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.

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