On March 8th, Dine.TO will be moving to YP Dine Read More
Loading Location
Reserve online at your favourite restaurants in Toronto and across the GTA. Our real-time reservation system allows you to book available tables instantly from the restaurant's electronic reservation book.
A smokehouse and whisky bar located on Clinton Street in Little Italy serves up a bit of everything from smoked moonshine to smoked sous vide braised short rib, fish tacos, cornbread and a lot of whisky.
Take a Tour
Backwoods Smokehouse & Whisky Bar The Menu
The Menu

Review: Not much southern comfort

By Alan A. Vernon, reviewed on March 19, 2015

Nothing to take the mind off the impending collapse of the Eurozone like a smoked brisket with a side of potato salad. So I implore someone to please tell me why Southern barbecue is so hard to get right north of the 49th? While I'm chewing my nails off worrying about my stock portfolio, can't someone other than Marky and Sparky's Smokehouse deliver the goods and comfort me with fatty, carcinogenic meat?

I get that the right infusion of smokiness and the perfect balance of sweet, sour and salty might be tricky to achieve at times, but hardly a handful get it right. And sad to say that Little Italy's Backwoods Smokehouse and Whisky Bar (BSWB) is yet another casualty, one more log in the ash heap of middling BBQ joints in this town.

Inside, BSWB looks great, almost too great, refined and upscale for a so-called smokehouse. Without the wall-mounted cow heads you might even think you were in a bistro. And at first glance, the menu is a terrific, drool-inducing read. With varieties of breads and biscuits with gravy to tacos, chowders, pickles and jams, you might think you're in for a better than good ol' soulful Southern style meal. But you'd be sorely mistaken and your soul might be crushed.  

The "fun" food show begins well and good with ember burnt leeks ($8) drizzled with a smokey romesco-not something you see every day. The thick sheaths, with a superfluous spicy mayo, are indeed tender. And though we've been promised "burnt", they barely have any charred smokiness. Plus the two-sauce excess causes an unwanted collision of conflicting flavours. Not exactly the same problem with crispy zucchini cakes ($8) with mustard seed "caviar" that boast a perfect breading even if a bit too oil-laden, not to mention more of that smokey-less romesco.

Okay, so ho hum about sums up the food thus far. Perhaps a jerk chicken corn chowder ($8) will fare better? Anything piping hot should do the trick when it's 20 below. But the soup is barely warm, and whatever parts of the bird are present have been so sliced, diced and minced to oblivion that you barely get a mouthful of meat, let alone register any jerk seasoning.

But there is coherent effort from the kitchen in the form of Baja style fish tacos ($12). Plated as a trio on a tired slate board (really just a floor tile), the dish features a lightly tempura battered black cod with chipotle aioli in deep fried naan-like bread that's bite-size manageable, without the mess of most others. Dee-lish indeed, but for the price a bit stingy on portion. Not to mention a teensy pile of "mango" slaw that seems to be missing its key adjective: mango. Beautifully pickled tomatillo wedges thankfully come to the rescue.

The derailment begins anew with a Texas smoked brisket ($14) in a bourbon-coffee BBQ sauce with slices of pickled onion, not surprisingly, the best thing on the slate. The meat is a major let down, made up of mostly overcooked and under smoked end pieces. And a jerk spiced smoked quarter chicken ($14, $20 half) with a smoked habanero and mango chutney is as rubbery as it is tasteless, an insult to the refined spice heritage of the Caribbean. News Flash: Jerk should include more than the use of cinnamon. A second attempt suffers a similar fate. Plus, the poultry is puzzling; though large and plump, it has the consistency of pressed meat from a deli counter. I don't know who chef Richard Zephyrine's purveyors are, but I'd rethink their services.

Sides also present a problem with grilled roasted spaghetti squash ($4) that's virtually raw, a problem only slightly masked with a overly sweet molasses chili bourbon butter. I've heard of al dente, but that should mean toothsome, not troublesome. Thank goodness for small mercies like a brilliant mustard seed and mayo tossed warm German potato salad ($5), the perfect balance of creaminess without being too cloying. But even here chef undercooks the potatoes that even a sharp knife has difficulty cutting through. Safe to say that buttermilk biscuits ($3) are divine minus the odd corn stock gravy ($3). Though they arrive raw in the centre, after further cooking, they are the one highlight of the meal. Can't say the same for a peach cobbler ($8) with house made rum raisin ice cream and preserved cherry ice cream. Why peaches in the dead of winter? What amounts more to an undercooked fruit souffle is actually not half bad once it cools down, but, alas, the ice cream has the consistency of raw cookie dough.

This is chef Zephyrine's first place and sorry to say but it shows. With output from his kitchen so uniformly uneven, it's hard to believe that he consults for other restaurants that shall remain nameless. I'm told that dishes are being tweaked all the time, but not sure any alterations are going to work unless chef refines his execution. For now the best thing about Backwoods is exemplary service, which is saying something for College Street.

Reviews are meant to describe a dining out experience at a given period in time and are the personal opinion of the writer.
All meals are paid for, including all taxes and gratuities. All reservations are made under assumed names. Menu items, prices and individuals mentioned in this review may not be up to date. Dine.TO encourages its users to share their feedback.

2 Comments for Backwoods Smokehouse & Whisky Bar

New User's Image
Would you recommend?
Stephanie Kong-Foon Profile Picture
By Stephanie Kong-...

Stephanie Kong-Foon recommends Backwoods Smokehouse & Whisky Bar

Found this gem by chance, whilst walking around the Royal Theatre neighbourhood. The food and service is absolutely impeccalbe. Wonderful atmosphere and warm service. One of the meals I have ever had. Recommend it highly!
Posted on

Alonzo B recommends Backwoods Smokehouse & Whisky Bar

Excellent food and impeccable service. Specializing in Bourbon. The bartender was knowledgable and told me all kinds of interesting things about whiskey. Food was phenomenal; something different for a change.
Posted on
 Please select only one reason why you would recommend this business.