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May 3, 2009 04:51 PM

Highway 61 - Feh!

I have been following the posts about this place. To sum them up, it appeared that the bbq afficionados do not really like this place. But, a lot of people reported tasty good which, after all, is significant. So I tried it.

We took out ribs, pulled pork, beans, corn bread, fries, and onion rings.

In brief, the food was awful. Almost inedible. Nevermind authenticity. We could barely get the stuff down!

The ribs were fatty. Yeah, I know, they're side ribs. But, side ribs, done right, have the fat rendered out of them ever so slowly, leaving a tender toothsome favourful sweet meat. These just had massive globules of white opaque fat all over the dang place! They needed some serious picking over. Now, in fairness, you could find pockets of meat (mostly on the outer portions of the rib) which were lean. And, in those pockets, you could taste the rub and a few hours of smoking. But, all in all, these ribs were a goopy fatty mess. And, without even touching them, everything fell off the bone leaving it bare: a suspicious sign, indeed.

Pulled pork. This was, I suppose, the best item we had in that it was not total crap. Seriously, it was just alright. The pork was a little gray, and the sauce was just plopped atop it rather than everything being tossed about lovingly. But, it was edible. Hallelujah!

The beans were surprisingly bad: very bland. Almost like baby food or something. I was told the recipe is a "Knoll family secret". Well, it should have stayed that way. Heinz (and many other canned brands) are better. Now, 61's have some meat in them, mind you. But, the beans are totally mushy. The sauce is flavourless and starchy. No character. No tang. No nuthin'.

The "jalapeno cornbread" was baked yesterday, maybe the day before. Hard little rocks, these. Not much to them. If you throw one at someone, he'll probably get a concussion. Unfortunately, there's no better use for these things.

Fries and onion rings were not really worthy of much mention except to say that neither were very good. But, take-out ruins even the best fries.

I called the place to give them some feedback. I spoke to a manager, "Nick" who assures me that the meat is rubbed, then smoked low for four hours. It's not parboiled or anything else. The beans, he insists are a Knoll family secret and they take great pride in them. I told him what I thought of the food and he acknowledged hearing my comments and said goodbye.

How is it that a rib joint takes over the space of a failed rib joint and then sucks even more than the original out-of-business rib joint?

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    1. Great post Fwagra.

      I walked by Highway 61 on my way to Duff's yesterday (Sunday) at around 2 pm. Duff's was full. Every restaurant had people in them and on patios, except for HIghway 61.

      1. That's not fair. Nothing sucks more than the previous place! But Highway 61 is trying hard to emulate it.

        1 Reply
        1. re: estufarian

          I vaguely keep wanting to go in when I pass by Hwy 61, but then I remember all the negative feedback and opt for other random food like Two Doors North and old mainstays like Duffs...

          Sorry, not much to add, but I did give a chuckle at Fwagra's last line...


        2. I visited another oft-maligned BBQ joint for lunch today - Memphis at Yonge and Sheppard. Had the pulled pork sandwich with a salad. The sandwich was OK - the pork was tender, there was a fair serving, and the bun was OK - but there was barely a hint of BBQ taste. I asked for extra sauce, which wasn't bad, but if you have to drown the meat in sauce, what's the point?

          On the plus side, the salad with the house dressing was quite good, service was prompt, and for $5.99 + tax, it wasn't a bad value, but if I'm in the area in the future, I'll probably head to a Korean or Japanese spot instead.

          10 Replies
          1. re: KevinB

            Being a Southerner and a resident of Leaside, I had to give this place a go. I should mention ahead of time that my standards for BBQ are really high as I grew up in a household with a dad and a grandfather that had more gold than Solomon from BBQ championships - including several Memphis In May trophies. I only mention it to highlight the fact that I am not a BBQ amateur or a newbie.

            Highway 61 fails miserably.

            We ordered several different dishes so we could try everything.

            I'll skip the salads as nobody goes to a BBQ joint for salad. I will say they were pedestrian at best. The Kraft pre-made dressing was a disappointment but like I said before....

            Onion rings would have been better if they weren't so greasy. They were DRIPPING with grease and soggy. Over-cooked. If they had been cooked less they would have been really good. Nice chunky onion and good texture batter - just over-cooked.

            Wings were ok. I liked the fact that they were smoked first but they too were over-cooked and greasy. No need to fry 'em if you already smoked them. Not enough smoke (a recurring theme) and the sauce (hot) was not hot and very vinegar-y. Should have gotten them dry and sauced them myself. Yukon fries and sweet fries were ok- nothing special. Fries were frozen, not hand-cut as I was told by my server (a really surly jerk named Matt I think). Sweet fries were soggy but had a decent spice on them. Less time in the fryer would have fixed the sweet fries.

