Opening a restaurant is a fascinating and time-consuming affair. There’s always interesting things to write about, but little time or energy to describe it. Now that Barque has reached its 8th month, I’ve felt obligated to document a few of the memorable milestones that naïve entrepreneurs like ourselves can be proud to have achieved.
In eight months, Barque has had its share of luck. The Roncesvalles street amelioration was finally completed and fortunately, our little stretch of sidewalk was one of the first done. Thus, while the construction crews were putting away their equipment, sweeping up refuse and adding the final touches, Barque’s little patch of concrete looked sparkling and ready for business – just as we were ready to open our doors to the public. Not at all by design, but we were ready to benefit from it. That and the city’s burgeoning interest in all things smoked. Read Full Story »
We open to our friends and family to try out our menu and train the staff. In order to work on all dishes, we decided to plate a little of everything for all guests – they left full.
What was interesting was how many dishes worked in research but failed massively on the restaurant floor. For example, the Caesar Salad with candied smoked bacon was always on the radar, but I convinced myself that corn bread croutons would be cool, taste great and be an original idea. It took literally a hundred complaints before I heard it and took them out of the salad. They really sucked.
Time finally for a breakdown of the last quarter. The BBQ Stage has moved from the French interpretation to the English one. The name has changed as well.
The name: Barque Smokehouse
Reflective of the wood used to smoke, the outer layer of bbq’d meat and a play on the wood Barbeque. Barque.
To summarize: BBQ research was completed in September 2010 and the search for a location began in earnest. Toronto is a big city and rent rates vary widely, not to mention socio-demographics. That being said, my partner and I settled on the concept of a neighbourhood restaurant that would serve refined bbq – a meaty local if you will. We needed a location that was already in a defined neighbourhood, with a growing population, high density and large family base. In November we found 299 Roncesvalles for sale and we grabbed it – we actually negotiated the lease on the day of my wedding (yes, I’m married and no, my wife wasn’t pissed).
I’m back to report. Please excuse the absence, I needed a break from bbq – it’s true, one can eat too much of a good thing. After months of ribs and brisket, I felt totally meated out and have been going through a meat detox – flushing myself with fruit and veggies and starting to feel better.
But back to the end. I left Oklahoma and took the long way home to sample even more bbq of various styles. I drove from Tulsa to Little Rock, then to Memphis, Nashville and over to North Carolina before heading north and out of the bbq belt. Along the way, I visited notable, random and sometimes questionable bbq restaurants. The results:
If you’re like me, then you’re excited to try a special dish in an out-of-the way restaurant that was recommended as having something to it. You’d also go far to get there. It often doesn’t matter if the food was good, because psychologically, you’d convince yourself of its worth, justifying your efforts and propagating the quality of your food adventure.
I’m done with the range and heading home.
It’s been a great two months and I’m ready to get my ass in gear and start cooking barbeque for my own customers. Big thanks to everyone in Oklahoma for having me, teaching me and caring for me. They were great and it was tough to leave, but it’s time to get to work.
My partner Jon joined me for the weekend and got to see some of what I’ve been doing during this meat-filled period (I need a cleanse), and the restaurant gave us the kitchen when they were closed to experiment with more recipes.
Side note – duck on the smoker:
All I had in my mind was Barbeque Duck, Cantonese style. One of my favorite foods any day. Though I went to Goode’s BBQ in Houston where they served a weak duck, it inspired me to give it a shot.
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I’m in the circuit, so to speak. I judged my first KCBS sanctioned event in Claremore, Oklahoma this weekend. There were about 50 competitors there to deal with lousy weather, but a well-known cook-off. Johnny Triggs was there, from the Pitmasters show and I couldn’t help but introduce myself and chat about BBQ (he uses Head Country BBQ Sauce).
He didn’t win, but the boys I hung out with at Stillwater and Enid did, Butcher BBQ – well done.
From the horses mouth I have to say that the food was awesome, sort of. The chicken and ribs I tasted were phenomenal, pork and brisket not so much. My table agreed and our scores (when compared after judging), were pretty consistent.
They take the judging very seriously. There’s a formal introduction on CD first, reminding everyone of the rules, then we all stand and repeat the Oath. For each group of six judges, there’s a table captain (who can also be the judge if they’re short). This person has to be certified for the job. At 11:40am they bring in the first turn-ins, Chicken.
Now that the lesson is over, a couple pics of my first whole hog.
70 pounds, 12 hours to finish at 260 fahrenheit with multiple doors openings (we had to remove the meat for the restaurant’s daily needs). Great times.
The hog was shot by a hunter, not farmed. There is a problem with wild herds around here multiplying too quickly, eating crops and gardens, so culling is permitted, even though it’s not hunting season.
I realized that I’ve been writing almost exclusively about a professional bbq kitchen and thought that some tips for home smokers would be appreciated. The bad news is there’s definitely a difference between commercial and residential smokers. The results are fairly noticeable. The good news is that great food can be made at home if you follow some simple procedures.
If you have a grill (what most would call a BBQ, like a Weber), then you’ll have to either create a smoke pouch with a couple layers of foil, or use a smoke drawer, cheap and easy to find.
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