Watching the staff efficiently transform this cool new space from butchery to bar/resto one would never have guessed that Barque Butcher Bar at 287 Roncesvalles had only been opened for three weeks. The concept is brilliantly simple – a butcher shop by day which is serving up meats as well as prepared foods, sauces and customized spice blends, becomes a sophisticated restaurant and bar by night. I was greeted by executive chef and co-owner David Neinstein (also of Barque Smokehouse just a few doors down). The consummate host, he had been helping some locals choose a hot sauce and chatting up friends and customers alike.
David describes what they are doing as a refined BBQ restaurant. Barque Butcher Bar is doing classic BBQ, but not just from the American south, where David trained, but from all over the world. In his own words, people are doing great things with BBQ everywhere and they borrow from many of those cultures. They take that classic BBQ and pair it with lighter, seasonal and local sides to provide a balanced meal, leaving their guests feeling satisfied and happy without the heaviness often associated with this style of cooking.
Stacia Carlton: Where do you find inspiration?
David Neinstein: “Ethnic restaurants, and I don’t like to use the word ethnic as it implies that they’re different and they’re not, these later immigrants are established and are influencing me to be a little more aggressive with my ingredient structure the type of cooking the methods are changing. I’m a big fan of Asian cooking. They have a delicate touch, their grilling techniques, their coal… all the flavours and techniques of Asia are fantastic. Right now there are places that are doing great SouthAmerican stuff like Branca with their meats and their BBQ style. When we’re looking for new ideas we’re going to find them from other countries.”
SC: What are your thoughts on trends?
DN: “They’re cyclical… some of the trends that exist today were just as big 30 years ago… you forget about things like fondue… fondue isn’t in right now, but it’s amazing. I love trends but the only problem is that there is only so much time in the day. We can’t focus on everything and so once in a while we’ll remember that there are techniques that we haven’t tried in a while… like sous vide is a very useful technique, but so is fondue,,, it’s extremely useful in transporting cheese into my stomach! (When I asked if there were trends he was over, his reply was eloquent.) I don’t like to badmouth anyone regarding trends. I speak with my wallet…I just wont go there anymore.”
SC: What do you wish you could see more of in Toronto?
DN: “I designed this place to be comfortable. That’s one of the problems I have… I’d love to see some more cushioned seats a little more elbow room.”
SC: Do you have a favourite place to shop for ingredients?
DN: “Local farms wherever possible. We rely on suppliers that we trust to bring the best local ingredients when they’re available. We try to keep as local as possible especially at this time of year when things are so fresh, it’s such a pleasure. In terms of the meat we also try to stay local. We’re sourcing great beef from Ontario right now. There’s a place 10 minutes from Aurora that’s producing full pasture raised beef and it’s fantastic. I research at St. Lawrence as a consumer. Kensington and Chinatown are my go to for inspiration. There’s a farmers market, Dufferin Grove, there’s also one up here at Sorauren and there bringing in local stuff and they’re amazing.”
SC: Where do you go out in Toronto?
DN: “I like to go to Scarborough, Markham, Richmond Hill I like to go to the strip malls looking for great inspiration, on the food side. I stick to downtown to be reminded about great service I still like to go to classic places like Splendido to be reminded of correct serving techniques. I like to go to Scaramouche to be reminded about how you treat guests. It’s not just the food but the theatre that is dining and they’re experts at it.”
SC: Where do you like to travel for food?
DN: “I travel a lot for the love of it. I’ve spent a lot of time in Europe. I’m a big fan of stay- cations… I will travel to one place and just stay there, to learn the rhythms of life there. My interests are creeping further east. I’ve been moving east toward Romania and Bulgaria. It’s an untapped market of traditions and cuisines. My wife is Romanian so I’m learning more and more about what’s going on there.”
SC: What was the last thing you ate?
DN: “Last thing I ate was a new sandwich that we’ve created… a smoked chicken club, very simple sandwich… challah, smoked chicken and bacon… simple is good. You don’t always need to innovate.”
SC: Do you have a motto you live and work by?
DN: “Guests first… our motto is true hospitality and our philosophy is that we are to be a real host in every position you are in. First and foremost we are in the business of hosting and making people feel comfortable and making their day a little bit better. We don’t ask what people need we ask what they would like.
The experience that David is curating is the total dining experience. It goes without saying that flavour is at the top of the list, but the atmosphere and service carry equal importance for the team he leads. It is abundantly evident the moment you step inside this comfortable and casually elegant new space. You will not want to miss checking David Neinstein and the Barque concept at Taste of Toronto July 2-5.
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Stacia Carlton is a culinary school graduate and food writer She serves up simply gorgeous food and stories weekly at www.bestillandeat.com