When an establishment goes to great lengths to procure the best wet nap possible, you just know there's something special going on. These are so soft & luxurious you could clean your sticky fingers, wipe a baby's bottom, remove your mascara & polish your smartphone screen with just one.
Open a mere few weeks, Barque Smokehouse might be the first resto to actually establish a dining rush on Roncesvalles. And that would drive chef/co-owner David Neinstein (aka Hot and Cold Meat Injector, Smoke Sp
ecialist and Pit Boss on his Linked In page) plain hog wild.
Neinstein, a former ad man who grew up in the Jewish enclave of Forest Hill, now calls himself a purveyor of pork - immersing himself in the dark arts of rubs, marinades and sauces. A kosher joke aside, what's truly incredible is that this is the first foray into food for the bearded, hair-knotted samurai smoker.
The former Bistro 299 is now a barn-like smoked meat pit, but it took a talented dÃ©cor team like The Design Agency to give Barque its friendly DIY feel - the perfect place for an indoor family picnic. It doesn't get more neighbourhood-y or local-y than this.
The feature the owners are most proud of is their 500-pound smoker from Tennessee, where everything gets thrown in including fruits and of course the myriad meats.
Even cocktails get a southern makeover, like the Bourbon Sour, garnished with a smoked half-lemon that adds an added molecular gastronomic element to a traditional mingling of spirits and sugar. Smoked lemons make another appearance alongside a mountainous order of plump, tender "peel 'n' eat" shrimp ($8); thankfully no dexterous peeling required.
Slow smoked barbeque wings ($8) sport the same satisfying crispness as if they'd been deep-fried - since they might actually be healthy for you, they disappear in a flash. But since Flow on Yorkville closed its doors (now Ciao), and with it Richard Andino's superb Miami beef ribs, there was no place to get these meaty morsels. Happy to report that Barque can brag about these at half the price ($8).
And since this is very much a family dining destination (or for those T.O. foodies in search of good ol' fashioned barbecue) the sampler for two ($36) is a real bargain. It includes your choice of any three meats and three sides. But our chicken thighs and brisket, albeit juicy, are a bit overcooked and smothered in a sickly sweet sauce. Thankfully, the half-rack of spice-rubbed back ribs makes up for this minor misfire. Sides, too, run the gamut from the ordinary to the odd. Frites are stringy yet soggy, while Cuban corn, rubbed with spices and feta cheese, is shall we say, unusual at best. But you'll never again be satisfied with merely grilling asparagus after sampling the daily special of smoked ramps -- left long and limp, they are a real treat and culinary breakthrough.
So much at Barque is done right, including pails filled with spiced popcorn at every table, that it comes as a real shock that the Barque Caesar salad could be such an unmitigated disaster. Its inauthentic Miracle-Whip creaminess is bad enough, but its the sheer tasteless that boggles the mind. And this has anchovies and garlic? On what planet? But recovery from this disappointment comes quickly after sampling an astonishing homemade scotch bonnet sauce that somehow manages to deliver a time-released flavour sensation before it blasts your taste buds to Neptune.
Ending the meal with fluffy, sugar-coated a la minute beignets ($6) with smoked pineapple and an orange-caramel sauce has us thinking that there aren't that many cracks that need to be filled. In fact this novice chef might very well have Canadians replacing their barbeques with smokers by mid-summer.