            Then came the meat. Disappointing is the nice way of putting it; flavorless garbage would be more honest.

            Brisket had a rock hard crust on the bottom and was dry as a bone. Was almost impossible to cut through with even a knife. Never had brisket of this texture. No smoke flavor at all.

            Pulled pork, my personal fave of all BBQ, was the biggest disappointment. How can something be dry in the mouth but so runny and dripping on the plate? I like some fat in my pulled pork but there were massive globs in mine - almost more fat than pork. Once again, no smoke.

            Half chicken was mushy and dry - again, how can something be so wet on the plate and dry in your mouth? No smoke flavor or ANY flavor for that matter.

            Big beef bone was a lump of fat with maybe 2 tablespoons of meat. Dry, leathery and inedible. No smoke, no flavor.

            The ribs were a disaster. I like fall off the bone ribs but these were so soggy that I was left with a bone in my hand when I tried to pick up a rib. It was soggy and tough and dry. Ribs are supposed to have some teeth to them but a toothless geezer could have eaten these. No smoke, no spice. The rub they use is bland, bland, bland.

            I almost liked the collard greens. They were the closest thing to authentic but were old and slightly burnt tasting. Must have boiled dry on the steam table.

            Beans were nothing special. Another family secret. Who cares. I've had better out of a can but I've had worse.

            Mac & cheese was swimming in oil and bland.

            BBQ sauce was ok but nothing special. Not sure why it's such a secret or such a source of pride. I could taste ketchup, brown sugar, oranges, lemon, and garlic. I'm sure there's other spices but those are the dominant flavors.

            I saw one of the owners, Nick, and asked about the smokers and he offered to give me tour of the kitchen. Now I know one of the major problems with the meat. They're using Southern Pride smokers that are essentially steamers. They have a little smoker box inside and a HUGE pan of water. So the meat is essentially being boiled and steamed, not smoked. The meat is then kept in a Combitherm oven where it is held wrapped in foil and STEAMED until ordered. STEAMED! Nick said that it was to keep the meat moist. Never mind that it continues cooking the meat and pushed out any smoke flavor that might have been there. I saw a line cook take the brisket out to fill an order and saw the guy almost have to chisel the brisket off the pan and peel foil off where the meat had cooked to the pan. Disgusting. Cheese used for mac & cheese was a generic food service "cheddar" which explains the oily mac & cheese.

            Complaints to the server were met with hostility. When told that the food was authentic we told him we were from the South and that the food was not authentic and not good, he said that if we didn't like it we should just go back "Down South" (in an obnoxious, phony Southern accent) and eat there. Complaints to the manager (bald guy) were blown off as if the server were joking and we needed to lighten up.When we told him about our problems with the food, he assured us it was authentic and "that's the way it's done down there". This was after already informing him we were Southern.

            I would have given them another chance but the way our complaints were handled turned me off forever. Also after seeing the smokers I know that there is no hope for the BBQ. It will never be smoked properly.

            1. re: CaptainCrusty

              But if you had a tour of the kitchen with the owner why did you not complain to him? Instead of the server and the manager?

                1. re: OnDaGo

                  I did complain to Nick but I had already typed so much... The bald "manager" is also one of the owners which is why I complained to him. He's also an American (he's from Oklahoma) and was surprised at his attitude. My problem was mostly the open hostility.

                  Nick was very apologetic about the service but not the food. He kept telling me that they were doing Texas-style BBQ and because of were I was from, I didn't understand Texas-style. He then went on to explain to me how Texas-style was different than other styles of BBQ. Really lame. I even mentioned that I just came back from a trip to Texas visiting the in-laws and had gone to Snow's in Lexington (about an hour from Austin) and he started raving about how much he loved that place and how he had modeled Highway 61 on Snow's. As far as I could tell the only thing he modeled after Snow's was the "Smokin' The Good Stuff" t-shirts, which is exactly what Snow's tees have on them. Good god....

                  I don't have a problem with Southern Pride smokers in general but that particular model doesn't produce enough smoke. Water smokers are garbage and don't produce enough smoke to actually smoke meat. There are other models that work great but don't use steam and can be used in a mid-city location. The learning curve with smoking meat is steep but is less steep with those water smokers. Probably why he went with those but you sacrifice taste and texture for ease of use. Nick even told me that "9 months ago I didn't know anything about BBQ or even eaten real BBQ". My take on that is that you play around until you get it down before you try to open a restaurant.

                  1. re: CaptainCrusty

                    Yeah, Nick told me nobody had ever complained about the food before me...LOLOLOL....that was while he was staring right at the big bowl of fat left after the two spoons full of meat from the beef rib....

