Barbeque can be such a contentious matter. Discussing your favourite spot for ribs or fried chicken among friends can lead to long debates about the merits of a dry rub over a wet, whether cornbread is ruined by the addition of jalapenos or which spot in the city smells the best upon entering. I am by no means a bbq snob: I like it all, so long as it’s cooked well. I do prefer sticky, messy wet ribs over the dry-rubbed product but I certainly don’t turn my nose up at them. I don’t believe that there is only one way to do barbeque and I’m on a mission to try it all at the best places Toronto has to offer.
The first bbq spot I tried out in our fair city was an old standby: Phil’s Original BBQ. This was my first taste of “real” barbeque and I was hooked. I recall the ribs, in particular, were excellent. It has been several years since I’ve been there – in fact, Restaurant Makeover hadn’t even come in yet. What say you, folks? Worth a repeat visit?
Next up was Memphis Smoke House. It’s a little further out of the core, at Yonge & Sheppard, but don’t let that stop you. In discussing this post with the husband the other day, we realized that this was the only joint that we found truly exciting. J had read an article in The Star about this place and how the owners had convinced the chef to relocate from Louisiana to Toronto to cook for them. We were blown away by the richness of the ribs, the delicious beans, the crumbly – but not dry – cornbread and the huge portions. It was clear that this was no ordinary bbq we were eating: this was being made by someone who’ done it for years and years and had just about perfected his craft. Get a combo platter with Aunt Shirley’s BBQ sauce. We have been back several times and brought many others with us. The ribs, the pulled pork, the fries…everything gets a rave review.
Our next stop was the Cluck, Grunt & Low on Bayview. The less said about that the better. Suffice it to say that we were not surprised to see that it had closed within months of opening. The replacement, Highway 61, has fared much better. The food is pretty good, if not super-outstanding. It is, however, very comfortable and pretty good value for your buck.
Then popped up Stockyards. I have recommended this place til I turned blue in the face. Their fried chicken is remarkably crispy on the outside, while juicy and tender (and molten-lava-hot) on the inside. I’m not a huge fan of the carraway-laced coleslaw, though I do like the matchstick-thin cabbage. It’s really a personal taste thing. But let us not forget about the ribs! They are smoked to perfection and come with a tangy sauce that’s just ridiculously delicious. You can only get them three days a week, so go early. I can pretty much guarantee you will go often. It should be noted that there are – MAYBE – 20 seats and they are difficult to get. Either be prepared to wait for a spot or just get the take-out.
Finally on my bbq list? Hardys Hogtown Brasserie. My interest was piqued by a Toronto Life article a few months back that said the owner had built his own smoker out of giant drums. It was to open up just down the street from Stockyards, creating some healthy competition. Finally made it in last Friday, a few weeks after their soft opening. Two advantages Hardys has over Stockyards? It’s an actual restaurant and it’s licensed. The list craft beers on tap is a nice alternative to the standard Keith’s-n-Labatt at most places.
The coca-cola ribs were on special so my fellow diner and I ordered two 1/2 racks. My other companions ordered the regular ribs and the slider trio comprised of one pulled chicken, one pulled pork and one pulled brisket sandwich. We were then informed by our incredibly charming and gracious server that they were out of the regular ribs entirely and only had 2 1/4 racks left of the special. Ooooooookay. Shouldn’t the front of house know when a product runs out?
We changed our orders to the 2 1/4 racks of the special and a trio of sliders to split; J’s ribs were swapped out for a trio. Our onion ring apps arrived and they were dang good, if perhaps a little oily. Our mains arrived…sans the trio to split. Once again, our server had to explain that there was a mix up but that they would be happy to give us any other main on the house. She recommended the brisket sandwich, so we got that and the collard greens. All in all, once all the food had arrived, we had to admit that it was all excellent. The coca-cola ribs were sweet without being cloying; the brisket sandwich was piled high with tender, slathered brisket; the trio was perhaps a bit on the small side but delicious nonetheless. The sides of collard greens, potato salad and coleslaw were all completely devoured: always a good sign. Some work needs to be done on the communication between the kitchen and the front of house, but otherwise this was a great spot for friends to gather, have a couple drinks and nosh on some great barbeque. Is it better than Stockyards? Ask me again in a month when I go back for a comparison dinner.
Still to check out on my list? Barque, which has been getting insane rave reviews from all corners, and Lou Dawg’s. Where else do I need to go, my smokehouse-loving, rib-devouring friends?