd say it was closer to a lightly dressed, large hunk potato salad. Not bad, but not worth the calories.

The coleslaw was too sweet for me. I'd say that if you like Miracle Whip instead of Mayonnaise, it might be your thing, but it wasn't mine. The cabbage wasn't mushy or anything, though.

I wasn't happy with any of the three meats. They weren't inedible, but they weren't good either. The ribs were obviously braised, but then they say that on the menu. I couldn't detect much if any smokiness and the texture was too tender, easily falling off the bone and crumbling in my hands.

The slices of brisket tasted like pot roast. Lean and tender, but not juicy or succulent. No smokiness. The pulled or stringy pieces of brisket tasted like sloppy joe with a bit of the tangy and sweet tomato BBQ sauce.

The hot links were Zenner's. They were sliced and had grill marks. Very spicy. Not a well-balanced flavor I'd say. The texture was too fine, too. Nothing above a decent commercial sausage.

It was a hefty amount of food for $13 and that didn't even include the Texas toast I could have had. But none of it was good. I'd say that Buster's is better.

vj said:

Oooh, Busters... them's fightin' words, ExtraMSG!

Compared to BBQ in the central city that's available more than a couple days a week, this is okay, nothing really is better than okay -- and the service was outstanding. I agree that this is not anywhere near top tier. But arguably, those spots are reserved for Campbells and LOW.



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