Dining Out: Sizing up four smokehouses from Stittsville to Gatineau
TNT Smokehouse Bar & Grill
731 Ridgewood Ave., 613-421-0226, search for “TNT Smokehouse” on Facebook
Open: Monday to Wednesday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Thursday to Saturday 8 a.m. to midnight, Sunday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Little Red Shack BBQ
1016 Carp Rd., 613-983-7559, littleredshackbbq.com
Open: Tuesday to Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Monday.
Le BBQ Shop
41 Boul. Fournier, Gatineau, 819-205-9353, lebbqshop.ca
Open: Sunday to Wednesday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
432 1/2 Preston St., 613- 230-5870, search for “Zydeco Smokehouse” on Facebook
Open: Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., closed Sunday
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Although I have a perfectly good smoker at home, I can be a bit lazy. And impatient. And curious.
For those and other reasons — above all, because of a hankering for pork ribs — I’ve been eating recently at four Ottawa-area smokehouses, and discovering some obvious strengths, some significant differences and a few weaknesses.
The newest and largest of the four was TNT Smokehouse Bar & Grill, which opened about four months ago where the Mooney’s Bay Bistro was in a Ridgewood Avenue strip mall.
A roadhouse eatery and a smokehouse in one, TNT serves everything from pizzas to burgers to sandwiches and ribs. My visit a few weeks ago focused on smoked items, but the half rack of baby back ribs ($22.50, with fries and sides), the smoked meat sandwich ($10.75 with fries) and the pulled pork sandwich ($10.75 with fries) struck us as ordinary at best and over-priced.
Just OK, they were better than the interesting-on-paper but very heavy hot dogs topped with smoked short rib meat, cheese and jalapeno (two for $8.50).
Oddly, but the indelicately named “cowboy balls,” a surprisingly ungreasy appetizer of deep-fried mashed potatoes flecked with bacon and cheese ($8.25), were the best and most memorable things we had at TNT.
Three other tiny barbecue joints, all with far fewer seats and much smaller menus, served significantly better food.
In Stittsville, the Little Red Shack just off of Carp Road served some very likeable, sweetly sauced ribs and a fine brisket sandwich.
Dean and Beth Wilkinson, the couple who have run the shack seven days a week since September 2013, are barbecue purists, striving to get the texture and succulence of meats right while letting the intrinsic flavours of those meats shine without going too heavy on the spices, seasoning or smoke. The Wilkinsons also believe in smoking with wood they have easy access to, including oak, maple and cherry.
Meaty, super-tender pork ribs ($11 for a half rack) were the must-eat here, and the brisket sandwich, a hefty clump of thick-cut slices, nicely balanced beefiness and smokiness.
Although the shack’s ribs come slathered with sauce unless otherwise requested, other meats were sauced more sparingly.
Pulled pork ($6 for a sandwich) was interestingly chunky and practically au naturel, in contrast to pulled pork elsewhere, which can be as much about the sauce as the pork. Pulled chicken too was served in a minimalist way, and I thought it could have used more seasoning.
Of the roadside joint’s side dishes, the smoky pit beans and cornbread appealed more than OK mac and cheese. Dean Wilkinson combined that mac and cheese with the beans and pulled pork for what he calls a Stittsville Threeway ($7) — a regional specialty in the making?
On Fournier Boulevard in Gatineau, just on the other side of the Lady Aberdeen Bridge, Le BBQ Shop opened in September 2013. It’s a wee downstairs counter with some picnic tables outside and two tables and 10 stools inside. Along with barbecue staples, burgers and poutine, and it has some Quebec craft beers available.
At Le BBQ Shop, I liked most of all the super-moist, jerk-sauced applewood-smoked pulled chicken sandwich ($6).
Some take-home brisket ($22/pound) was thinly shredded rather than thickly cut, and while it was tender, it wasn’t juicy. What raised the brisket up a notch was Le BBQ Shop’s decision to serve it with a bright, punchy chimichurri sauce. A pulled pork sandwich ($5) was more run-of-the-mill, lacking the kick of a special sauce or meat that wowed. Le BBQ Shop’s ribs ($24 a rack) came with much rubbed-in spiciness, but because they had been smoked previously and then reheated on the grill they were more tense texturally and a little dry.
Of Le BBQ Shop’s sides, mac and cheese ($9) was spicy and fully flavoured, but rather oily too.
Finally, Zydeco Smokehouse, which opened in late 2012 on Preston Street, caters to a lunch-time clientele with some excellently concocted sandwiches ($7 or $12 with two sides and a drink) and smoky daily specials.
For me, the best sandwich is a toss-up between Zydeco pitmaster Greg Delair’s Philly cheese steak that teems with smoked top sirloin or his “porkalicious” that combines pulled pork with bacon and smoked peameal bacon.
Pork ribs ($12 with sides and a drink) are only available on Tuesdays here, although I’d crave them more than once a week. The four mammoth ribs that I had were sufficiently tender and deeply flavoured from rub, chipotle-spiked sauce and hickory smoke. Pulled Pork was of a similarly high standard. Brisket sandwiches have been unadvertised, but occasionally available. I snagged one that featured thick-cut, juicy meat with a bit of chew to it.
Delair’s coleslaw is made fresh each morning and his mac and cheese feels special, with the right amount of smoke and bits of meat if you’re lucky.
These smaller smokehouses each had food worth going out of one’s way for, with selected items that reached a level that I’d be proud to replicate with my smoker.