The Carbon Bar (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 99 Queen Street East
Type of Meal: Dinner

You won’t find gingham tablecloths, tin foil platters or uncut hunks of meat here. The Carbon Bar is refined with linen napkins, plate changes and meat cut into fork friendly portions. Between courses the table is wiped clean so all evidence of dripped sticky sauce is erased with it.

The dining room is surprisingly spacious with soaring ceilings, adequately spaced tables and minimalistic décor. Want to throw a “family” BBQ without messing up your home? The Carbon Bar offers a private room on the second floor that can hold 30-50 people.

Without a doubt, beer goes with BBQ and the Carbon Bar has plenty of that. But for the refined BBQ aficionados, fancy handmade cocktails are also available to swig back with meat platters. A refreshing spring soother ($16), tequila based with an elderflower syrup (?) and splash of citrus was a lighter drink complementing our appetizer. The C2 colada ($16) was the better choice. With a hefty portion of rum it’s stronger tasting but finishes nicely with a creamy coconut water.

With the sheer amount of meat to come, we decided to start with something lighter. The Hamachi ($14) fit the bill with cubes of delicate cool fish, sweet clementine, crisp pear and cherry tomatoes all melded together with kombucha vinegar and sesame oil. The dish was flavourful, simple and energizing; a great choice for the warmer months. I thoroughly enjoyed the sesame oil added to the dish that gave it a nice finish on the palate.

The pit master platter ($27 per person with a minimum order of two people) seemed like too much food for us. Instead, we shared an order of the pork ribs ($19) and beef brisket ($19). Both were delicious, but for me the beef brisket stood out just a bit more. It started off with a great cut of beef; in between the meat was a thin cap of fat that soaked into the beef to keep it moist throughout the cooking process. Although it had been slow smoked (same as the pork ribs) the smokiness wasn’t overpowering, just enough for you to get the essence of it. Served with a sweet molasses (?) BBQ sauce it was a good plate.

The pork ribs were equally tender but didn’t seem as smoked as the brisket. I have to commend the Carbon Bar’s butcher because the meat was another great cut. Too often ribs are either too fatty or lean, this one had just enough fat to add flavour but not too much that you felt the need to cut it off. Additionally, you could taste the pork but it didn’t have a strong “hog” smell to it, which can be such a turnoff. The rib’s sauce was much tangier; a bit sour for my taste so I opted to use the brisket’s sauce instead.

Some reviews from other diners had noted their meat was dry and/or bland. Our ribs and brisket were definitely not dry, but as for the taste? I wouldn’t say it’s bland, perhaps not as saucy as other ribs, but this is due to the Carbon Bar’s cooking style. Their menu warns about the simplicity of the preparation - that meat is rubbed only with salt and black pepper and then placed in the smoker, no sauce is applied through the cooking process.

Admittedly I’m not a huge BBQ connoisseur but when the cut of beef or pork is this good, shouldn’t you want to actually taste the meat? Afterwards, if you want to douse it with sauce than that’s what the sauce on the side is for. Of course, since the meat wasn’t basted during the cooking process, you won’t find a thick barque around it (there’s no layer of hardened caramelized sauce). So, as a warning, if you like sticky ribs and well crusted brisket then the Carbon Bar may not be the place for you.

We really enjoyed the collard greens ($5) which helped stave off the meat sweats. The sauce was tomato based but had a great zing of spice that hits you at the end. Not being a fan of mushy vegetables, I was glad that the stalks of the collard greens retained some level of crispness.

To end we shared the banana toffee cream pie ($16) and it was delicious. Comprised of a crispy shortbread crust, softened bananas pieces and light whipped cream, the dessert was satisfying but not too heavy. Interestingly, the toffee was cut into thick cubes and sat on the bottom of the crust; it wasn’t sticky or overly sweet and almost had a rich ice cream like consistency. All in all, I was quite happy with the reduced sugar levels and abundance of banana, you could almost trick yourself to think it was healthy if it were not for the buttery crust.

Kiri, our server, was extremely friendly and attentive. Consequently, you still get that small town charm despite the cloth napkins and real cutlery. The crowd also has a jovial atmosphere to it; as the night went on the groups got a little rowdier and soon cheers and laughter rang throughout the restaurant. But, the noise level was always bearable given the well regulated music level and the large space. In the end, my experience at Carbon Bar was enjoyable and perhaps will round up a larger group of people to try their pit master platter.

Since the above visit I've returned to the restaurant and tried some other items. Read about it at my other post.

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!