rick mcginnis/metro toronto
Cluck, Grunt & Low
Address: 362 Bloor St. W.
Hours: Sun. to Wed., 5 p.m. - 11 p.m.; Thurs. to Sat., 5 p.m. - 1 a.m.
Capacity: 40 dining room, 17 patio
Dinner for 2 w/tax & tip $50
****1/2 (out of five)
The wry name of Cluck, Grunt & Low, a new barbeque joint on the Bloor strip in the Annex, should serve as a warning for vegetarians that much of the menu will probably be out of bounds. There’s no shortage of barbeque on roadhouse and family dining menus across the city, but with the exception of Phil’s Original on College Street, most of it resembles real Southern barbeque as much as a Prius resembles a vintage Mustang.
General manager Chris MacNeil tended bar for two years at Czehoski before nightclub impresario Wesley Thuro told him about a barbeque joint he was starting up with his good friend, chef Marc Thuet. “The concept was not fast food, but food quickly, which is sort of our slogan,” recalls MacNeil, “and the concept was a dining room with a bar, high volume, and the location sounded fantastic.”
Thuro has certainly brought a lot of pedigree to such a humble, blue-collar cuisine – Thuet is known for his high end continental cooking and Alsatian influences; his interest in food more closely associated with roadhouses and county fairs came as a surprise (as was the early involvement of Paul Boehmer of Ultra and the Spoke Club.)
“It was something that he wanted to get into,” says MacNeil. “He loves a challenge. Marc is definitely one of the best chefs in the city, if not in the country, and that's something that he took on full on - he wanted to learn.”
“We took what we considered to be the best recipes from the Southern states, and what was most popular, and of course you`re dealing with specific meat types, in terms of the way we decided to smoke things, we took what we thought was the best of the best. That said, we`re trying a bunch of different things - Marc is always experimenting with different things. We`ve put things like lamb and Asian style ribs on the menu. We`re dealing with side ribs as well as back ribs. Our beef ribs are monster dinosaur bones - things you don't see in the city.”
Thuet’s name and style is all over the menu, from the organically-sourced beef to the buns from his own bakery to “Mama Thuet’s apple pie”. The side dishes are all authentic – buttermilk biscuits, corn bread, potato salad, baked beans and dirty rice – and the mains feature ribs cooked two ways: sticky Kansas City style and Memphis dry rub. Thuet and Thuro have made a point of calling this “slow food,” a loaded term for foodies who usually associate it with Tuscan stews, not the sort of meals featured in sports bars.
“Avoiding having French fries on the menu was one of our biggest goals, which we've managed to do up till this point. Not like a Casey's or a Kelsey's where you'd get a rack of ribs smothered in Kraft barbeque sauce sitting on a basket of chunky fries. That's not traditional."
While the slow smoking is done by Thuet off-premises, the result is everything you’d hope for – spicy, meaty ribs that tear off the bone, and deliver a rich, meaty punch after the initial hit of sauce and spice wears off. While you could argue fine points of barbeque theory for hours – and there are BBQ fanatics out there who will – the taste speaks for itself.
“It is slow food,” says MacNeil. “We're not boiling ribs here. We're not using Kraft barbeque sauce. We're taking a lot of time and effort to prepare these things properly. To try and pull off anything else would be ridiculous.”