The video above shows coverage from a June 2012 Canadian Southern BBQ Association competition at Blue Mountain Resort in Ontario. The article below is a guide to the Top 10 BBQ Restaurants in the province.
Story by Janine MacLean
Vacay.ca Food Columnist
Summer in Ontario means three things: cottage weekends, patio drinking and BBQ, and with the ongoing popularity of Food Network shows like You Gotta Eat Here and Diners, Drive Ins and Dives, authentic southern BBQ joints are now getting the recognition they deserve. You won’t find many restaurants that spend such time and attention on their menu items — brining, rubbing, smoking and grilling a single piece of meat until it’s at its most tender and flavourful — or chefs who cook with as much love and devotion as BBQ chefs. As any BBQ-er can attest, it’s a labour of love. Here are some hot southern BBQ spots in Ontario that we love:
1. Barque Smokehouse, Toronto
Chatting with Barque co-owner and meat smoker extraordinaire David Neinstein is like chatting with an old buddy.
“I don’t want to seem in any way competitive,” he says immediately, “We’ve been very neighbourhood and family-oriented ever since we opened in 2011. We strive to be a place where parents could bring their kids to enjoy some real food. Sunday night is Family Night where we have a fixed-price menu and big sharing platters — we see a lot of people from around the neighbourhood.”
And, oh, the food! Combining their unique spin on BBQ, wine pairing and good, old-fashioned customer service, there’s no question why Barque has topped Vacay.ca’s Top 10 BBQ in Ontario list this year.
Possibly the first BBQ joint to ever employ a sommelier (or three), Barque believes that wine and BBQ were created to be enjoyed together — and inexpensively, at that.
“We offer 10 wines by the glass, with our most expensive glass of wine being $10. We try to get our prices down to the point where people don’t break their bank. Currently we sell more wine than beer,” Neinstein says.
He insists that higher quality cuts of meat and well-trained chefs in the kitchen make all the difference when you’re working with BBQ, and the people of Toronto have to agree.
Why We Love It: BBQ and wine may not sound like a great match, but give us a nicely smoked hunk of meat with a big, bold, smoky red and we are over the moon happy. Barque offers the full BBQ experience and then some.
Price Range: $12-$42
Reservations: Highly recommended. Two-thirds of the restaurant is always reserved, with some space left for lucky walk-ins.
Must Order: The Barque Sampler for Two ($42) includes a choice of three meats and three sides. Heaven on a plate.
Contact Info: 299 Roncesvalles Avenue, Toronto, ON http://barque.ca/ 416 532 7700
2. The Stockyards, Toronto
The Stockyards has been around for three years now and with their unique take on southern BBQ, their fantastic brunch menu and their great service it doesn’t look like they’re going anywhere anytime soon.
Nine years ago, owner and pitmaster Tom Davis designed his own smoker and this is the same smoker that is used every day in the restaurant.
“We’re lucky it still works,” he jokes. All jokes aside, though, this is no ordinary smoker and The Stockyards is the only BBQ joint that uses a traditional wood smoker. He says that while the type of BBQ smoker one uses is based on personal preference, he thinks this particular type of smoker “doesn’t impart any other flavours” into whatever is being smoked.
That means the smoker at The Stockyards can’t run all night, it has to be cleaned a lot more regularly and it limits the amount of smoked items available at one time, but none of these things seem to affect the business. The Stockyards is full every night and is the BBQ joint of choice for many Torontonians.
“I’ve been in the restaurant business for 25 years. I just have a love for food — not specific food, but food in general,” Davis says.
And The Stockyards does more than authentic southern BBQ. Their brunch is out of this world and they sell as many of their burgers as they do their ribs.
“Everything we put out is comfort-food related,” Davis says, “And we haven’t pigeonholed ourselves with one type of food.”
Why We Love It: The smoker makes all the difference. Have you had oak-flavoured meat lately?
Price Range: $8-$25
Reservations: No reservations are taken — this place is first come, first serve.
Must Order: Biscuits and Sausage Gravy (brunch, $10), BBQ Beef Brisket Sandwich ($12)
Contact Info: 699 St. Clair West, Toronto, ON http://www.thestockyards.ca/NEWHOME.html 416 658 9666
3. Memphis Fire, Winona
When chef Steve Popp opened this place with his wife, Lori, two years ago, he never imagined how busy a small spot in Winona could get.
