Around 7pm on a weekday, my friend (I call him “Sunny”) and I snag the last table. We are seated at the front of the restaurant, looking onto the not-quite-yet cool section of College Street, a few doors west of Ossington. Reading the small menu, our mouths water simultaneously as we read aloud at the same time, “Pulled Pork Sandwich”. Sunny orders Pulled pork ($6.95) and I order the Small Ribs ($14.50). I look around and notice that I am one of two women in the restaurant. This isn’t a menu for people who get full easily. There are many big men eating big plates of meat. Everything on the menu is cooked slowly with real wood smoke. This slow cooking also translates to tender, juicy meat.
While waiting for dinner, I read the back of the menu. At Phil’s, you can eat and shop too. Souvenirs for sale include: t-shirts, ball caps and two kinds of Phil’s barbeque sauces (Hot & Sassy and Sweet & Savory). Then I dripped drops of a squeeze-bottled sauce marked ‘hot’ onto my finger and tried to guess the ingredients. It didn’t have enough heat to painfully satisfy me, but I decided to appreciate the flavour instead. I couldn’t stop serving myself tip-of-my-finger-sized portions! The smoky tomato base was sweet against the punch of fresh lime juice.
Our food arrived soon after we ordered. The ribs looked juicy and brilliant with dark, shiny sauce. (You can drool over pictures on the website at www.philsoriginalbbq.com.) Brushed with Phil’s own barbeque sauce, four ribs were flanked by coleslaw in a paper cup on the left and beans on the right. I tried the beans first, then the coleslaw before diving into the ribs- saving the most exciting for last. The coleslaw was well seasoned but not anything special albeit strangely yellow and a bit watery. The BBQ Baked Beans ($4.95 for a side order) were a tasty homage to the traditional pork and beans combo, but again, weren’t anything special. Doing a little chair dance of foodie excitement, I moved onto my ribs: Every millimeter of the juicy meat had been infused with flavor and brushed until perfectly sticky. The sweet, slightly smoky, warmly-spiced meat fell right off the bone. It was delicious. Although the menu claims the ribs are “perfect for snacking”, when I finish my “small” 10oz portion I am full, as well as sticky and smiling. (A full order is one pound of ribs for $23.50) My one-ply napkin is in shreds and instead I use my forearm to wipe my mouth. Dainty eaters beware.
Sunny is across from me smiling at his fries. They are hot, crispy, golden and well seasoned with a fluffy centre. I stole “just one bite”- then some more- of his pulled pork sandwich. Pulled pork is sometimes a messy mass of sauce suffocating irrecoverably dry pork- but not Phil’s! His pork was moist and not too saucy but still booming with flavour. My reaction was a mouth-filled mumbling of sounds resembling moans of food-bliss. If you still have room to eat, you have to try the Cachapas ($5.75 for a delicious side of a large corn pancake filled with gooey cheese).
When my friend and I were almost in fully slouched position and slightly giddy, the waitress brought us some delicious Portuguese corn bread accompanied by little packets of butter. I buttered the bread and sopped up the last of the beans.
By dessert I was talking to the food. “Hey there little chocolate pecan pie. I’m going to eat you! The old-school plated Chocolate Pecan Pie (different desserts offered daily and priced accordingly) arrived with a scoop of melting milky ice cream with a maraschino cherry on top.
No doubt Chef Phil Nyman’s years of traveling through “America’s BBQ belt” has paid off. He has been dedicated to barbequing since 1991 and his passion for barbeque is still strong. Sides like coleslaw and beans are disappointing, but easily forgotten about when paired with the mains. The juxtaposition of quality of food makes me think the kitchen staff has also forgotten to pay heed to the sides. However, the ribs, the BBQ Beef Brisket ($16.50) and the pulled pork are all fabulous. When so much love goes into barbequing, you can taste it and love it back.