Last week a brand new BBQ Smokehouse opened on the west side of Toronto and yesterday my buddy Joe Simeunovich and I took the 1 hour drive from Oshawa to BARQUE * Smokehouse to find out for ourselves what all the excitement is about.
BARQUE * Smokehouse
299 Roncesvalles Ave, Toronto, ON M6R2M3
Phone: 416-532-7700 Click for larger Map
BARQUE * Pronunciation: BARK as explained by our host/Chef David Neinstein that they came up with this name for a few reasons including that even though it does work as a short form of the word BARbeCUE it also describes the outer skin on BBQ meat which is fondly known as BARK.
At the moment BARQUE * Smokehouse is open for the dinner hours and on Thursday April 29th we arrived at just after 5pm which was shortly after the doors were opened.
When I had phoned at 3:30 in the afternoon to double check the hours I was told that I could expect it to be very busy but if I arrived near 5pm seating should be available. I am glad I got that advice because within an hour of our arrival the joint was packed.
We were shown to a table and right away given a metal pail filled with freshly popped pop corn that had been seasoned with one of BARQUE *‘s signature rubs. It was a great touch as first off it gave us something to munch on while we waited for our meal with out losing any of our appetite and we had a chance to give our taste buds an idea of the flavours that were on the way.
We were given a menu that was clear and very easy to read.
Here is a camera shot of the menu which shows very well which in the past has been a problem for my camera.
Both Joe & I were interested in the fact that BARQUE *’s had Q Water on the menu in both regular and sparkling varieties of which we chose the sparkling which had great taste and we were also given some Lemon & Lime slices to spruce it up.
We decided to try the Smoked BBQ Wings ($8.00 for 8 decent sized wings) as an appetizer.
They were presented in a 6″ Cast Iron Skillet on a bed of greens and nicely garnished and glazed in a chipotle sauce and a slice of smoked yes I said “SMOKED” Lemon I myself had not seen this done before but it works really well, after drizzling the wings with some of the lemon juice, Joe even took a bite from the smoked lemon and liked it. The Smoked Wings had a nice bite too it but not over the top hot, very flavourful and tasty.
For our main meal Joe & I ordered the Barbecue Sampler for Two ($36.00) which gave us a choice of 3 of the four listed meats Two competition Chicken Thighs, 1/2 rack of Baby Back Ribs, Brisket or 2 Beef Ribs.
The last time I had Competition Chicken thighs was from Whiskey Bent BBQ when they competed at PigFest in Lakeland Florida in January when I went on my Southern Expedition. so that was an obvious choice, and anyone that knows me and Joe knows that Baby Back ribs would be a must. I chose the Brisket over the Beef Ribs.
along with the meat sampler we were given the choice of 3 side dishes to go with it though we had 4. If you look at the menu you will find that there are a number of traditional sides that are not on the menu such as Hush Puppies, Baked Beans, Mac N’ Cheese, Fried Okra and such and that is because David told me he did not want to do a standard “Southern style BBQ” he wanted something more trendy and suited for the crowd that lives and works in this “Hood” of Toronto. David has found that even though he is serving the locals as he had wanted there are a large number of patrons coming in from all over the area, there is even a lady on the restaurant’s facebook page that is flying in from New York wanting to try out BARQUE *’s
Back to the sides that we picked… Something that popped right of the menu was a side called Cuban Corn which I had researched and it sounded wonderful so that was a must have. It is Corn on the Cob that has been Grilled and then given a coating of Mayo, Red Cayenne Pepper, and some Feta cheese.
Next sides chosen were the Smoked Asparagus and also the Barque Caesar Salad which has Candied Smoked Bacon pieces added.
We also chose the Spinach N” Cheese Ravioli as our last side.
Again a great touch bringing the Ravioli to us in a 6″ Cast Iron Pan which is more for show since the pan was not hot which is a good thing since you would not want to be burned by the hot exposed Cast Iron.
The Ravioli it self was at an appropriate temperature and had a wonderful taste to it. Did I say it was hand made in house? It is, with a proper Ravioli maker. Really great!
The Caesar Salad was fresh and the Candied Bacon was really tasty though I wish there was more of it in the salad I think there were maybe 6 small chunks about an inch in size. Maybe could of used a little more dressing too.
I loved the Cuban Corn, I am so going to try to make this on my gas grill when the Farm Fresh Corn is in season, it was just out of this world good what a mix of flavour sensations, my favorite side for sure. and that is saying something since the other sides were very good too.
The Smoked Asparagus was very nice with just enough crunch and you could really taste the smoke in it, as David told me Asparagus is ideal for smoking as it is a plant that soaks up the smoke like a sponge.
