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ELECTRIC MUD (5 Brock, at Queen West, 416-516-8286) Complete dinners for $40 per person, including tax, tip and a Beergurita. Average main $12. Open Wednesday to Sunday 5 to 11 pm. Bar till close. Closed Monday, Tuesday, holidays. No reservations. Licensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, tight seating, washrooms upstairs. Rating: NNNNN
The needle hits the vintage vinyl of ZZ Top's Sharp Dressed Man with an audible thud. The neon sign over the bar slowly flickers to life. The door's unlocked at the exact stroke of 5, and the 16 of us waiting in line let out a sigh of collective relief. Electric Mud is ready to rock.
Open all of two weeks, the Mud ( as we're sure its known to regulars by now) comes from the crew responsible for Grand Electric round the corner and is to traditional Southern barbecue what GE is to tacos: not-really, kinda-sorta with a twist.
The perpetually slammed 24-seat room certainly looks the part, with its cramped picnic-table seating and cheap chipboard walls hung with cheesy 80s beer posters. All that's missing is a couple of tipsy French Canadian strippers and a hole in the floor so you can go ice fishing. No wonder everyone's dressed like a lumberjack.
Fortified by a round of Porch Crawlers (gin, watermelon lemonade and Thai basil, $8) chased with bottles of Schlitz ($4.50), we're soon laying waste to what chef Ben Denham refers to as "crack rolls." Imagine three fluffy dinner rolls worthy of the Pillsbury Doughboy spread with salty whipped butter laced with pork-fat drippings straight from the Mud's Southern Pride smoker ($3.50).
Fatty pigs' tails ($12.50) mopped in a sweet Kansas City-style tomato sauce seem little more than skin and bones no matter how delish, their blue cheese dip a clever nod to Buffalo chicken wings. A basket of beautifully brined 'n' battered Southern-fried chicken ($8.50) gets a welcome kick in the keister from a pricey bottle of limited-edition Tabasco Reserve, while a salad of Boston lettuce tossed with crispy pigs' ears and slivered radishes ($10.50) gets its additional muscle from a buttermilk dressing strafed with cayenne.
Denham calls it duck ham ($13.50) because he removes the thick layer of fat that normally surrounds the bird before smoking and glazing it like some Sunday-dinner Smithfield. The resulting fabulously pink meat then gets sliced and served à la sushi between alternating shards of deep-fried chicken crackling, a pool of hoisin and a few quick cucumber pickles (quickles?) on the side.
Chef next reconfigures the pastrami sandwich as barbecued slabs of coriander-crusted pork belly plated willy-nilly over a squiggle of honey mustard, a house-made dill pickle or two and toasted slices of unabashedly white bread ($12.50), Silverstein's Texas toast if you're taking notes. Couldn't find anything fancier?
"We tried some more artisanal breads, but it just wasn't the same," says the one-time Veritas chef de cuisine.
He roasts lowly cauliflower before pairing it dramatically with deep-fried slices of dehydrated lemon, sprigs of flat-leafed Italian parsley and a dusting of smoked paprika ($7.50), and stews collard greens with cherry tomatoes and crushed pecans ($3.50). His impossibly beefy pork side ribs ($13.50 for three) arrive finished with crushed peanuts and a sticky sweet 'n' sour glaze, recalling those at Tom Thai's Foxley, the perfect foil for a five-pack of hush puppies thick with fresh corn ($3.50).
Dessert begins with a round of boozy Clydesdales (bourbon, grapefruit juice, lime and agave nectar, $8) quickly followed by Mason jars of deconstructed banana cream pie with crumbled cookie crusts ($5) and swirls of soft-serve bay-leaf ice cream ($3.50) dusted with lime zest. Whatever will they think of next?
"We're looking at donuts!"