Table Talk: Joanne Kates reviews Stack
By Joanne Kates
Stack’s pulled pork sandwich comes with crispy onions on a sesame-seed bun (Image: Bianca Puorto)
Uptown’s answer to Roncy’s Barque Smokehouse … isn’t. Funny (to me) how popular Stack became the second it opened in the spring. So don’t show up without a reservation at prime time unless you want to wait.
But for what? The quality of the food is pathetically uneven, and the service is … well, let’s just say we asked our server what was in the sauce on the chicken. Quoth she: “I have no idea what’s in it. A whole bunch of spices.” No offer to find out.
The chicken (its sauce tasting like curry-inflected chimichurri) is one of the few greats on the menu. Great taste and moist flesh with a subtle hint of smoke from the huge southern smoker (the same one as Barque has). Stack also uses the smoker to great advantage for its pink ’n’ pretty smoked meat, beautifully marbled and hence super tender, juicy and just smoky enough. But two great smoked items from a specially imported smoker with a 500-pound capacity? Where is the love?
It’s in the poutine with ultra crispy frites, good gravy and squeaky cheese curds. And the entertainment provided by our server for no extra charge.
Me: “Where are the cheese curds from?”
Me: “Oh, they’re not from Quebec?”
Waitress: “Yeah, for sure they’re from Quebec.”
Despite her ditziness, the calamari rings are nicely crispy and the mac ’n’ cheese is both cheesy and creamy. In a town gone mad for burgers, Stack’s is almost as good as it gets — almost, because despite the tasty coarse-ground beef on a great sesame bun from Fred’s Bread, nobody asks how we’d like it cooked, and well-done is not how.
Had we not been seduced by brisket at Barque, Stack’s brisket might have sufficed. But there’s no love in their brisket. It’s dry. Which is an easy thing to pull off, given that brisket, a cheap cut of meat without fat marbling to moisten it, needs help to be moist. Not here. Whoever is manning the smokehouse may want to infiltrate Barque for a smoking stage. ASAP. ’Cause the pulled pork is mushy and has no taste; the ribs are only moderately meaty and the Memphis medium BBQ sauce is far too sweet.
Maybe they think north Toronto is scared of a little kick? Baked beans are also sugary and cole slaw is bland. This kitchen seems ignorant of the fine balance that BBQ requires. Vinegar! Hot sauce! Bring it on. Uptown has taste buds!
Perhaps the savoury portion of dinner had insufficient fat for you?
If that is the case, go for Stack’s signature dessert: fresh-made mini doughnuts. S’mores doughnuts are crisp and warm, topped with baby marshmallows, industrial chocolate syrup and whipped cream and graham cracker crumbs. Yes, it’s the campfire food of my dreams; and how perfect to have it in a slightly sterile but classy sports bar with eight big TVs perennially playing sports.
Stack, 3265 Yonge Street, 647-346-1416
Joanne Kates trained at the Ecole Cordon Bleu de Cuisine in Paris. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the New York Times, Maclean’s and Chatelaine, and she was the Globe and Mail’s restaurant critic for 38 years.