Just opened joints

Restaurants specializing in barbecue are battling for customers hot for grilled goodies. Here's what we think of four new contestants in the BBQ wars.


Leslieville Pumps

929 Queen East, at Carlaw, 416-465-1313, leslievillepumps.com.

If I lived in Leslieville and rode my bike to work, I’d be stopping by this 24-hour gas-station-cum-snack-bar every day, if only for the Pump’s terrific breakfast BLT ($5.04). Who wouldn’t make a regular pitstop for a slab of house-smoked peameal glazed with maple syrup on a toasted Ace Bakery bun dressed with romaine, ripe tomato and house-made mayo?

Absorbant ciabatta buns get piled with hickory-smoked southern-style brisket in a not too assertive sauce, gently pulled pork dressed with remarkably spicy cole slaw or chunky chicken thighs with arugula and grilled tomato (all $7.74). Baked beans ($2.99) do what they’re supposed to do, and a half-dozen corn fritters ($3.99) would be more accurately described as creamed corn pakoras.

Judson Flom ( left ) and Greg Flom

Michael Watier

Normally, we steer clear of ordering anything deep-fried for takeout. By the time we get it home, it’s an inedible, soggy mess. The LP guys solve the problem by packaging their excellent hand-cut fries and amply battered deep-fried dill pickles ($3.99) in insulated paper bags. No more sog!

On their website, owners Greg and Judson Flom say they’re on a mission “to serve gasoline at a competitive price and convenience products tailored to a fast-moving clientele.”

Mission accomplished.

24/7. Kitchen open daily 7 am to 9 pm. Unlicensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor.


BBQ Store's Shi Ming

Steven Davey

BBQ Store

494 Dundas West, at Spadina, 647-994-8710.

If it doesn’t come on a wooden stick, this northern Chinese snack shack located on the south side of the old Victory burlesque theatre doesn’t sell it.

That explains the skewered likes of tender grilled lamb dusted with cumin and what the tiny take-away’s unusually extensive street-food menu calls “gristle strings” – think, crunchy tendons and cartilage. Thin slices of charbroiled duck gizzards are prized for their chewy texture, while beef omasum and flammulina (all $3 for two/$5 four) are better known to most as tripe and mushroom fungus. Scrawny chicken wings are a street-easy gnaw ($5 for three), but we can’t imagine taking to the sweltering sidewalks of Chinatown with a fatty barbecued pork hoof ($3) that’s all bone, gristle and fat in hand.

Ears of spicy corn ($2.50 for two) get roasted over fire as do ginormous whole sweet potatoes ($2), the latter’s skin deliciously blistered from the heat. Always wanted to try deep-fried stinky tofu ($3) but never had the nerve? Here’s your chance to experience the dish that not only smells like funky old running shoes but tastes like them, too. Optional sauces range from New World ketchup and mayonnaise to old-school hoisin and hot sauce.

Cool things down with ice-cold skewers of tanghulu ($3), aka sour sugar-coated hawthorn berries straight from the freezer.

Daily noon to 9 pm. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, no seating, no washrooms.


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Steven Davey

Rally Sports Bar

1660 O’Connor, at Northline, 416-551-7356, rallysportsbar.com.

If you’ve ever been to Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven, you’ve been to this sprawling 7,000-square-foot watering hole. Judging by the spacious parking lot out front, the recently relaunched roadhouse’s motto of “Eat, drink, cheer” could be amended to include “and then drive home.”

We’ve come to the verge of Scarborough not for the 40 high-def TVs or the jock-ular camaraderie, but for the better-than-most barbecue, mains like well-mopped racks of St. Louis-cut pork spare ribs ($15 half/$25 full) with a bit of bark, and dry-rubbed and properly moist brisket sandwiches. Most come sided with coleslaw and a slew of optional sides, the best of which is the baked beans with crispy pork tips. Avoid the anemic macaroni salad unless you’re a fan of limp noodles in watered-down mayo.

And though we aren’t impressed with the sourdough that accompanies the pork belly sandwich (all $12) – Texas toast, more like – the bacon-like belly and crackling dressed with sauerkraut, apple sauce and grainy mustard are worthy of a Reuben by way of Porchetta on Dundas West.

And since Rally’s part of Summerlicious through July 22, a Caesar salad, pulled pork or brisket sandwich and a half-dozen house-baked beignets goes for only $15 at lunch. At dinner, the same salad and fancy French donuts plus a half-rack of those commendable ribs will set you back $25. Bargoon!

Sunday to Thursday 11 am to 11:30 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am to 12:30 am. Weekend brunch till 3 pm. Bar nightly to close. Licensed. Access: barrier-free.


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Stack

3265 Yonge, at Cranbrooke, 647-346-1416, stackrestaurant.ca.

Besides raking in as much cash as possible in the shortest amount of time, every new resto has an agenda these days. This four-month-old spot is no different, claiming on its website that owners Todd Savage and Bill Panos are out to “give our guests the best possible tenderness and flavour without too much smoke.”

If the contents of their Ultimate Platter ($59) are any evidence, they’ve successfully managed the second part. The combo’s baby back ribs and overly fatty brisket not only fail in the smoke department, but the undercooked rare meat falls on the “pass” side of take it or leave it, too. Because they’re out of chicken on the day we visit, they double up on nicely pulled pork that gets most of its kick from a tangy Lexington-style vinegar sauce. The platter also comes with perfunctory baked beans, mac ‘n’ cheese and french fries that we switch out for a very good potato slaw laced with sour cream. They even include four grilled buns for making sandwiches.

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The large, loungey room also jumps on the taco and donut bandwagon with messy grilled catfish tacos ($10 for three) and sugary Timbits clearly aimed at sprogs. When I ask our pub-style server how many come with an order, I’m surprised to learn it’s 16. Thank heavens, they’re tiny, deep-fried calamari-sized doughy rings dressed with chocolate sauce, crushed graham wafers and miniature marshmallows ($5). The leftovers were tastier the next day once everything had solidified.

The family-friendly restaurant’s website calls Stack “uptown’s answer to Barque.” They got that right.

Sunday and Monday 11:30 am to 10 pm, Tuesday and Wednesday 11:30 am to 11 pm, Thursday to Saturday 11:30 am to midnight. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement.

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