Hang on to your wet naps Ottawa. Things are about to get good and messy around here. The first of two barbecue joints to hit the capital this year has arrived. Warren Sutherland, former owner of the now-defunct Sweetgrass restaurant, has teamed up with three partners to bring authentic barbecue to Ottawa. The SmoQue Shack opened to the public on Friday night.
There is nothing like meat cooked low-and-slow, using indirect heat combined with smoke from burning hardwood or hot coals of burning wood. It infuses the ribs (or chicken, or beef brisket) with campfire flavour; it renders the surface fat and creates an irresistible dark crust on the surface. As anyone who been initiated into the world of ‘cue south of the border knows, barbecue is not just a cooking method, it’s a religion. And once you get a taste of it, it can make you do crazy things. A friend of mine makes an annual pilgrimage to Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Syracuse NY, swinging back home to Ottawa on the same day after dinner with a trunk-load of leftovers. I take the 401 directly to Stockyards in T.O. before ringing up family or friends. What makes people go crazy for their favourite ‘cue? Head down to The SmoQue Shack and find out.
I haven’t tasted everything on the menu yet (that would be impossible in one visit) but I can say confidently from what I ate on Sunday afternoon, this is crazy good barbecue. I was a little disappointed that the space felt a bit like a restaurant chain (and perhaps that’s the idea; we’ll stay tuned for franchise news) but I quickly got over it. After visiting my share of quirky historic BBQ joints and one legendary BBQ festival in North Carolina, I have come to associate this food with wise-cracking granny servers, kitschy photos, pig paraphernalia, and trophy displays from years of ‘cue competitions. Of course, you have to start somewhere — and I am glad SmoQue Shack is starting here.
Sutherland was born in Jamaica so we’ll presumably see that influence on the jerk chicken and jerk pork shoulder, but there’s also North Carolina-style pulled pork (basted with a tangy vinegar), Texas-style brisket (with a bold coffee BBQ sauce), and Memphis-style ribs (with a chipotle honey BBQ sauce). There are wings and sandwiches and burgers and steaks, as well as all the usual suspects as side dishes: corn bread, mac & cheese, spice dusted fries, slaw. Even non-meat eaters can get into the smoky spirit with grilled shrimp, salmon, and tofu.
Find Ontario craft beers on tap, as well as homemade “Five Alive” which combines fresh lemonade with lime, orange juice, and Sprite. Oh yeah, there are some awesome desserts too. But we’ll talk about that another day. For now just roll up your sleeves and dig into some bona fide barbecue. You may need to ask for extra wet naps.
Oh, and don’t forget to order the onion rings.
The SmoQue Shack, 129 York Street, 613.789.4245, www.smoqueshack.com
Hours: 11:30 a.m. – 11 p.m.