“It’s like the 16-table restaurant that can’t survive under 27 staff,” he jokes.
Lineups of 200 to 300 people are no joke, however; and that is just the kind of business Memphis Fire is experiencing – and not just for the amazing BBQ, but for comfort food favourites at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“People are usually waiting for an hour or an hour and a half,” Popp says. “For a cook, this is the hardest kitchen you could ever work in.”
Starting off as a spice company in 2003 (where they marketed and sold their signature BBQ spice, Memphis Fire), the Popps were first inspired by the idea of southern BBQ from a Saveur magazine cover article. Working as a culinary instructor at the time with a background mainly in Asian cuisine, Popp was intrigued by the honesty and total inconvenience of southern BBQ, as well as the overall simplicity of it.
“If you really want to measure a chef, have them make you a sandwich,” he quips.
Why We Love It: Since opening in 2010, this place has become a neighbourhood staple. With the husband/wife team at the back of house and Popp’s mom and dad working the front, the restaurant, like their BBQ, has been a labour of love from the very beginning. Watch for Memphis Fire on Season Two of You Gotta Eat Here.
Price Range: $6.99 to $23.99. Less than it would cost a family of four to go to McDonald’s.
Reservations: You can’t reserve a table, but you can reserve your ribs! Available from Thursday to Sunday every week, ribs can be reserved with 24-hour notice.
Must Order: Those delectable ribs! A full two-pound rack of ribs with two sides of your choice (market price).
Contact Info: 1091 Highway 8, Stoney Creek, ON http://www.memphisfirebbq.com/ 905 930 7675
4. Hardy’s Hogtown, Toronto
Combine a Quebecois pitmaster, an executive chef with Asian flair and a man with a serious love for all things locally sourced and you have a recipe for an awesome BBQ joint. And guess what? Hardy’s Hogtown Brasserie in Toronto is just that.
Opened in 2011, Hardy’s has quickly become a staple in its St. Clair West neighbourhood. Executive chef Ben Jevons recently took the reins and together with owner/chef John Hardy and pitmaster Max Lauziere he is churning out classic southern BBQ favourites with a twist, embodying their diverse Toronto neighbourhood as well as their own backgrounds and experiences.
“What we’re really trying to do is keep everything as fresh, local and produced on site as possible. We keep a close community and only serve Ontario craft beers on tap that we like to pair accordingly to our menu items,” Jevons explains. “People love our food and we’ve only been around a year. The reception’s been great.”
Along with the busy restaurant, the boys at Hardy’s have been participating in some of Toronto’s most popular street festivals, including Pride, Taste of Little Italy and Salsa on St. Clair (celebrating Toronto’s large Latino population).
“Latinos really know their pork, so we didn’t know how our BBQ would be received, but they all loved it,” says Jevons. “We’ve got a lot planned in the coming months so there’s a lot for people to watch out for.”
Why We Love It: It’s authentic BBQ with a worldly twist. Portuguese flavours? Italian? These guys have left no stone unturned when it comes to BBQ experimentation.
Price Range: $11-$22, all sandwiches come with a side, but you can get the sandwich alone for $7 if you ask.
Reservations: Not required except for Fridays and special events.
Must Order: Jalapeno poppers ($6), pulled pork ($11), smoked chicken wings ($7), tarragon onion rings ($6)
Contact Info: 992 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto, ON http://www.hardyshogtown.com/site/ 416 901 4100
5. Lancaster Smokehouse, Kitchener
Opened in 2011 by the Corrigan family, Lancaster Smokehouse (as well as their fast service restaurant, Hog Tails BBQ) has become a staple for producing the best southern-style pit BBQ in Waterloo Region. Using the best local food Ontario has to offer, over 18 Ontario craft beers on tap and live blues music every Friday and Saturday, Lancaster Smokehouse is great place to spend an evening.
Chef Chris Corrigan has spent a whopping 20 years on the BBQ competition circuit in the US, and his food shows it. All dressings, rubs and sauces are scratch made and the BBQ is some of the most authentic you’ll find in southern Ontario, but you’ll also find other southern favourites on the menu like gumbo and jambalaya.
