Will Barque have bite? A new smokehouse opens up in Toronto's west end
Dave Neinstein has been spending much of his waking hours thinking about brines, marinades, rubs and barbecue. Standing next to his new restaurant’s piece-de-resistance — a rotisserie-style, 500-pound capacity, wood-burning behemoth of a barbecue smoker from Tenessee — he points out that he’s also been thinking a lot about wood.
“The wood is just as important as any other ingredient,” he says. “It’s like a rub. I don’t use mesquite or hickory — they’re too strong.” Instead, he prefers applewood or cherry for smoking red meats; sugar maple or pecan for pork and chicken; alder for seafood.
Neinstein is the chef at Barque Smokehouse, a new barbecue spot set to officially open tonight in the former digs of Bistro 299. He co-owns the place with his long-time friend Jon Persofsky, and the opening is a dream come true for the novice restaurateurs. They were previously making rounds in the corporate world before quitting their jobs and joining the culinary world.
It’s a big step, no doubt, but this is the age of DIY, where two ex-suits can find their bearings with a little bit of research. Or in this case, lots of research. Persofsky looked into the business side of things, learning about restaurant management at George Brown College, while Neinstein, who had worked side-jobs at restaurants before, headed south to learn about barbecue.
There, he spent three months in Oklahoma’s Ponca City, at the venerable Head Country Barbecue, cutting meat, working with rubs and loading the smoker (he was paid in food). Following that, he spent another three months on the road, eating at over 100 restaurants (“I got fat,” he jokes), getting certified as a competitive barbecue judge and, of course, asking lots of barbecue-related questions.
Neinstein wants to eschew barbecue’s stigma as unhealthy, over-indulgent fare and seeks to present Barque as refined barbecue. Rubs, marinades and sauces are all made in-house (they’ll soon be available for sale), and sides include lighter options like pickles, salads or smoked asparagus. The wine list focuses on vintages; the beer list focuses on McCauslan Brewing.
As mains, options include baby back ribs ($16 for a half rack); one version is rubbed, smoked for four hours and then finished with a glaze. Also available is chicken ($18 for a half), or, put together a custom dish with a-la-carte options ($6 each) like chicken thighs, beef ribs or Neinstein’s personal favourite, beef brisket (Ontario Angus beef injected with a secret concoction, rubbed and then smoked for 12 hours). Come May, lunch will offer the possibility of brisket or pulled pork sandwiches, while brunch could offer poached eggs topped with pulled pork and barbecue Hollandaise.
Heavy on the reclaimed wood, this is a joint worthy of Ossington or Dundas West (The Design Agency took care of decor). And, if Toronto’s recent penchant for all things carnivorous is any sign, Barque could very well put a much-needed spring back into Roncesvalles’ step.
Barque Smokehouse, 299 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-532-7700