Reciting the Litany of the Saints along Elvis Presley Boulevard- A Trip to Marlowe’s

My trip down the music highway ended in downtown Memphis. After hitting the hotel and checking in, I decided on dinner along Elvis Presley Blvd to familiarize myself with the strip in anticipation of my visit to Graceland the next day. Running on fumes, the valet parking guy assured me there were plenty of gas stations along the strip. Despite my basic competence and ability to read google maps, I took a wrong turn to make things exciting. Once I found my bearings, I watched the gas gauge countdown…15 km…10km….5 km….0 km. The Jetta is a bit forgiving and it certainly wasn’t the first time I needed to pray to St. Frances of Rome, the patron saint of travelers (who was said to have an angel light her path with a lantern and protect her from hazards,  for assistance).  In fact, I was so desperate I even sent a prayer or two to St. Elvis Aaron Presley himself.

My prayers seemed to work because on the horizon I could see a gas station with the words “diesel” written across the sign.  A closer inspection of the property quickly shifted my  beseeching to St. Christopher, the patron saint of protection against muggers.  I reluctantly pulled in despite seeing a rather well lit and clean gas station across the street that may or may not have had diesel so I couldn’t risk it.  I went in, slid my credit card  through the hole in the Plexiglas to the apathetic attendant and scurried out.  I pumped and got out of dodge.

A couple of miles down the road I saw Marlowe’s, my destination for the evening.  Featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, it’s known more for a wide array of paraphernalia dedicated to the king.  For example, it runs a free pink Cadillac shuttle from local hotels.  The interior is filled with hundreds of tributes to Elvis…there are pictures, a barber chair, his karate outfit and a looping video of his greatest live performances. My fear was that this was a typical tourist trap and that more effort was put into the decor than the food. I have faith in St. Guy Fieri, however, and that troth was confirmed when I saw the majestic smoker that sat beside the gift shop.

Marlowe's Smoker
Marlowe’s Smoker
Marlowe's Interior
Marlowe’s Interior

It goes without saying that I had every intention of raiding the smoker.  So, I conspired with my daughters to maximize my exposure to the various proteins.  They split a BBQ combo which included 2 entrees and 2 sides ($22.95).  Not to get into the nature versus nurture discussion but the fact that my youngest daughter’s love for slaw parallels mine would make for a good case study.  With her slaw she ordered the  brisket, ribs and fries. The meat was tender and full of smoky flavour despite efforts to douce them with copious amounts of sauce. Not that the BBQ sauce wassn’t good; there was just a lot of it.  My daughter gave the slaw two thumbs up.

Slaw and Fries
Slaw and Fries

 

Beef Brisket and Ribs $22.95
Beef Brisket and Ribs $22.95

 

I decided on the BBQ spaghetti so I could indulge on the BBQ pork and experience what the menu calls “Italian Food-Memphis Style”.  In keeping with the Tennessee tradition of serving sides as big as the mains, the spaghetti came with a good size bowl of beans and mac and cheese.  Once again, the predominate flavour was the delicious BBQ sauce which doused the spaghetti. The pork was delicious and matched the ribs and brisket in rich, smoky flavour.  The mac and cheese and beans were  good B-sides to the proteins.

BBQ Pasta $13.95
BBQ Pasta $11.95
Mac and Cheese and side of beans
Mac and Cheese and  beans

My Take

Marlowe’s succeeds in that it puts the food before the fact that it located only minutes from Graceland.  Sure, you are inundated with all things Elvis including a pink limo, but the commitment to good food is evident, highlighted by the very impressive smoker  which “graces” the busy interior.  The smoked meats were delicious even though they were heavily sauced in the traditional Memphis “wet” style.  Like I mentioned, the B-sides made for good eating as well.

It goes to show that flashy gimmicks can exist in conjunction with big taste and flavour. Despite the need to pray to St. Frances and St. Christopher to get to Marlowe’s, there was no need to extend invocation to St Lawrence, the patron saint of restaurateurs. I explored the origin of St. Lawrence.  Such namesakes  include the Laurentian mountains and the gulf of St. Lawrence,  one of Canada’s most important waterways.  What’s more interesting is the morbid reason he is associated with restaurants.  Without going into detail, he was martyred by fire. In fact, many depictions have him holding a grid iron (see below).  Ribs anyone?

 

Statue of St. Lawrence beside the namesake river
Statue of St. Lawrence beside the namesake river

 

Food: 4 Guyz

Service: 3.5 Guyz

Vibe: 4.5

Total:12/15 Guyz

 

Marlowe's Ribs & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Review:Toronto:Roncesvalles:Barque

After walking up and down Roncesvalles during a festival, I looked at my phone and realized it was close to five.  Knowing that Barque opened then and they hold a percentage of the place for walk-ins, I grabbed the kids and trekked to the front doors. I felt like I was trying to get a wristband for the MMVAs.  It did change my assumption that the only people who eat at 5 pm are kids and senior citizens. I broke a mild sweat as the place  gradually filled.  When it got to my turn, I mustered up my request. She looked apologetic and informed me that the only seats left were those at the bar facing the kitchen.  I couldn’t stifle the smile and said  “Done!” as we were directed to our seats.