“We keep in contact with a lot of BBQ chefs, pit masters and members of the Southern Foodways Alliance to maintain our integrity,” Corrigan says. “This is real, authentic, southern BBQ”.
The restaurant itself is pretty unique, being one of the oldest continuing operating bars in Kitchener-Waterloo. Not a bad place to chomp on ribs, drink some great beer and listen to the blues.
Why We Love It: Southern BBQ was made for blues music — or was it vice versa? A great spot for BBQ, beer and/or bourbon aficionados.
Price Range: $8-$40
Reservations: Reservations are accepted every night except Fridays and Saturdays.
Must Order: Cajun Jambalaya ($16.99), Grits ($4.49) and Chicken and Andouille Gumbo ($6.49)
Contact Info: 574 Lancaster St. West, Kitchener, ON http://www.hogtailsbbq.com 519 743 4331
6. Phil’s Original BBQ, Toronto
Southern style BBQ in Ontario is still a relatively new concept, so when you hear about a BBQ joint in Toronto that’s been doing it authentically for 14 years you can’t help but wonder what it’s all about.
“When I first opened I would say hardly anybody knew what pulled pork was,” recalls Phil Nyman. When southern BBQ suddenly became popular Nyman found himself ahead of the game and already set up in a very desirable part of Toronto — just off the food-trendy Ossington strip in the city’s west end.
While they now have lots of help in the kitchen, Nyman is still there at every point in the BBQ-ing process. He is a man deeply involved in his work and like the man himself, the restaurant’s ambiance is very relaxed and calm. A great place to dig into a plateful of delicious BBQ.
The real question remains: After 14 years does Phil still maintain the same passion for BBQ that got him started?
“I never get bored because I’m constantly aiming for perfection with every piece of meat. Every piece of meat is different so it’s never exactly the same every time. When I hit it just right — the right balance of bite and tenderness, the right balance of flavours — it always makes me smile.”
Why We Love It: It truly is the original home of southern BBQ in Toronto, and you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu.
Price Range: $7.95-$26
Reservations: Phil doesn’t like to take reservations and there’s usually always room for walk-ins.
Must Order: Phil’s pulled pork combo plate ($26).
Contact Info: 838 College St., Toronto, ON http://philsoriginalbbq.com/ 416 532 8161
7. Hogtown Smoke, Toronto
Toronto’s first BBQ food truck is making a huge splash on the city’s ever-expanding food truck scene, and no Ontario BBQ literature would be complete without mentioning this smoker on wheels.
“We’re one of the few food trucks with an on-board smoker, and the smoker is literally going all day and night,” executive chef Scott Fraser tells us via cell phone. He’s speaks while stuck in traffic after a long day “working the streets.”
Opening just six weeks ago and already experiencing cult-like status among downtown Torontonians, Hogtown Smoke is bringing BBQ to the masses with what Fraser calls a “competitive BBQ approach.”
“People are waiting in line for an hour, an hour and a half, and when they get to the front they’re just extremely happy. We recently had a family drive 80 km to try our BBQ.”
And who wouldn’t be happy with homemade mango, Patron tequila, jalapeno BBQ sauce? Or if that doesn’t pique your interest, perhaps some cornbread donuts (included with every order) and smoked beans baked with root beer? You can understand how, six weeks in, Hogtown Smoke is already becoming legendary in Canada’s most populous city.
Why We Love It: It’s BBQ. On a truck. ‘Nuff said.
Price Range: $10-$13
Reservations: This food truck may not take reservations, but you can follow them on Twitter and Facebook, find out where they’ll be each day and try to get there early.
Must Order: The Hogtown Po’Boy: tender brisket soaked in au jus with carmelized onion, four cheeses, horseradish aioli and, just for good measure, a side of the au jus for dipping ($13).
Contact Info: http://www.facebook.com/hogtownsmoke. Twitter: @hogtownsmoke
8. Smoke and Spice, Windsor
Ryan Odette and wife Tina were already veteran restaurant owners in Windsor when they decided to open an authentic southern BBQ joint. That was almost four years ago. Now, Smoke and Spice is their number one business and the people of Windsor can’t get enough of their southern US fare.
