Saturday, 28 May 2011

HIGHWAY 61 ~ Toronto ON

*** Highway 61 is NOW CLOSED - RIP ***

A while back I got a Groupon Coupon for a BBQ joint not close to me downtown. Then I forgot about it. Then I remembered that it was set to expire in one day, so I trucked it up to try them out. Simple story right? 

I totally bought into the brand that Highway 61 was putting on: low and slow BBQ, blues and classic rock, wood paneling and fake flames. The patio was full, and the inside was not very big (there is an upstairs though). There was a smell of BBQ in the air, but no wafty smoke.

I totally dug the atmosphere and the very friendly staff. I didn't catch the waitress's name, but she was very friendly and excellent server. The place was busy (as it turned out, everyone else came with their Groupon). I was happy to have my seat. There were a lot of families with kids there. A lot. There was also a guy in a cape who sat at the table next to me. My first thought was to criticize the odd choice of a cape - but then I was like 'rock on' because I like capes. He ordered ribs, as well as gator bites (this was also pretty popular and the waitress had to make sure they still had some they were in hot demand). When he left, I then realized he wasn't wearing a cape, but a poncho. I wasn't so on board for the poncho. But to each their own.

While I had already scoped out the menu online, I was not sure what all I was going to get. I did get a Coke, which came in mason jars (I like when I get funky drinking glasses). And my waitress was there to refill as needed.

There were so many things on the menu that I was mouth watering for. I was getting wings, that was for sure. But there were pork ribs and beef ribs, fried chicken, pulled pork, brisket, BBQ chicken . . . I mean what to get what to get?

Of course you could go with one of the Delta Blues Platters. I was totally sold on the BB King Platter but not the price tag. Even the Memphis Minnie was more than I was willing to shell out. I ended up going for the Baby Back Rib & Pulled Pork Combo ($20.99). 

There was the combo in all its glory. From left to right: Ribs, BBQ sauce, coleslaw, beans, jalapeño corn bread, pulled pork.

On the side were the beans and the coleslaw. Standard beans that lacked pizazz. Could have been a little more sweet. The coleslaw was nice and crunchy, with a mayo based slaw (which I prefer). A little peppery and nice and creamy.

Then there was the corn bread muffin. It had chunks of jalapeño which was nice. The muffin itself was soft but half-way to being hard. It came with a little container of cinnamon butter, which didn't appeal to me initially (not a big fan of cinnamon) but it melded well with the corn and jalapeño flavour.

The pulled pork. Tender but no strong flavour. No real smoke flavour. The sauce came on the side, and I needed to cover it pretty good. Their signature BBQ sauce was ok - too much of a tomato base for me.

The ribs are Ontario sourced and smoked. They looked really nice coming out. I did have the option of them coming out unsauced, but when it comes to ribs I really like sauce.

The ribs were a disappointed to me. They weren't bad, but there were several things that just didn't work. First, they were not tender at all. I had to use the given knife and really cut to split them apart. The meat gave more than a little chew to try and get it off the bone. The meat did not really have a smoke flavour nor was there a clear smoke ring. I didn't see smoke from the place when I arrived, and when I left I went out back to see if there was a wood smoker - there wasn't, so I assume they are smoking with an electric smoker.

I couldn't not have the wings when I saw them on the menu. Funny thing, the wings actually came out first, and then I had the BBQ platter (which a lot of went home in a doggy bag).

The wings come in an order of about 8 or 9 wings. They are rubbed in seasoning and then smoked, finally tossed in your choice of sauce.

On the side were carrots and celery and a cup of ranch dip. It wasn't the standard ranch but one of a higher quality - maybe made in house rather than bottled?

When the wings came out - they looked really good. Like, really good. They were a decent size (medium to medium-large) but on the menu they were described as jumbo. That's something that gets me down because they either don't know what jumbo wings look like, or they lied. But I wasn't too bummed out.

The wings are also smoked, which means you are not going to get a crispy skin. So I removed that score from the card. What you do get are chicken wings that are so tender that the meat just falls off the bone. You can so easily remove the smaller bone from the wingette and then just suck the meat off the bigger bone with no difficulty.

I went with Prairie Hot wings. These had a nice tang to them but were also buttery. A little bit of heat, but the sauce and the smokiness of the wings were still there. There were so many levels of flavour going on. I would like a bit more heat, but that might take away from the nuances that this wing were putting out there.

FINAL SCORE:  While smoked wings are not my go to wing of choice, from now on these are the bar that I will judge all future smoked wings against. Buttery, smokey, spicy, tender, savoury - oh ya, these were good. They were not jumbo as advertised, but they were good. The rest of the BBQ on the other hand was pretty passable. But there are so many other things on the menu I want to try (Boar ribs? Gator Bites, poutine, burgers, fried chicken etc). While I would normally judge a BBQ joint on their ribs, I`m willing to definitely give them another chance based on their wings.  4/7

Highway 61
1620 Bayview Ave, Toronto ON

No comments: