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Salsa Joe’s Tex-Mex Smokehouse in Belmont Quickly Earning Fans

Southwest Flavor Hits Home

Salsa Joe's Tex-Mex Smokehouse owner Tom Strussion serves up a dish of the wildly popular Big 'Ol Burrito with signature queso sauce. The new restaurant and bar are now open on National Road in Belmont. (Photos by Eric Ayres)

BELMONT — One of the Ohio Valley’s hottest new spots for original cuisine and signature drinks is a true Southwest import with deep hometown roots.

A native of Bellaire, owner Tom Strussion began soft-opening operations of Salsa Joe’s Tex-Mex Smokehouse at 43920 National Road in Belmont, just east of where tumbleweeds blow across the sadly vacant Jamboree In The Hills site. Since the doors of the new restaurant and bar opened on June 14, word-of-mouth about the place has spread like wildfire.

After sampling some of the original menu items, there’s no wondering why it’s already so popular.

The new restaurant — located in the former 40 Sports Grill building — actually is the second of its kind. Strussion’s original Salsa Joe’s Tex-Mex Smokehouse is in Arlington, Texas.

Although he has no formal training in the culinary arts, Strussion has crafted an original menu that raises backyard-style cooking to an art form — and slow-cooked, savory, smoked meats has become the palette from which Strussion creates many of his most outstanding works.

Cantina 14 is the bar inside Salsa Joe’s Tex-Mex Smokehouse on National Road in Belmont, just east of the Jamboree In The Hills site. Cantina 14 features 14 signature drinks, as well as a vareity of beer, wine and other beverages. From left are bartender/manager Lisa Balog, Hannah Emory and Tom Strussion, owner of Salsa Joe’s Tex-Mex Smokehouse. (Photos by Eric Ayres)

“I enjoy cooking,” he said. “I cooked with my grandmother in Bellaire, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

A graduate of Bellaire High School’s Class of 1987, Strussion went on to graduate from Capital University in Columbus in 1991. Thereafter, he worked as a lobbyist before heading out West in 2000, and that’s when he began putting his skills in the kitchen to work as a business.

“I started Tommy Boy’s Sausage Co.,” he said. “I sold sausage and burgers, and did catering.”

Seven years later, Strussion ended up in Texas.

“About 90 percent of my business was still catering,” he said. “But that’s when I started doing barbeque.”

Owner Tom Strussion, left, and lead cook Steve Ingram use teamwork to dish out orders of the popular Big ‘Ol Burrito, featuring signature blended red sauce, the house queso or both. (Photos by Eric Ayres)

Strussion operated restaurants under the Tommy Boy’s Sausage Co. name when he was living in Las Vegas, in Nashville, Tenn., and most recently in Arlington, Texas. Two years ago, he decided to change the name to better fit his growing and more diversified menu.

“There’s a lot of barbeque in Texas,” Strussion said. “People wanted to use me for catering, but they only thought I did barbeque. But I can also do Tex-Mex, and I can also do Italian. So that changed the conversation. I started doing more Tex-Mex and more Italian than barbeque, so with that, I thought maybe I’d better change the name. That’s how Salsa Joe’s came into being.”

Salsa Joe’s Tex-Mex Smokehouse took off at the Arlington, Texas location, and business still is going strong today.

“We’re doing well there,” Strussion said. “We made it through COVID — everything is worse in Texas right now. They just shut the bars down again because they’re having a surge in cases.”

Strussion became partners with his web designer, who along with his wife continues to operate the Texas location. Strussion still has a piece of that operation, but recently returned to the Ohio Valley with goals of bringing the popular flavors of Salsa Joe’s back home and beyond.

Salsa Joe’s Tex-Mex Smokehouse is located at 43920 National Road in Belmont east of the Jamboree In The Hills site. (Photos by Eric Ayres)

“My dad’s retired, and I wanted to spend more time with my dad,” he said about his recent relocation back to the Ohio Valley, where — thanks to his return — Salsa Joe’s Tex-Mex Smokehouse officially has branded its place on the local map. “It’s Tex-Mex, and we smoke specialty meats — we have smoked brisket, smoked turkey, smoked chicken and smoked pork.”

Behind the scenes, it’s a 24-hour operation, as meat cooks in huge, wood-fired smokers overnight. The brisket cooks for 18 hours, and the pork cooks for 15 hours, Strussion said.

