The Bistro on Third is no more, but the space has a new restaurant with a menu that includes pulled pork and collard green rangoon, brisket nachos and smoked green chili pimento cheese.
The building at 146 S. Third St. has seen many restaurants come and go over the years. The latest to arrive is SoDoSoPa. (The name is an inside joke for fans of the raunchy TV comedy “South Park.” It’s a reference to the third episode of the 19th season of the long-running show, in which characters create a gentrified district of town, SoDoSoPa, or South of Downtown South Park.)
Owners Mike and Tracy O’Dowd are no strangers to the restaurant business. Mike spent 16 years with Outback Steakhouse and several more at Logan’s Roadhouse. He and Tracy met while working at Outback, though Tracy’s now a real estate agent. O’Dowd had a hand in opening 26 Outback restaurants.
“We know how it works, and we decided we wanted to do our own thing, and we’ve been saving for it,” O’Dowd said. “We knew we wanted to figure this thing out and make it happen.”
Inspiration struck when the O’Dowds were in Greenville, S.C., visiting their nephew, Ian Milks, a 27-year-old chef.
“He was down there doing a lot of specialty smoked foods,” O’Dowd said. “And we just thought, ‘This is it; this is the menu,’ so I asked if he wanted to be our head chef.”
The smoker is O’Dowd’s favorite kitchen appliance, so the concept stuck.
“We wanted to be a little weird and crazy,” O’Dowd said. “What I’d been doing just wasn’t fun anymore.”
To staff the restaurant, the O’Dowds turned to some of their former colleagues.
“We opened with a fully-trained staff, some of whom have worked with us for years,” he said. “We wanted good people already in place that we could lean on.”
The staff are experts on the menu, O’Dowd said. “We had a tasting for the staff because we really wanted them familiar with the menu and able to help customers,” he said. “They take pride in it.”
That menu includes lunch and dinner service with appetizers like smoked chicken wings, tater tots and shrimp in “boom-boom sauce.” Among the entrees are shrimp and grits, Cuban sandwiches, smoked ribs and meatloaf. Pair those with sides like red beans and rice, mac and cheese and collard greens. The self-described family-friendly restaurant also has a kids’ menu and desserts. Appetizers range from $5 to $9, entrees are $7 to $25, and desserts are $3. Gluten-free dishes and vegetarian options are available.
“We wanted to do smoked foods with Southern soul influence and elevate them,” O’Dowd said.
The restaurant has a full bar serving beer, wine and cocktails. Some of the wines and beers benefit causes like breast cancer research and animal advocacy groups, Tracy O’Dowd said.
“If you’re going to drink, why not feel good about it?” she said, laughing.
The inside of the restaurant has undergone a makeover, with new coats of paint, the addition of several flat-screen televisions and new art along the walls. The walls of the restaurant feature exposed red brick and natural light streams down from high narrow windows. A bubbling fountain greets guests at the entrance. The restaurant also boasts a private room for parties or events.
“We can seat about 100 inside and about 16 outside,” O’Dowd said.
The name of the restaurant is what O’Dowd gets the most questions about.
“We probably went through about 50 variations of ‘Mike’s something,’ but we just came up with SoDoSoPa, and it stuck,” he said, laughing. “I lay in bed sometimes and wonder if it was the right choice, but I’m happy when I say it, so it’s staying.”
“We want it to be somewhere we want to hang out and other people do too,” he added. “Our goal is that no one leaves unhappy.”
For more information, go to www.facebook.com/sodosopasmithfield.
Also on the menu
SoDaSoPa isn’t the only new restaurant in Smithfield.
Bella Bistro, located in the Dupree House at 709 S. Third St., describes itself as a bistro with French/American and Southern flavors. Among the dinner entrees are jumbo shrimp and grits, a marinated ribeye, marinated chicken and a seafood platter. Lunch offers lighter fare, including salads and wraps.
Bella Bistro recently added brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays, and the restaurant plans a martini bar and deck with live jazz. Dinner entrees range from $15 to $19.50. Lunch prices are between $4 and $14. A kids’ menu, dessert menu and wine pairings also are available.
For more information, go to www.bellabaristaandbistro.com or find the restaurant on Facebook.
On the north side of Smithfield, Fred Chason’s Grandsons, which offers a Southern-style buffet, has opened in the former Hibachi Grill space at 1273 N. Bright Leaf Blvd.
The menu features a host of meats, including barbecue, meatloaf, pork chops, sliced ham, fish, shrimp and chicken prepared in a variety of ways.
Sides include corn on the cob, pinto beans, green beans, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, squash, okra and rice. The dessert list has banana pudding, peach cobbler and chocolate pie.
Here are two other Smithfield dining notes:
After a long absence, drive-in restaurant Sonic has returned to town. It’s in the former Wendy’s space at 1131 N. Bright Leaf Blvd. Also, Grapes & Grounds, the coffee shop at 135 S. Third St., has expanded its hours and added wine, craft beer and additional food items. For more information on hours, go to www.facebook.com/3rdStreetCoffee.
Abbie Bennett: 910-849-2827; @AbbieRBennett
In other Smithfield business news:
▪ Sound Station & Security, at 713 E. Market St., has torn down the former Lloyd’s Transmission building to make room for an expansion. Lloyd’s has moved to U.S. 301 South in Four Oaks. It’s across the highway from WTSB.
▪ Advance Auto Parts has broken ground at 119 N. Bright Lead Blvd. A tobacco warehouse was once on the lot.
▪ Evans Jewelers’ move to a renovated building has garnered industry attention. Southern Jewelry News and INSTORE Magazine, two industry publications, recently touted the new space at 320 E. Market Street. INSTORE called it one of America’s “Coolest Stores.”
▪ Jewels Formals, at 101 S. Third St., recently received some exposure too. Miss North Carolina Outstanding Teen Catherine White was wearing a custom gown from Jewels when she competed in the Miss America Outstanding Teen pageant.