Destination Dining

Top-notch barbecue in Muskoka from two Toronto fine-dining chefs

Sure, gas prices are still pretty bonkers. But, if you’re looking for a tasty getaway this summer, we’re highlighting road-trip-worthy dining destinations across the province, led by Toronto-expat chefs, that are worth the time in traffic and the pain at the pump. First up: barbecue in Bala. 

The Smokin’ Birds

Where: 3142 Muskoka Rd. 169
Distance from Toronto: 205 km

Real-deal barbecue is pilgrimage food, the smoke-scented lust object around which entire Texas getaways are planned. Such devotion explains why two Toronto fine-dining chefs figured they could open a roadside barbecue stand on the edge of cottage country and still draw a crowd.

Jennifer Dewasha and Jane MacDonald, industry pals with upscale spots like Café Boulud and Sofia Yorkville on their resumés, launched the Smokin’ Birds last summer as a pop-up in Wahta Mohawk territory before landing a permanent home in Bala, which they’ve dressed up with bright-yellow picnic tables. It evokes some of the best barbecue joints in Austin in both look and smoke-ringed satisfaction.

The star of the show is the exceptional brisket—the first jiggly-tender bite delivers near-primal gratification. The smoked beef burger, made from that same brisket and topped with thick-cut bacon, bestows a similar reward. And the sides are all standouts, especially the tangy-sweet pineapple slaw that cuts through the over-the-top meatiness. It all makes a compelling argument that barbecue just tastes better after you’ve spent a few hours in cottage country traffic on the 400.

Other stops in the area

JACK AND STELLA has all the grab-and-go essentials for a fully stocked cottage weekend—frozen Terroni pizzas, local pantry goods, canned cocktails and to-go wines—with an incredible dockside patio for happy hour. Bonus: freshly made doughnuts on Saturday mornings. 1004 Bala Falls Rd.,

DON’S BAKERY is an old-school scratch bakery specializing in classic Canadiana: fruit pies, iced lemon loaves, Chelsea buns, butternut squares and butter tarts in a variety of flavours and sizes—the plus-size pecan tarts are an easy go-to. 3119 Muskoka District Rd. 169,

CLEAR LAKE BREWING CO. pours summer-friendly suds and boasts a sprawling side yard that features firepits, Muskoka chairs, cornhole, a stage for live music and a playground for little ones to romp around in. For a longer stay, there’s an entire spa experience with saunas, hot tubs, hammocks and, of course, lots of beer. 4651 Southwood Rd.,