Concord Mall shoppers may have noticed a woodsy, mouthwatering aroma wafting across the parking lot. The culprit is a colossal cast-iron smoker, which sits next to a stack of cherry wood and a grill near a front entrance.
It’s not a typical sight at a mall. But then again, Omy Smoked BBQ is far from your average barbecue joint.
Sure, there is fork-tender brisket, mounds of pulled pork and fall-off-the-bone ribs. And yes, you can expect macaroni and cheese, collard greens, green beans with fresh garlic and baked beans.
But you’ll also find tosilog, a Filipino dish of sweet pork served with garlic rice and two eggs, and mini pork egg rolls with a sweet chili sauce. Everything is made from scratch, including the egg rolls, and it’s not unusual to find Romeo “Romy” Balan placing brisket in the smoker at 3 a.m.
With the new location—the former home of Grub Burger Bar—and a new name, the Balans are putting the focus on the main attraction: Barbecue. The Filipino dishes on the menu are a bonus.
The way Lalaine views it, the third time’s a charm. “I really believe it was meant to be,” she says of the mall location. But there is no shortage of serendipity in the Balans’ lives.
The couple met on July 4, 1987, says Lalaine, who has a remarkable memory for dates. She was visiting from Cebu, an island resort in the Philippines, and mutual friends introduced them.
Romy, who was from the Philippines but lived in Delaware, was smitten. He called her daily and made weekend trips to Maryland, where she was staying. However, Lalaine had no intention of staying in the United States. Romy was persistent, and she agreed to marry him—and then changed her mind about 10 times on the way to the courthouse. Fortunately, her final decision was in Romy’s favor, even if relatives raised their eyebrows at the haste with which they wed. The couple went on to have a son years later.
In 2014, Lalaine lost her mother and Romy lost his job at the Claymont steel factory. Although the avid backyard barbecue enthusiasts lacked restaurant experience, they decided to open Philippine Smoked BBQ. “We didn’t even know how to make sandwiches, for crying out loud. I’m telling you, nothing,” she says. Still, she never felt intimidated.
Although the Balans serve traditional barbecue cuts, some couldn’t get past the “Philippine” in the restaurant title and viewed it as an ethnic eatery.
When the business moved to Concord Mall in 2021, it became Omy Smoked Barbecue, a riff on Romy’s name and a signature egg roll appetizer, OMY fingers. Nevertheless, they still pay homage to their roots by using the Philippine national flag’s colors—red, blue and yellow—in their logo.
A recent visit shows that the restaurant has some of the best barbecue around. The meat receives a rub before hitting the smoker or grill, and Romy (whom his wife calls Pop-Pop) created the recipes for the spice mixes and the mild and spicy barbecue sauces. The latter is made from house-smoked peppers; in the past, Lalaine has grown them herself.
The brisket, which smokes for 13 hours, is a bestseller, and with good reason. It’s tender, moist and easy to cut. The pulled pork, meanwhile, cooks solely in the smoker. “We don’t bake it or boil it,” Lalaine says. She recommends taking a forkful of the silky tangle of meat and adding a dab of coleslaw.
You could stop with the traditional, but the mini pork egg rolls and cheesesteak spring rolls are fun starters, and the Filipino sizzling plates are worth trying for the mellow burn that pleasantly lingers on the palate. Filipino macaroni salad with raisins, pineapple, onion and smoked chicken is among the sides.
Those in the know call ahead to special order the lechon. “Our town [in Cebu] is very well known for our lechon,” Lalaine maintains. “My father taught my husband how to cook the roast pig. We call it lechon Cebu.” It’s not unusual for customers to come from New York and Washington, D.C., to pick up whole pigs, which are never frozen.
The Balans acknowledge that the size of the former Grub, located across from the new site of Rasa Sayang, is somewhat daunting, especially since Lalaine always had a mom-and-pop operation in mind. But the family-run business, its lovingly prepared food and the pleasant spice bring a warmth to the contemporary space.
Omy Smoked BBQ | 4737 Concord Pike, Wilmington | 478-0163 | facebook.com/Omysmoked
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