“We smoke all of this meat, we bust it up and we offer it in five different varieties,” he said. “We start smoking chickens in the morning, and we move birds all day long.”

Chickens are smoked over a cherry and maple wood fire.

“Our biggest seller is our Big ‘Ol Burritos,” Strussion said. “I designed the menu and came up with all of the original recipes from scratch that I’ve kind of created over the last 20 years of cooking.”

Tom Strussion, owner of Salsa Joe's Tex-Mex Smokehouse cuts savory slices of brisket after the meat slow cooked over a wood fire for 18 hours in the big smoker.

The recipes go hand-in-hand with the Salsa Joe’s theme, and it’s bursting with original flavors down to the sauces and toppings.

“Our queso is blended — it’s a premium queso that we do,” Strussion said. “I make our own blended red sauce and white sauce for our Big ‘Ol Burrito. We have rice and beans. We have turkey melts, so I came up with a cranberry-orange marmalade and a Serrano mayonnaise that people can choose to go with it. People love it.”

Other specialty items include lemon butter chicken, street corn, charro beans flavored with brisket along with fresh cilantro and onion, swine fries topped with smoked pork or brisket. There are albondigas — Italian meatballs — featured in the Loco Italiano (Crazy Italian) or Cheesy Joe meatball sub with signature cheese sauce and a sprinkle of cheddar. Also wildly popular selections are the pulled pork sandwich and the brisket plate.

For dessert, try the baked peach crumb goes well with a scoop of Kirke’s Homemade Ice Cream, also available there.

The motif is southwest, casual and laid back. There are big screen televisions throughout (the site was a former sports bar and grill), and they show sports or some entertainment — never news or politics, Strussion said. Background music is always on — no need to feed a jukebox — and it’s typically some good red dirt country.

Tacos are served with smoked brisket, smoked pulled pork or smoked chicken, and served with a side of rice and signature beans. (Photos by Eric Ayres)

Currently, Salsa Joe’s Tex-Mex Smokehouse in Belmont is operating on a temporary menu during the soft opening. There currently are 15 employees, and menu items continue to be added as the staff is in training and while everything gets a final “tweak” through the month of August. An official grand opening and a full menu is expected to be launched in September.

The limited menu has not kept folks from checking out the new restaurant, though.

“We’ve been busy every night,” Strussion said.

The restaurant features a bar and high tables for dining downstairs, along with additional seating both upstairs and outdoors under shelter.

Specialty drinks are also popular at Salsa Joe’s Tex-Mex Smokehouse, which serves a bevy of beverages from Cantina 14 — featuring 14 signature drinks. There are seven signature margaritas, including a popular jalapeno-pineapple concoction. An infused mojito that has strawberry and pineapple rum that comes in four different signature drinks, and there are infused shots, as well.

“That makes up the 14 signature drinks, and of course we also have beer and wine, and everything else,” Strussion said.

The full menu will be set this fall, but items continue to be added to the current menu.

“Fajitas are coming, Strussion said. “They’re bringing it in from Texas for me. They don’t carry it here. It’s an inside skirt steak called arrachera. It comes out of Mexico. It’s like eating filet, but it’s marinated. I will have it starting next week — so that’s going to be on the new menu.”

As things continue to move quickly in Belmont, Strussion plans to roll with the momentum Salsa Joe’s Tex-Mex Smokehouse has going. He is currently looking at opening new locations in Mansfield, Ohio and at the Southpointe development near Canonsburg, Pa.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and the bar stays open until 10 p.m.

Catering is available, and they can handle outdoor parties of 30 to 1,500 people. A smoker is also available for rent. For more information, visit www.salsajoestexmex.com, visit the local Facebook page under “Salsa Joe’s Tex-Mex Smokehouse 740” or call 740-695-5582.

Salsa Joe's Tex-Mex Smokehouse owner Tom Strussion can slow cook 38 briskets at a time in the big smoker. Cooked over a log fire, the briskets go in the smoker for 18 hours before the meat becomes the key ingredient to one of the many signature dishes at Salsa Joe's. (Photos by Eric Ayres)

Outdoor dining is an option at Salsa Joe's Tex-Mex Smokehouse. (Photos by Eric Ayres)

Salsa Joe's Tex-Mex Smokehouse also features catering for parties small and large. A smoker can be rented for special events as well. (Photos by Eric Ayres)

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