Tuesday, May 24, 2011

BARQUE SMOKEHOUSE: 299 Roncesvalles Avenue - (416) 532-7700

Chris and Rob outside Barque Smokehouse
Anyone who knows me knows of my intense love for eating good meat.  In my world, the word “meat” is spelled “mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmeat”.  It’s like a type of communion for me.  I don’t like getting drunk off booze anymore however getting meat-drunk off a good steak is like an evening at an opium brothel.  For me, hearing the word “braised” is like getting a full body massage by 12 sirens while singing the most sonorous songs imaginable and smoking all the pot in the world.  Yes you heard me right, ALL the pot in the world.  That’s a lot.  Much to many friends chagrin, I am a carnivore through and through.  Proud one at that as well!

So you can imagine my giddiness when Barque Smokehouse (pronounced Bar-Cue, I think) opened up on Roncesvalles - a new local smokehouse that seems to be riding the wave of “real bbq” restaurants throughout Toronto.  Ever since I purchased my Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker, which I mark as the beginning of my love-affair with meat, smoked meat has become a sublime indulgence for me. I love sitting around the smoker smelling the sweet wafts of hickory, mesquite, alder, cherry, pecan, maple, cedar, or whatever is the smoke-de-jour.  There’s a certain kind of basic and natural quality about cooking with smoke.  It hits something deep within me.  

Our dinner guest Chris Barry and Rob Norton
So a week or so ago, I invited my good friends Rob Norton and Chris Barry off to Barque for a bite.  Rob and I were in the same class at Ryerson studying photography however Rob has moved on to focus more on graphic design.  He has also become one of the premier Ambrotype makers in Canada, possibly the world.  Chris Barry and I also went to school but he was a year under me.  He’s basically my hero.  Media artist, writer, radio + TV producer, editor, curator, DJ, the boy does it all…and does it all very very well!  He’s currently working as a producer on an upcoming History Television program about rogue collector Bill Jameson.  Seriously can’t wait for that!

Popcorn and dipping sauces for munching
A little apology in advance.  I accidentally deleted my notes from this restaurant off my Iphone so I’m writing entirely by memory.  I know its amazingly unprofessional of me to even write a review without my notes but hey, this is where the “unqualified” in the phrase “completely unqualified restaurant reviews” really shines bright.  

So we arrived and were seated with a bucket of plain popcorn and a couple of dipping sauces!  Excellent!!!  This was a really ingenious way for customers to snack without filling up.  For starters, I ordered a coconut corn soup and Rob ordered some smoked bbq wings.  And for our mains we each got a taster plate.  Basically you can order a plate and pick 3 meats and a couple of sides.  I ordered the brisket, the smoked chicken, and the ribs.  The fourth meat option was a beef rib so Chris ordered that and promised me a bite.  For my sides I ordered Cuban corn and some steamed vegetables.  Chris and Rob ordered some fries and smoked asparagus if I remember correctly.

Coconut Corn Soup
Ok.  So the soup arrives and it’s fucking devine!!!  Like amazingly tasty.  Creamy, a touch of sweetness from the coconut and there were little hunks of bacon hidden within which is always a plus.  It was a good size too.  Almost lunch portion!  Rob let me try a smoked wing and it was pretty good too but I must say I was really focused in on the corn soup so I didn’t really think too much about it.  However Rob and Chris seemed to really like the wings and cleaned off their plate like vultures.

The meat arrived and the anticipation grew.  My first bite was the ribs.  It has a bit of a sweet rub and sauce to it which wasn’t tooooo sweet so you could still taste the smokey goodness of the ribs.  The brisket however was the best part.  Smokey and moist, I think everyone tried a bite and we all agreed it was the best meat of the bunch.  The chicken had a nice flavour but it turned out a bit dry.  For some reason I expected this.  Chicken is already a hard meat to keep moist and its especially hard when slow cooking it over smoke.  I’ve been to many smokehouses in the past and it seems like an ongoing battle to get the chicken right.  Or perhaps I’m just being too demanding of my chicken.  Regardless, I finished everything on my plate except the chicken.  Next time I would order the beef rib as my third.  I had a bite of Chris’ and it was just wonderful.

Mmmmmeat!  And sides!
So the meat tasted great, the apps were wonderful, however there was something missing from the meal.  Normally smoked food has a bit of a bite in its flavor and for some reason that bite seemed to be lacking.  Maybe they’re still finding their feet (I think they had only been open for a week) or perhaps they’re just not smoking the food long enough but in comparison to a place like the Stockyards, Barque Smokehouse falls a little short.  Regardless, it was still pretty fucking delicious and I would definitely go back for another meat night!

A great addition to Roncy!
The sides were great too.  The highlight was the Cuban corn which was bbq’d corn with some goat cheese (I think) smeared across the kernels.  The smoked asparagus were brilliant and the fries were pretty darn tasty too.  They are probably some of the best fries in Parkdale.  The steamed vegetables were great as a palate cleanser and reprieve from the smokey flavours during the meal but were pretty bland on their own.

It’s really wonderful to see Barque as busy as it was.  We were lucky to have gotten the table we did and we spent our whole meal watching the lineup at the door get longer and longer.  Many times I walked past the restaurant that had previously occupied the space and had rarely ever seen any customers, let alone a line up.  And with the businesses on Roncesvalles having to suffer through yet another summer of hardcore construction, it’s nice to see a place that attracts a large crowd to a street that certainly needs the business.  

Rating:  4

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