Come June, Ottawa gets its annual visit from the Meat Fairy in the form of Ribfest, which just happens to be on the Sparks Street pedestrian mall, which just happens to be one street north from where I live. Imagine walking through two blocks of slow-smoking pork and chicken every day to and from work. It's a bit crazy. Unfortunately, it's also damned expensive: 22 bucks for a full rack of ribs, and that's just the ribs. Also, the line-ups are completely ridiculous and it's very much hit and miss when it comes to quality. I had a couple of half-racks last year that had the fall-off-the-bone tenderness, but were a big ol' sad trombone when it came to flavour. To be honest, what I really love about Ribfest is the Pulled Pork. It's better value than the ribs (6-7 bucks for a pulled pork sandwich), and pulled pork is a lot harder to screw up flavour-wise. I failed to notice an earthquake hitting Ottawa in June 2010 because I was too enrapt in my sandwich...
So in this post, I'll just be focusing on Smoque Shack and Fatboys.
|A pint of Mill Street Vanilla Porter cures all ills...|
Now, what first grabbed our attention was an entry from the "Snack and Grazing" menu: Rib Tips. "Marinated and fried up crisp, served dusted in our special seasoning or tossed in one of our signature sauces: Hot, Pirri Pirri, Sweet Chili, Memphis Red Sauce, BBQ, Jerk Sauce". Yeah, this had to be in my mouth... So, as our server came back to take our order, we asked what sauce would be best and he suggested we stick with the simple BBQ. Thank you Mr. Server for that! It was soooo good! I seriously have to talk myself out of ordering the Rib Tips every time I go just for the sake of trying all the other tasty items on the menu! Imagine little nuggets of rib meat with just a bit of crunch from deep frying. They're not the same texture as actual smoked ribs (they're a bit tougher, but not in an unpleasant way), I guess you could say they're a porcine version of chicken wings. Regardless, should you ever go to Smoque Shack, I cannot recommend these enough to you. EAT THEM!!!!!!
|Rib Tips, must eat, soooo goood!!!|
Now, since then, I've had all kinds of different goodies from Smoque Shack. I've had their brisket, which was heavenly (coffee-based BBQ sauce? Yes please!). I've had the Jerk Pork, which was perhaps a little tamer than the true authentic melt-your-face Jerk that a few friends of Caribbean descent have made for me in the past, but still delicious. Also had their chicken and pulled pork, both super-tasty as well. Oddly enough, I haven't yet tried the pork or beef ribs. Maybe due to cost, maybe because I just wasn't in a rib eating mood. Or maybe just because the goddamn Rib Tips keep calling me back... Either way, I will try their ribs next time I go and give y'all an update or comment.
A special note on their burger. I know, I know; getting a burger at a BBQ place seems a bit pointless. But to be honest, it was one of the best burgers I've ever had. There was a touch of chili powder in the meat and the patty was super-thick, but properly cooked and juicy (I don't care what anyone says about a 'rare' burger, pink in the middle of a burger is NOT a good thing!). Definitely something to try if you're in the mood for a burger.
|And of course it has bacon!|
The sides are also pretty good, but there are some hits and some misses. Their Greens are really tasty, as they use a variety of greens (kale, chard, etc.), not just collard greens. They cook them with bacon and there's tremendous flavour, but I still prefer the old school preparation with smoked pork hock that they serve at Jean Alberts. Other sides worth trying are the Mac n' Cheese (more bacon!) and Sweet Potato Fries (always perfectly crispy and really well seasoned).
So, that's Smoque Shack. Next, Fatboys.
Fatboys Southern Smokehouse
The anticipation for Fatboys opening was only a bit less keen than that for Smoque Shack. It's located on Murray Street just east of Sussex, right next to the building where Kari works (and I used to work for ten years, so familiar territory!). We went right after it opened, I believe its second week of business in December of last year. The interior is quite the marvel. It's a huge, almost warehouse-like location (which was a shock considering how small the space looks on the outside) with a grand open-concept kitchen. Where Smoque Shack has a cozy intimate feel, Fatboys is a bustling hive of activity. We met the owner who told us that the concept was to be as authentically Southern U.S. as possible, for good or ill.
