Words and pictures by Kelly Jones
Chef Anthony Rose’s newest culinary venture, Drake BBQ, is set to open this Friday. And while we weren’t allowed to take pictures of the still-unfinished space that was once Scoops + Tees (Rose’s ice cream and shirt shop just doors east of The Drake Hotel), we were given a sneak peek of the interior and granted access to the smoker.
Anthony may have an almost stardom-like following in this city, but he’s incredibly easy to talk to, and his unaffected attitude and childlike silliness make me feel like we could be fast friends if only we could get past this interview business and open a bottle of wine.
But Anthony is serious about food, and his Southern-style barbecue idea has been curing for a long time now, brought to the foreground after considerations for a taquería didn’t make the cut.
“We wanted it to be easy and really, really good and delicious. I’ve always played around with smoking stuff. I love eating barbecue and I love making barbecue. But the idea of opening a barbecue restaurant was always daunting . . . Everyone has an opinion about food, and that’s great . . . But barbecue is one of those, just, ultra-weird, different things that people think they know exactly what it should be. But once we got into it, and bought a smoker, and found the good meats, and started to make the sandwiches—it’s just amazing. It’s so much fun, so different.”
The menu that we’ll see on Friday is but a shadow of the original concept.
“That’s always my favorite part, writing the menu. And then cooking it. I had a really big menu—ribs, chicken, brisket, chicken, pig tails, ears—and it had everything on it. And we cooked it all and enjoyed it . . . But we needed it to be a lot simpler. So, slowly we said, we’re not going to do that, we’re not going to do that… Finally, we decided, let’s just do two sandwiches. Let’s do it really well, concentrate on it, and then you’re done.”
The sandwiches that survived the whittling? Carolina pulled pork shoulder ($6.95), Texas chopped beef brisket ($7.95) and the 60/60 ($8.95), which combines three ounces of the first two meats.
“On Nuit Blanche, we did barbecue on the corner; we showcased what we are going to do. And a lot of people were ordering the 60/60. But it takes too long to say, because you have to pronounce the X, so now we just call it the “siddy/siddy.”
Slaw and barbecue sauce top each meaty mound, and the lot is enveloped by a generic white bun, “letting the meat be the focus.”
Covered Bridge potato chips, with sea salt and either cracked pepper or vinegar ($1.49), Tymek’s old sour pickles ($0.75), Kernal’s Ontario-grown peanuts ($1.99), and Ezell’s coleslaw ($1.49) round out the offerings.
There’s just one dessert for sweet-tooths, but much thought has gone into this creation too. Whoopie pie is “a little bit of an anomaly. You never see a whoopie pie. It’s very much an East Coast Maritime and New England type of thing. We wanted one dessert, and to just kind of put it out there, and people can just eat and enjoy. We thought about cookies or cookie sandwiches or cupcakes, but we thought those were way to generic, too ubiquitous . . . Let’s have something fun.”
Whoopie pie flanks a layer of really dense cream with two layers of cake that have been cooked the size of cookies. “It’s like a sandwich. It’s like a cake sandwich,” Anthony laughs. “The best cake sandwich you’ve ever had. It’s not necessarily a southern barbecue thing, but we wanted something you could just hold in your hand and . . . have a good piece of pie.”
The room, like the chalkboard menu, keeps it simple. Black counters along the room’s edge will sate those who want to dine in, but the hungry have to stand: no chairs for lounging here. The west wall features a glossy collage of white-on-black words on the BBQ theme, and Anthony’s spice rubs—plus brought-in hot sauces (Bite Me, Da Bomb, The Final Answer, and Raw Heat Vintage 69)—will line reclaimed wood crates in a cluster along the east wall. Rustic-looking refurbished cabinet doors front the ordering counter.
The smoker, which he calls Nancy after a favorite babysitter he had as a kid, is still out back in the garden. He had fun playing with it these last two weeks, learning its peccadilloes and perfecting his technique. “We found that 225 degrees in the sweet spot.” He shows us five Carolina pulled pork shoulders that have been smoking in there for three hours. [See previous photo above – Ed.] They’ve got another twelve to go (brisket takes about eighteen). The apple-wood logs he burns are from The Kawarthas region northeast of the city.
Drake BBQ is a good fit for the neighbourhood, where places like Subway Sandwich and Massimo’s stand in as the only late-night eats. No doubt the Drake BBQ’s price point, with the most expensive choice capping at $11.75 (and a combo at that), will keep the place hopping.
“The idea was to create something as simple as possible, using delicious ingredients from all over Ontario—and most of it does come from Ontario, except the chips, which are from Nova Scotia. But we’ve got some great stuff. Low and slow is the key; we just take our time.”
The Drake’s BBQ opens officially this Friday. The smell of smoking apple-wood in my hair will have to suffice until then.
Open Thursday to Saturday from 6pm until the meat runs out
Drake BBQ: 1142 Queen Street West
Kelly Jones is a freelance writer and editor. She teaches Food Writing at George Brown College.