BIG CROW: Up north in midtown

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647 748 3287  |   Reasonably Priced Small, Large Plates  |   176 Dupont St W

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I’ve only ever given out two four-star reviews in this city. The most recent one was Anthony Rose’s Rose and Sons, a deeply satisfying, eclectic diner experience I’ve been raving about for months. Big Crow, an ‘up north’ inspired patio, recently opened just behind it, and I was fortunately invited to partake by a couple friends who’d already been and were craving seconds. Here’s how that went.

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Food

Before I get into food, let me take a couple sentences to say these guys serve ginger beer straight from Thomas Laverns C&D in Kensington Market - a huge plus if you love the unique burn of this particular beverage. Generally, you won’t find ginger beer outside of Caribbean restaurants or cocktail menus, so I happily had both a boozy version with rye and a big glass of it with ice afterwards.

As for the menu here, it’s broken out into starters (crow start), seconds (little crow) and platters that combine main proteins (big crow) with salads (eat crow). And there’s dessert, but I’ll touch on that later.

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The first and highest priority for one of my friends was to re-order the garlic bread with smoked mozzarella (above). It’s got pretty much everything you’re looking for: crunch, mushy garlic, and a buttery soft interior. I would have gone a little heavier on the mozzarella personally given it’s the first item listed, but I can understand not wanting to go overboard with this starter.

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Next up, skewered jerk chicken wings on pineapple slices. The jerk wings were pretty tasty, good heat level, and charred enough for that to become a significant part of the flavour profile. Found the pineapple and bread to be afterthoughts…so I piled them on top of each other, resulting in a combination that was thoroughly forgettable. 

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We also ordered the swordfish with mango salsa to get some fish into the meal. The more I think about this, the less I understand why it’s on the menu. I get that swordfish is forgiving on an open grill, but mangos and a thin piece of swordfish don’t fit the theme at all, and it seems like such a wasted opportunity to do a riff on cedar plank trout or a whole grilled fish.

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Then the meal got a whole lot better with the arrival of the ‘jw bird’. If you’re a connoisseur of roasted chicken, you may have heard of Jonathan Waxman’s iconic JW Chicken, now served at Barbuto in NY’s West Village. I’ve had that chicken and it’s something I’ll never forget, but this was pretty damn close.

Really juicy and tender, crisp exterior, and a different twist on the green sauce that I think contained pickles, capers, green onion, and possibly ginger (don’t quote me on these). Point is, this is a must-order dish.

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Another must-order are the baby back ribs with burst tomato pesto; we ordered a half-rack and they were gone pretty quickly after they arrived. The pesto on ribs thing is a small stroke of genius, a blatantly good idea you don’t quite comprehend until you eat them. Get these.

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Our last savoury items all arrived on one platter:a half rabbit with deliciously vinegary honey butter hot sauce (in front), grilled corn salad with queso fresco and chili mayo (left), cubanello peppers and eggplant (back) and a bag of ketchup chips (right).

Best things on the plate include the stand-out honey hot sauce, grilled rabbit, and corn salad (if only because grilled corn is undeniably a good idea every time).

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I’m not even sure the picture above needs describing, so I’ll keep it short. Dessert at Big Crow is one of three ice-cream sandwiches on brioche. We ordered all three (crunchy peanut butter and blueberry jam, smore with browned mellows on top, berry with lemon curd), and you can’t go wrong with any of them.

Just pick what feels right and indulge. You can probably take one down yourself without completely hating yourself.

Service and Ambience

Clearly, this is also a great place to hang out. It’s nicely tucked behind the restaurant, accessed through an alley on the right, and opens up into well-lit lines of picnic tables filled with smells of a big open grill.

One thing you should know is that it gets a bit buggy, mostly little fruit flies, so just know you’ll have to protect your food like you might if you were really outdoors up north.

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Despite not being open long, service here was friendly, well-timed and helpful throughout during a busy Saturday evening. As we closed our tab, we also had our bills split into four on a moment’s notice, which I’d say is an underrated convenience that you’ll find valuable when stuffed and in need of a swift exit.

The Reco?

One of the city’s better options for patio dining without a doubt, and sure to get much busier in the coming weeks. The concept rehashes familiar memories, creates new ones, and will leave you with cravings the next day. All reasons you should get here soon.