The decor strays  from the traditional smokehouse and resembles something you would expect in the west end of Toronto. I was a bit relieved to see a number of children peppered throughout the smallish venue and on the decent sized patio out back. As soon as we were seated, the show began.One of the sous chefs wheeled out about 150 lbs of brisket and methodically prepared it for the smoker.  He pulled out a chunk of brisket and infused each with a large syringe filled with some magic elixir and transferred it to a tray.  He looked like a cross between Bruce Lee and Dr. Frankenstein.  Upon completion, he set the smoker at 175F and threw it in. I was surprised at the low temperature and it made me think I could have thrown a brisket on my porch last week with this summer weather and had the same result.

Oddly enough, they feature four or five beer from the McAuslan line which is a bit of an oddity considering the possibilities in the GTA alone.  Nonetheless, it’s a decent brewery to hang your hat on and I started with a pale ale.

The menu features standard starters and mains but also a number of sampler options, so there is a bit a science to ensuring you get the right amount of food. I was rather intrigued by the Barque plate, which is sample of some unique dishes made each evening.  On this day, it was a tagliatelle with bison meatballs, fried calamari, pulled pork tacos and crostini.  The highlight was the pasta. The rest was decent.   Ok…I confess, I didn’t inform the kids of the bison until afterwards  but they found the dish delicious.

Barque Sampler $16
Barque Plate $16

Next I opted for the Barque Sampler for 2 and chose ribs, brisket and sausage as the mains with caesar salad, slaw and fries as the sides. The brisket was the highlight, a testament to the meticulous process we witnessed earlier. It was crazy tender and seasoned well.  I’ll give props to the remainder of the platter as well. The ribs were well seasoned and the sausages were not dried out and had a good flavour. The asian slaw (which does not look like it’s on the menu anymore) was delicious.  I left  the caesar salad to my son who reported it was good although the bacon “tasted kind of different” perhaps because it’s not my standard practice to serve candied bacon at home.  My daughter’s report on the fries were a resounding thumbs up although she’s not a fan of dipping sauces in general.

Barque Sampler for 2 $35
Barque Sampler for 2 $35 (with 3 sides)
Fries with Aioli
Fries with Aioli
Asian Slaw
Asian Slaw

I have a hard time turning down smoked chicken (both from a taste and having to have the serving staff reassure me that pink chicken is cooked perspective) and this night was no exception. This time I went with the cuban corn and pickles  as the sides.  The chicken was smoky and tender and the corn, although a little overcooked, was spiced nicely. A decent array of pickles were presented which included beets, asparagus, cucumber, cauliflower and onion.I think pickles are a smart side to add a little acid and crunch to an otherwise rich and chewy meal.

Smoked Chicken and Cuban Corn $19
Smoked Chicken and Cuban Corn $19
Side of Pickles
Side of Pickles

Some smokehouses pride themselves on an array of sauces but Barque less so.  There are two offered in a ramekin with a sauce brush. One was a standard tangy red BBQ sauce and one a carolina style mustard sauce.  I found both tasty although I sort of forgot about them in the midst of everything else.

The dessert menu featured a few southern inspired sweets fused with a little Toronto trendiness. The key lime cheesecake was surprising light and laced with a subtle amount of cardamom that worked well. The mango was a bit irrelevant but added some nice colour. The gelato, coupled with a couple of homemade cookies, looked with a nouveau, deconstructed Neapolitan but with cappuccino replacing the chocolate.  I hated chocolate ice cream as a kid, so a dead give away of my freezer mischief was a container of Neapolitan with only the strawberry and vanilla missing. I was often caught pink and white handed.

Key Lime Cheesecake $9
Key Lime Cheesecake $9
Barque Gelato and Cookies $9
Barque and Gelato Cookies $9

My Take

Barque has succeeded in bringing the smokehouse into the Roncesvalles realm. It appeals to atmosphere seeking hipsters as much as it does those who crave carnivorous  delight.  The price point is decent although if you fall prey to the numerous choices, it can push up the final bill rather quickly. The highlight  is clearly the brisket (which was outstanding), followed by the ribs and chicken which would compete in any neighbourhood cook-off.  There’s the token fish and vegetarian dishes for the pescas and vegans respectively. The  barque plate (4 small bites for $16) is a smart idea but hinges on the creativity of the chef on a given night and on this night it was a bit boring.  I’ll give an A for the tagliatelle, a B for the pork belly tacos and maybe a C for the squid and crostini. The single line beer (McAuslan) is a bit confusing given the array of options that would fit with a smokehouse. There is ample wine and a few cocktails which, like Barque itself, are inspired not only by the south but by Toronto itself. There are a lot of smarts about the place including sampling platters to taste either the signatures or the daily inspirations of the chef  or the Sunday night feature which reintroduces the concept of sharing family style. In the end, Barque is a chic smokehouse with Toronto flair serving among many things candied bacon that may not meet the standards of a 10 year old pork traditionalist.

Barque Smokehouse on Urbanspoon