In the above picture the Sampler Plate looks like a small portion of food but the knife is an over sized knife and the ribs are sitting on top of one of the chicken thighs and the other thigh is sitting on top of the brisket. There was a good portion of food on the plate.
Once again a slice of the smoked lemon was on the plate and although it was good on the Wings earlier and would also be good on the chicken thighs I made the mistake of squeezing it over the ribs, which to both Joe and I did not care for like that, to us the Lemon gave the ribs a kind of medicine taste similar to Vick’s Vapor rub the Ribs were cooked well and had the effect that most competition BBQ’ers would want and that is not fall of the bone, you want to be able to bite into the meat and be able to pull it off the bone but with some effort, using the knife to divide the ribs showed that they were done the way that David wants them to turn out.
Even though Joe and I did not like the taste of the ribs we were very impressed that David came over to ask our opinions on the food and being that we are both honest sometimes brutally so, we mentioned this to him. We thought that it was perhaps the Lemon that I had squeezed over the meat and David went back to the kitchen to give us another half rack of the baby backs this time with out any lemon and the taste was 100% better. David said that he will inform staff not to include or suggest that lemon be added to the ribs in the future.
The Competition style Chicken Thighs were spot on, beautiful texture and colour a great glaze and a very good portion size. this Chicken was amazing. But so was the Brisket, which was smoked to perfection, heavenly tender meat a with a great smoke ring and sliced in to good strips, though maybe a slightly thicker slice would of been nice to get, but I am not complaining as the taste was perfect.
We were both getting full at this point but looking at the dessert menu we both wanted to try the Beignets with Smoked Pineapple and a Orange Caramel Sauce for dipping ($6.00) so we ordered 2 of them.
Getting 1 and splitting it would of been better for us. As you can see the Cast Iron Pans were once again put to good use.
The Beignets were tasty and reminded me of Appleskivers that I have made at home before which are kind of a pancake ball though the Beignets are a little bit more like a pastry
The Smoked Pineapple is a creation that David experimented with by coating the pieces of pineapple with cinnamon and then smoking it, though it was different, and looked appealing it was a bit odd to me to which Joe agreed with my opinion. The Pineapple was not a favorite but I can see that some others may like that kind of thing, Myself I think a Peach or Apple Cobbler with Ice cream would of set the meal off much nicer which is what I had at Lexington #1 in North Carolina during the winter, which brings up another point, of the meats that one normally thinks of when having BBQ would be Pulled Pork which was not on the menu here, As I mentioned David wanted to get away from the Carolina southern style and turn out his own style instead, which is fine as his other meat choices are wondeful.
After our meal David took me for a tour of the back of the restaurant which is not hidden from view. In fact it is front and center (though at the back) including a 500 lb. capacity Southern Pride Smoker that burns stick unlike Cook Shacks which use pellets. though both Smokers are wonderful in their own ways, David wanted to use stick as fuel and even shows the wood that he uses as part of the decoration of the restaurant, under the work counters. I really liked the overall atmosphere of BARQUE *s, the decor was cozy and warm while clean and fresh with its barn board type of shelving with a lot of wine and wood showcased.
Speaking of wine David is very proud of his wine options and feels that he has picked perfect matches to go with the smoked food. Beer is sold as well though on this day neither Joe or I ordered any alcohol.
I mentioned before that we had the Q Water which is an interesting concept where the water does not have to be brought in, the restaurant makes their own using tap water and the Q Filtration sytem.
We drank almost 3 litres of Q Water, though I also ended up ordering a Diet Pepsi with dessert and they even put a lime slice in it.
I was really impressed that David worked the crowd during dinner he spent all of his time chatting with the patrons and I could see that he has a real passion for his cooking, he likes to think of himself as a Chef not as a Pitmaster though He loves everything about BBQ and is very knowledgeable about competition cooking. He could talk shop all night very easily and we are exchanging contact information and will be corresponding more and more. I hope to do a in depth interview to share with you in a future post.
Nick was the server at our table and he is very much involved in the restaurant as well with recipe ideas, He was very friendly as was the rest of the staff including the greeters and bartender.
For the two of us our bill came out to $70.00 plus tip I have to say Joe and I were really impressed by this new restaurant and it was packed and from what I could see and hear all were having wonderful meals and enjoying themselves.
I mentioned that BARQUE *’s was only open for dinner but plans are being devised to come out with a lunch menu as well in the coming weeks.
For those wanting more information below is their Business card and also some Social media contact information.
Here are a few more random shots from inside BARQUE * Smokehouse some taken when we first arrived before it got busy.