Brooklyn Tavern (Leslieville)

Brooklyn Tavern @ 1097 Queen Street East in Toronto Ontario, call them @ (416) 901-1177

Brooklyn tavern.

It was the beginning of Autumn in Toronto and we were all in denial. I attempted to cope by having brunch at Brooklyn Tavern with a new friend. We had a post-prandial walk down to Woodbine Beach and watched all the other deniers playing in the sand. Ice cream soon followed.

Based on this one visit it’s hard not to conclude that Brooklyn Tavern is a wonderful place to have brunch. We dined on their intimate and garden-like back patio. I can’t imagine it will be much of an option in the coming months, but on that day the weather was perfect for brunch among the flowers and leaves.

Brooklyn tavern.

I opted for the signature Caesar, which features Dillon’s unfiltered gin and a natural Caesar mix. Other than a more subdued flavor, I didn’t detect much of a difference between this and a standard Caesar (the spiciness of the drink overwhelms the other subtleties), so I would probably just go with the standard next time and save a few bucks. My entrée was the carnitas hash and egg over arugula salad ($12), which was delicious and a fair price. The arugula was immaculate, the carnitas clearly homemade and the egg perfectly cooked.

Despite the clearly well-conceived and –executed food program, I was more impressed with the service. On this quiet Saturday afternoon the restaurant was staffed by just a server, bartender and chef. They couldn’t have been more friendly and approachable, and perhaps more importantly – proud of the establishment and what they were doing there. I told them – and it’s true – I’d be in every week if it wasn’t across the city for me.

Carbon Bar

The Carbon Bar @ 99 Queen Street East in Toronto Ontario, call them @ (416) 947-7000

I’ve written about hipster BBQ before with the general conclusion that it’s a difficult concept to do well. In other realms, I think hipster takes are a good thing. For instance, places like La Carnita and Grand Electric do offer some value with flavor combinations you can’t get at a classic taqueria, and that are often quite good. Sure they’re probably more expensive than they should be, but what they offer goes well beyond the standard taco.

BBQ is an altogether different beast. While there’s a lot of enjoyment to be found in dressing up a taco, BBQ is all about smoking technique. The master craftsmen and women in Texas, South Carolina and Kansas City spend a lifetime tweaking their smokers, their timing and their wood. Simply put, there is just no quantity of lychee BBQ sauce and craft beer is going to temp me to overpay for BBQ.

Carbon bar brisket. It's expensive.

And that’s exactly what places like Carbon Bar and Electric Mud want me to do. At Carbon Bar, I ordered the brisket, which consisted of five slices of the titular cut, a pickle and a ramekin of sauce. The cost of this “plate” was $22, which in some sort of entrapment-like situation more-or-less requires the diner add a side. The brisket was, in fact, quite well executed – smoky and tender. Unfortunately, the price is prohibitive.

By way of contrast, I went to Memphis a few years ago and paid about $5 for the pulled pork sandwich pictured below:

Neely's Pulled Pork

I understand, of course, the cost of ingredients and real estate is a lot lower in Memphis. And there’s a good chance that these restaurants aren’t making a lot of money off their smoked meat (rather, their beverage program). Indeed, I’m not blaming Carbon Bar or Electric Mud – they seem to have a genuine interest in the art of smoking, and are quite good at it. It’s just that from the consumer’s perspective, paying a lot for a plate of BBQ and not leaving sated is difficult to swallow.

In short, BBQ, by its nature, is food for the masses. I’m fine paying a surcharge for creative takes on some dishes. This isn’t one of them.