That said, the swordfish choice is still bugging me, and I can’t say I’d order everything again. Perhaps it’s a comparative bias, but next time I’m in the area, I’ll probably walk into Rose and Sons and beg for ginger beer and a table by the window.

No other reviews yet. Here are some previews:
image Toronto Life    |     image Post City

image Posted by: Jacob, Visited Jul 20, 2013

Rose and Sons Big Crow on Urbanspoon

ELECTRIC MUD BBQ: Another electric success

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416 516 8286  |   $10-14 Sharing Plates  |   5 Brock Ave

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(special thanks to kiki’s BFF for the menu shot)

I don’t usually come this far west, but St. Patty’s day seemed like a suitable occasion to venture to Electric Mud. I would have been here sooner or later given my healthy appreciation for its sister restaurant Grand Electric, but some pretty unanimous early praise made this a must visit.

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Food

Like Grand Electric, the menu here is pretty succint and split into two parts. The first is a small main board that boasts ribs, pork belly, hot links and duck ham along with some sides, while the second is a paper menu that includes roasted cauliflower, shrimp & grits, and a pork sandwich among other things.

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Before diving into the various fatty and/or fried delights, I took a look through the cocktail menu and selected the ‘porch crawler’ (above) with thai basil gin and watermelon lemonade. Not too boozy, big glass, and more refreshing than sweet, which made it the perfect pairing for the onslaught/meal to follow.

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Our first order was a side of hushpuppies, which we instinctively ordered after watching our friendly line cook prepare them in front of us. This proved to be a wise choice. Perfectly seasoned and crunchy on the outside, fluffy with whole kernels of corn and mashed potato (we think?) on the inside. The puppies sat on what I’d describe as a semi-tartar sauce with a hint of mustard, which added to the addictive quality of the dish.

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Next up, a lightly-dressed creamy salad with soft-boiled egg halves topped with crispy pig ears. In a meal largely devoid of vegetables, it was either this, the coleslaw or the collards, and I think this worked for us. The portion was reasonably large, the pig ears had a just little bit of chew (a good thing), and the dish had good balance overall.

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Do you like pig tails? I love pig tails, and these are the best I’ve had. Often treated like you might prepare a chicken wing, these were so tender, and had a great sharp buffalo sauce that made this my favourite plate of the night. Sure, you might creep some people out as you work your way through what are essentially vertebrae, but it’s so worth it.

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We almost didn’t order the fried chicken, but our decision to say ‘what the hell’ was rewarded. These drumsticks had the perfect interplay of moist, juicy interior and crunchy, cripsy exterior that you look for with good fried chicken; however, I’ll say it was a little light on flavour for me. I think the crust could have used a generous sprinkle of spice or heat to play off the cup of honey on the side. 

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Next up, the token fish dish not named shrimp ‘n grits.  This fish on a squishy bun came stacked with lettuce, a tart, creamy sauce and some kettle chips for crunch. Definitely a tasty combo, but again, felt it was one ingredient short of perfection. More acid? spice? Not sure.

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Last, but certainly not least, the ribs. Tender? Check. Nice bark? Check. Peanuts on top? A smart addition. Clearly, I enjoyed these, but I think it needs to be said that they were a bit on the sweet side. I’d order them again, but I think these too could use some heat. 

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We ended with soft serve, because you should pay every great meal the compliment of ordering dessert. The twist here, was the mysterious flavour of bay leaf. I’ll be honest, I don’t really know what bay leaf tastes like, but I’d call this a variation on green tea ice cream, but less tea and more depth (not a good description, but it’s my best).

Service and Ambience

We first strolled by around 4:30pm to see if we needed to join a line for the 5pm opening, but with no one around, decided it’d be safe to have a pint nearby. We returned about 10 minutes after 5, and luckily snared some of the few remaining bar stools. Moral of the story: get here early.

As is usually the case, sitting at the bar is better. A portion of the kitchen operates right behind the bar, and you get to chat up the cooks and watch service. We felt right at home, got every dish pretty quickly, and really enjoyed ourselves overall.

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The inside of this place is pretty much wall-to-wall particle board with retro-butch items at every turn - the opposite of pretentious. What a great atmosphere to dine on some unique BBQ eats.

The Reco?