As we sat down, a very young and cheerful young lady came up to take our drink order. Being a firm believer that good BBQ needs good beer, I asked what they had on tap. "Keith's, Bud, blah blah blah" I stopped her before she got going. "What sort of microbrews do you have?" I asked. The answer threatened any future visits from yours truly:
"I don't know what a microbrew is." Aaaaaaaand facepalm.
Now, I understand wanting to keep an authentic experience, but you should also know your potential clientele. This is Ottawa, not Florida, and no matter how authentic an experience you wish to give your customers, GIVE THEM THE BEST BEER POSSIBLE! We don't screw around in this town when it comes to our brewskis! (except maybe the idiot hipsters who have convinced themselves that Pabst Blue Ribbon is drinkable).
Anyway, with the disappointment accepted, I instead got a bottle of Busch beer (as in half of the Anheuser-Busch brewing company, the ones responsible for/guilty of brewing Budweiser). For a mass produced American beer, it actually wasn't too bad, but it sure as hell wasn't a Vanilla Porter or Steam Whistle!
So with this annoying, but not ruinous, strike against the experience, I was offered a bit of a tour of the facilities (the bonuses in a subtle mention of "I write a food blog" can be pretty damn cool at times!). We were shown the smoker up close and it was one hell of a contraption! Beats the hell out of my little amateur barrel smoker! Also met the "Pit Boss" and he seemed to know what he was doing - I was getting excited to try out what he was throwing down!
|That is a whole lot of meat! - photo by kira_generika|
So, back at our tables, we figured it was time to get on with the whole "shoving smokey meaty goodness in our mouths" portion of the evening. Between the two of us, we thought it would be best if we shared The Kentucky Trio, which is a 1/4 lb. each of three different kinds of meat with three sides. After some debate, we decided on Pulled Pork, Memphis Pork Ribs (so dry-rubbed with sauce on the side) and Smoked Turkey (I've never had it nor seen it in a resto before). For sides we had Smashed Potatoes with gravy, Creamed Corn and Mac n' Cheese. Now, none of the meats came sauced, which is fine since they have squeeze bottles of a BBQ sauce, a spicy sauce and a mustard-based sauce. They were all pretty tasty, especially the spicy, but nothing that made me gasp in pleasure or feel jealous.
As for the meat, well, it was kinda disappointing. The Ribs were a bit tough and they had no flavour on their own. I understand Memphis-style ribs don't come with sauce on them, but that's when you need to ROCK the rub and this rub tasted of mundane paprika and that's about it. The same applied to the Pulled Pork, also under-rubbed and bland. I wish I could say the sauces saved either, but they didn't really marry well.
We tried the sides and they too weren't remarkable: the Creamed Corn tasted fake-ish, as did the Mac n' Cheese, but the gravy on the Smashed Potatoes was really good.
What saved the meal, thankfully, was the Smoked Turkey. It wasn't super moist in and of itself, but tender and DELICIOUS! Especially when smothered in a metric ton of gravy. I would go back just to eat lots and lots of it and slip into a happy tryptophan coma. But unfortunately, that's about all I'd go back for, although they do have live Rockabilly acts now and then, so that might be worth another trip.
So there you have it, a backgrounder on the meager state of BBQ in Ottawa. I commend Smoque Shack for giving this town what we needed, and caution Fatboys to step up their culinary game and add some Canadian flavour on their drink menu. From what I've read on restaurant review sites and food blogs, my opinion is fairly common. Hopefully improvements at Fatboys will happen and help make Ottawa's downtown a "two-awesome-BBQ-joints area". Mill Street has shown themselves quite adept at making smoky goodness, but I wouldn't quite classify it as a BBQ joint. And in the end, I still, ecstatically, have Smoque Shack's tasty goodness to keep me happy. And my smoker on the back deck, of course...
Happy snarfing of smoke-kissed carcasses of joy!