With newish barbecue joints The Stockyards and Hadley’s still going gangbusters and Hardy’s set to open this June, it looks like the Big Smoke is finally starting to live up to its name. Toronto’s newest smokehouse is Barque, a laid-back Roncesvalles spot whose fare is a little lighter than the artery-clogging calorie bombs usually associated with the cuisine of the American South. “There’s no reason why barbecue needs to be heavy,” says chef and owner David Neinstein, as he slathers his homemade rub on a sky-high pile of smoker-ready ribs.
Barque is the first foray into the Toronto restaurant world for Neinstein (who has a background in advertising) and his partner-in-brine, Jonathan Persofsky. After ditching a corporate gig to cook in France for a year, Neinstein made his way to a small town in northern Oklahoma, where he worked at a neighbourhood eatery for six months, becoming something of a pit master along the way (this sort of pilgrimage to the South seems to be a prerequisite for opening a new barbecue joint). Now he’s bringing his fresh take on southern classics to a neighbourhood filled with diners who, he says, are “young, educated and who know their food.”
Neinstein’s goal is to dispel the notion that barbecue has to be gut-busting by presenting more refined takes on the classics. His mac-and-cheese, for example, consists of handmade spinach and ricotta ravioli with tarragon and sage butter sauce ($4). But lovers of good old comfort food need not worry: Neinstein’s smoky menu includes classics like the aforementioned baby back ribs ($16 for a half-rack, $24 for a full) or smoked barbecue wings ($8), all courtesy of the enormous rotisserie-style, 500-pound-capacity smoker imported from Tennessee. And instead of the standard jug of beer to wash it all down, guests can indulge in a glass from of wine Barque’s extensive list.
The interior goes the traditional haute-BBQ route, with reclaimed wood and exposed brick, courtesy of the Design Agency (Brassaii, The Roosevelt Room), a noticeable upgrade from the plastic chairs and sticky counters normally associated with this type of cuisine. And for those who need their fix early, you’re in luck: Barque is now open for lunch and brunch as well.
Barque, 299 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-532-7700, barque.ca.