I quite like this spot and you should absolutely drop in and sin a little. A few of our dishes were one element short of the ideal bite, but I’ll admit to being very picky because I feel the need to provide some kind of constructive critique. In summary, it’s delicious. Go before everyone knows it exists.

Other Reviews? 
image kiki’s BFF     |     image My Life is Food

image Posted by: Jacob, Visited Mar 18, 2013

Electric Mud BBQ on Urbanspoon

BARQUE: More than a BBQ sweetspot

416 532 7700   |   $24 Sample for One, $42 Sampler for Two

 

I’m admittedly a little late on the Roncy bandwagon. This was my first restaurant visit out on the west side and I’m happy I took the trip. There are a few supposedly good options including Hopgood’s Foodliner, The Ace, and The Westerly, but Barque felt most summery and frankly the dinner menu literally made my mouth water. That’s really all it takes, so out I went. 

Food

It’s one thing for the allure of BBQ to tantalize you, but when you can add on great starters and compelling sides, it gets really difficult to pick. Thankfully, Barque understands and provides you with sampler options for 1 or 2 that give you the opportunity to taste a good chunk of the menu. We opted for the two-person configuration and grabbed some apps to start us off. 

We began with some pulled duck tacos (above) that really didn’t sound like they belonged on the menu. To my surprise, they challenged for the best bite of the night. The pickled carrots really sliced through the hoisin and duck, and the tortillas were undoubtedly fresh. A great surprise to begin.

Next up came the smoked shrimp and bay scallop cocktail. Portion’s a little small, but the subtly smokey fresh seafood was tasty. Found the shrimp in the habanero sauce and scallops in the salsa verde to be the best combos. I’d say the salsa verde was oily and bit flat though.

Next we went the ‘Barque Plate’ (above). My assumption is this changes on a rolling basis, but when we dined there, it included two chicken fingers and two zucchini blossoms stuffed with pureed onion and bacon, then deep fried. Accompanying this included some cashews, almonds, olives, smoked tomato aioli and an awesome smoked hummus. The standous on the plate included the blossoms, fingers, aioli and hummus. Really hit the spot before the sampler arrived.

In a two-person sampler, you select three meats and three sides. We went with beef brisket, competition chicken thighs, and a 1/2 rack of baby back ribs for the proteins, and were thoroughly satisfied. The brisket is outstanding (especially when painted with a little more of the house BBQ sauce), the smoke on the baby back ribs is delicious, and the chicken is juicy and tender.

The side of smoked asparagus wasn’t a unanimous favourite. I quite liked the addition of smoke to it for a change, but the rest of table preferred a good charred asparagus sans-smoke.

The ‘Cuban corn’ was sweet and juicy, but I found myself looking for more. Some spice on it would have been a welcome addition.

We also ordered the picked vegetables as a way to cut through all the fatty, smokey proteins. While they were tasty enough, the form didn’t lend itself very well to eating with the BBQ. A really unique slaw incorporating some of the beets and/or carrots would have been ideal.

As our stomachs filled up, we decided to swing for the fence and close on a potential high note. Suuuuch a good decision. This pecan tart with strawberries and cinnamon gelato (above) was dead-on. The pastry was light and crumbly (think shortbread-ish), the filling wasn’t too sweet, and the cinnamon gelato was expert. Everything you could want in a dessert on one spoon.

Service and Ambience

I’d heard the dining room was quaint, but I have to say the place is a fair size, especially with the covered patio out to the side. The room’s a little quirky with Teletoon Retro playing on a TV behind the bar, a wall full of nic nacs, and some great fixtures all over the place. When packed full of happy people, it really is an enjoyable atmosphere though. On the other hand, maybe it’s just the meat talking. I find protein highs generally improve everything that surrounds you.

Despite almost every table being jammed, our food flew out of the kitchen quickly and we never found ourselves waiting long between dishes. Servers were also helpful letting us know what certain things were on the plate and recommending a good portion size for the three of us.

The Reco?

I really enjoyed the meal here and would certainly recommend coming over to Roncy. While some sides could use improvement, I can’t help but gush about the brisket, zucchini blossoms, hummus, pecan pie and duck tacos.

You don’t usually get to say things like that about a BBQ restaurant, and that’s why I’ll definitely be coming back for more. Enjoy. 

Other reviews:
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 Posted by: Jacob, Visited July 14, 2012

Barque Smokehouse on Urbanspoon