Most of the time when I'm deciding where I should go, I try to find a balance. Somewhere that has a lot of variety with one specialization or signature quirk. The Stockyards (699 St. Clair Avenue West) is not about a colourful menu of diversity: it's about meat, and you better be ready for that. There is no nod to vegetarianism here, no humoring those who do not feed upon flesh. They do meat. And what they do, they do very, very well.
My old friend Steph and her boyfriend Chris just moved to Toronto from Ottawa, and have settled in this area which I don't explore nearly often enough. Since coming here, they've been doing a tour of barbecues and burger joints in the area, but hadn't yet made it to the still-wet-behind-the-ears Stockyards. I've been hearing nothing but positive reviews from all sides about the flavour and authenticity of the smoked meat (actually smoked as opposed to having 'smoke' in the sauce). We set off!
The building is quite small, but easy to spot. I wonder if Stockyards is going to give Dutch Dreams a run for their money for longest line ups on St.Clair? It looked that way on Thursday night, just an hour before closing. Inside there are a couple small tables, and a large bar facing the open kitchen. The staff are lively, tired and energetic all at once. I'm reminded a bit of the energy at GUU, though it's not half and crazy here. They seem like a staff who are enjoying themselves. Take-out is popular, elbows brush one another companionably in the cramp, and you should watch your step if you're coming inside because the tile floors are treacherously slippery. Mayhaps a little degreaser should be put in the mop water. I have to appreciate the servers for not breaking their necks! We were quickly served menus, and canteen-style metal cups of ice cold, refreshing water.
I always scope out the online menu before coming in to a place, and there were a lot of differences, missing items, and items which hadn't been listed online. Stockyards is probably focusing on having scrumptious vittles during their first months (as they should), but should try to keep their website up-to-date (and better designed, but that's another story that has nothing to do with the quality of the food). I had really wanted to grab 'The Dirty South', a southern-fried steak, but it wasn't on the in-resto menu. They were also sold out of brisket and smoked trout (we did show up just over an hour before closing, though).
After ordering, the server comes by to show off the brunch menu for future reference, which is full of fatty and mouth-watering foods that I am hoping to come back for. Then she tells us "We're the only place north of the border that serves fried chicken on waffles!".
Dear Stockyards: Degrease your floors! Fix your website! And before your servers brag about your brunch, make sure they google that business. I've already reviewed Harlem Underground's AMAZING fried chicken on waffles, and I know for a fact The Drake makes it too. I'm sure there's others.
But please, don't ever change your meat.
Both my guests got burgers. I love how things are served at Stockyards, in a cast iron skillet with red gingham waxed paper to line it. It gives the tiny place a barn hall feel that could only be complete it it were the size of an airplane hangar instead of a closet (and I may joke, but we were very comfortable in our bar seats, stools sliding around wily nily). The menu is broken up into mains and sides, so nothing comes automatically with fries or salad or what have you. Combos are available, and we get an order of fries to split. There's a lot! They're finely julienned shoestring fries, crisp and fine, on the verge of brittle. They have magnificent crunch, and are tossed in metal bowls with liberal dashes of coarse salt before being served. I really appreciate that they have had the skins left on. I have always felt that that's the trick to the perfect fry, that hint of earth and dirt. A few are dark brown, a little burnt. They're well-done fries, translucent in places with oil. Oh, it's not pretending to be healthy. But neither am I.
I wanted to balance out that side of fries with something a little greener. There's not much to choose from in the vein of greenery, but I've always been a fan of coleslaw. I don't like the mayo-saturated variety that can be so popular. I was assured by the server that Stockyards coleslaw was more of a hybrid between sharp vinegar and cloying cream. It was nonetheless heavier on dairy than I expected. This didn't taste like mayonnaise, though. I suspect that a nice and tart yogurt was used, that was more refreshing than I would have expected from how much dressing was mixed in. The cabbage may have been finely shredded nappa mixed with white cabbage. Some of it was very crunchy, and some was soft and leafy. It had a pleasant dash of mustard and pepper, working to make a complex slaw.
Since there was no fried steak to be had, and we already had our hamburger bases covered, I veered over to the porchetta sandwich, made with house smoked pork loin and belly. In between that and the generous smearing of creamy garlic aioli (a redundant use of the word garlic?) were the cracklins. I didn't realize that a cracklinaioli, and tasted almost like fresh bacon. It was an indulgent, buttery mass served on a fresh section of french baguette. The crust wasn't chewy or hard. I can't stand fighting with the bread when I try to eat a sandwich. With the porchetta you're given the option of having rapini inside. This is something I haven't heard of before, and I wanted to try it. I think it's probably a huge aid to the rich sandwich. Bitter, the rapini kept me from being overwhelmed from how potent the sandwich was, their citrus undertone cutting through all that butter and fat.
See that cute skillet? Ah, how I love fun presentation. This is the Animal, a double cheeseburger with lots of droopy caramelized onion, laden with house sauce. Both Steph and Chris were rolling their eyes in delight from the taste of their burgers. They looked moist and crumbly in texture. The meat is aged, and comes from a top cut of beef for maximum flavour. Unlike some places that serve gourmet burgers on too-tough rolls, these were on classic sesame buns, easy to bite, and not detracting from the star of the plate: the dripping and succulent 3oz patties.
Next time, I'm trying the buttermilk fried chicken...maybe for brunch!