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New Southern barbecue restaurant goes from wheels to walls in Lakewood

A pulled-pork sandwich from Smokin’ Zee’s BBQ when the truck served at Narrows Brewing in Tacoma. The restaurant is opening a brick-and-mortar location in Lakewood.
A pulled-pork sandwich from Smokin’ Zee’s BBQ when the truck served at Narrows Brewing in Tacoma. The restaurant is opening a brick-and-mortar location in Lakewood. Staff file, 2015

Expanding from a restaurant that operated out of a trailer to a restaurant with walls took about about three years and a lot of pork butts for barbecue restaurant Smokin’ Zee’s BBQ.

Chef/owner Joseph Erck and his business partners expect to open their Lakewood brick-and-mortar location in the next month or so if all goes as planned.

They’ll open in the former home of Green Coconut Tree.

When they started, Erck and crew served at local farmers markets. Erck, a Gig Harbor native, also served outside the 7 Seas Brewing and other Harbor locations, Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Narrows Brewing.

In December, Smokin’ Zees expanded to a stationary locationat the Valero Station in Gig Harbor (where Rib Ticklers used to serve). That proved a temporary arrangement.

“We weren’t able to grow the business,” Erck said. “It was just a temporary location until we could get a nice brick-and-mortar.”

They closed that location in June.

The Lakewood restaurant will draw the clientele he’s already built on this side of the bridge.

“Our former military and Steilacoom (Farmers Market) clients can come to us now,” he said.

When the business started, Erck used a small smoker rig, but he upgraded to a mobile smoker that can feed up to 3,000 people.

At the Lakewood restaurant, Erck said they’ll use a pellet smoker for the first time. He’ll still use the same kind of wood — apple, peach and cherry — but in pellet form. He’ll still operate his large custom smoker and trailer out of the Lakewood restaurant, but probably not in the winter.

“It gets too cold,” Erck said.

His barbecue is a hybrid style with techniques and flavors borrowed from multiple styles. He said his pork butt and tangy vinegar sauce emulate Carolina ‘cue. His brisket leans Texan, he said.

In addition to pork butt and brisket — sold as sandwiches, platters or by-the-pound — he’ll also smoke St. Louis ribs and pulled chicken.

Seasonally and occasionally, he’ll also offer smoked hams, prime rib and chicken thighs and quarters.

Sides dishes will include smoked macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, cornbread, barbecue beans and smoked chili.

He’s working on three sauces now: A mildly spiced Carolina-style sauce that is “sweet with a vinegar pop,” another tangy sauce with medium-level spicing and a spicy sauce with a touch of sweetness, he said.

He always serves sauce on the side, never on the sliced meats or ribs (unless requested).

Erck’s business partners for the Lakewood restaurant are Peter Landstad and Sara Devine.

The restaurant will be open for lunch and dinner Tuesdays-Sundays. Closed Mondays.

The dining room floor plan will stay similar to that of Green Coconut Tree. There will be seating for 30 in the dining room. The restaurant will be family friendly.

Smokin’ Zee’s BBQ

Opening: This fall.

Where: 8813 Edgewater Drive SW, Lakewood; facebook.com/smokinzeesbbq.

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