“When we first opened there wasn’t a lot of southern-style BBQ in Canada. I spent some time living down south and it was just one of those things … we were looking at opening something new and BBQ was something I craved and missed,” Odette recalls.
“We spend some time planning what we would like to do with the place. I met a guy online who had a BBQ place in Tennessee and I basically sent him an email and asked if he was willing to train us and show us different things. We spent a week down there and became good friends.”
When they got back to Windsor, they opened Smoke and Spice and it’s been smooth sailing since.
“People in Windsor aren’t really looking for fine dining,” he explains. “This is comfort food, even if we never grew up with southern BBQ we can understand it and enjoy it. … I love BBQ. It’s pretty wholesome, there’s no cheating or lying, it’s done with integrity.”
Why We Love It: There’s something to be said for letting the meat speak for itself and refraining from smothering everything in BBQ sauce. They have five DIY table sauces, but encourage diners to try the meat on its own first.
Price Range: $5-$26
Reservations: During the week they’ll reserve tables for 10 or more. On the weekends, though, it’s first come, first serve.
Must Order: The Hillbilly Philly ($11.95): brisket, BBQ sauce, onions and peppers, provolone and chipotle mayo or The Smoked Bologna ($9.95), which is smoked bologna, coleslaw and BBQ sauce.
Contact Info: 7470 Tecumseh Road, Windsor, ON http://www.smokenspice.com 519 252 4999
9. Hungry Hollow, Georgetown
Michael Parsons has lived in Georgetown for 52 years. Three years ago, he opened Hungry Hollow Smokehouse and Grille, and since then the town has never been the same.
“This has been my first restaurant venture,” Parsons explains. “We did a soft opening and avoided over-advertising. We just let the people come to us. Soon enough, we were doing great business.”
In a small community like Georgetown, a place like Hungry Hollow becomes a regular haunt. With limited seating and succulent BBQ, this joint is a hive of community activity as well as a great restaurant.
“All of our rubs and sauces are homemade. We’re constantly marinating, smoking and grilling. It’s a 24-hour-a-day production.”
And just to top everything off, Parsons has introduced his very own food challenge known as the Cuckoo’s Nest: anyone who can finish off three Dreamburgers (that’s a homemade hamburger patty with cheese, bacon and pulled pork) as well as a 15-inch platter of Redneck Poutine (that’s poutine smothered in pulled pork) in 60 minutes wins a $25 gift certificate. You can also take up the challenge with a partner to get your picture on the wall if you finish in 30 minutes.
Why We Love It: Small-town, homemade southern BBQ and a crazy food challenge — who wouldn’t want to eat here?
Price Range: $6.95- $39
Reservations: Only necessary on Fridays and Saturdays
Must Order: Pulled Pork Plate ($9.95) and that tasty Redneck Poutine ($12.95)
Contact Info: 136 Guelph St. Unit 4, Georgetown, ON http://www.hungryhollow.ca/ 905 877 1400
10. Annie & Clyde’s Southern BBQ, Ottawa
Clyde Ross grew up in the southern US, so when he decided to open a southern BBQ restaurant in The Glebe neighbourhood in Ottawa, he took executive chef Terry Kerridge on a little trip back to his homeland.
“We headed right out into the south and went to visit a lot of famous BBQ places,” Kerridge tells us.
Add to that story some high-quality smokers and a bit of market research and you have Annie & Clyde’s southern BBQ, which opened just this year.
“The reception’s been great,” Kerridge says. It’s true — across the board, Ottawa is giving the best BBQ award to Annie & Clyde’s despite the fact the business is in its infancy. With BBQ classics like St. Louis ribs, Texas Beef Brisket and Southern Pulled Pork, it’s easy to see why there’s such buzz.
Why We Love It: You can also get Mexican food here. BBQ and authentic Mexican under one roof! Amen.
Price Range: $10-$20
Reservations: They do take reservations, but the patio is first come, first serve.
Must Order: A full rack of St. Louis Ribs ($39.95) with all the fixins.
Contact Info: 895 Bank St., Ottawa, ON http://annieandclydes.ca 613 236 9499