Smoke Savant

Sophisticated, unexpected flavors at Smalls

You'll smell Smalls long before you see it.

The tiny, one-room smoke shack emits scents of burning wood and roasting meat down Albany Avenue. Inside, Smalls is even more intoxicating: Fresh lime, fried garlic and cilantro are just a few of the ingredients perfuming the air at Joaquin Soler's barbecue joint.

Soler hawked Filipino-American cuisine from Brown Bag Lunch Truck before opening Smalls last month. He treats St. Louis ribs like the grilled skewers he ate while growing up in the Philippines, soaking the ribs in thick Filipino soy sauce, banana ketchup, garlic, citrus and Mexican 7 Up before they're smoked.

The ribs are then dunked in the same marinade and grilled again to finish, adding a final layer of sweet, savory caramelization to their chewy exterior ($14 for a half-slab).

Brisket bibimbap

Brisket soaks in brine that includes Mexican Coca-Cola and Chinese black vinegar. Try it as bibimbap ($9), with kimchi, pickled daikon and a fried egg. Ask for toasted garlic rice ($3) instead of plain.

Vegetarians are considered too. Soler marinates and smokes tofu, and approaches seasonal vegetable side dishes with creativity and gusto. On a recent visit, hearty Chinese greens were charred and tossed with candied walnuts, parsley and a riotous, sweet-savory vinaigrette.

Space for dining is slim, but Horner Park, a half-mile away, is a fine spot for a picnic.