                    I think that many of us genuinely wish that Highway 61 was good because we want good BBQ in Toronto so badly...unfortunatly, this place is just a dud, and the owners are even bigger duds apparently...We should just let the place rest in peace.....

                    1. re: CaptainCrusty

                      Hey Cap'n.

                      Mrs. Sippi is from Memphis (And was even on a team that competed in MIM) and condemned the place before it even opened. She took one look at the menu and knew they were doing it wrong.

                      As for them doing Texas style BBQ and not what you're used to, if that's the case, then why did they call it Highway 61?? A Highway that goes nowhere near the state of Texas.
                      I had hopes of this place being at least passable but after assuring me they'd be open on Monday and then didn't make their opening 'til Wednesday I got a real bad vibe from them. Then the bad reviews started to flood in.

                      Where abouts are you from??


                  2. re: CaptainCrusty

                    I have seen a Southern Pride smoker , wood fired, with an adjustable smoke level. Smoke, temperature, and time were all controlled. You seem to be damning all Southern Pride smokers. What would you suggest for a mid city location?

                    1. re: jayt90

                      So the problem is the user, and not the device?

                      1. re: embee

                        I don't know. Haven't been there. But the device as I have seen can produce enough smoke. Whether the cook operates it that way is questionable. Several operators have hinted or said, on this board, that Toronto customers are not yet ready for full southern smoked meat.

                        But I do think Captain Crusty needs to supply more 'southern ' information on what makes a good smoker, and can it be operated successfully on Bayview .

                    2. re: CaptainCrusty

                      Highway 61 at least gets a perfect score for consistency: Consistently awful food and consistenty obnoxious service.

                  3. BBQ experts help me out here. I've eaten lots of BBQ all over North America, but never actually smoked meat myself. The pulled pork at Highway 61 had enormous globs of fat that I've never seen before in BBQ. My question is, wouldn't slow cooking and smoking normally render most of that fat out of the meat?

                    13 Replies
                    1. re: abigllama

                      Not necessarily. You can have a lot of internal fat left on a pork shoulder, even after 12+ hours on the smoker. My guess is that the staff at Hwy 61 isn't removing the big globs when pulling the pork.

                      1. re: grandgourmand

                        That's interesting. There's something wrong as I've never ever seen anywhere near that much fat served in BBQ. I'd love for them to tell me "that's how it is in Texas". I guess I could always put them on the phone with my dad, who grew up in Dallas and now lives in San Antonio, and he could explain that they're wrong.

                        1. re: abigllama

                          I would suppose that this restauranteur does not care what he serves in his pulled pork portion - whether its fat or meat - as long as it meets his 8 oz (or whatever portion size he is serving) - and if you don't have to replace fat with meat, more $$$ goes to your bottom line at the end of the day.

                          1. re: mlukan

                            From the sounds of it, there are already a few places that are up to snuff, including Buster Rhino's, Southern RUB, Sweet Smoke. The problem is, nothing downtown to fill the void. MAybe this Stockyards place will be the one.

                            1. re: grandgourmand

                              Unfortunately, Stockyards will not be the one. Picked up lunch there on Saturday was quite disapointed. Firstly ordered 5 sandwiches and waited almost 30 minutes. One of the 5 was a burger for my son (6 years old). Lots of toppings offered, but he will only eat burgers plain. Does not like ketchup at all. As our food was getting packed, the girl who took the order was helping. I heard her say to the chef as he prepared a loaded burger, "that one is supposed to be plain". I see him discard the tomatoes pickles.....and I also state, "the burger is to be plain" _"plain it is " responded the cook. Upon unpackng at home, there was a fair bit of ketchup soaked into the bun. Not a big deal-but my kid doesn't like ketchup. I toasted him a new one. Could the chef not have done this?
                              Pulled pork was alright, pochetta, I found very fatty, but I did like the rapini. The best of all was the caprese sandwich I picked up for my wife. Nice flavor with a fresh tomato jam. For 4 sandwiches, I burger combo, I order of fries and a coleslaw $60.00-very expensive and so very average. Feel I had 2 trips to the Stockyard-first and last!!

                            2. re: Pizza Lover

                              Even though the menu clearly states 8 oz or 1/2 pound, there was no where near that on our plates. I know what a 1/2 pound looks like and there was MAYBE 5 oz of meat put it was mounded up to look like it was more. Same thing with the brisket. I hate that kind of ripoff crap.

                              Speaking of ripoff crap, I walked past Cluck, Grunt, & Low on Bloor and they are boarded up and out of business. There were signs on the door telling employees how to get their final cheques. Must have been a sudden closing.

                              1. re: CaptainCrusty

                                Yeah the whole 1/2 pound full pound thing can be very frustrating. I have seen it happen often when it comes to wings at various places.

                                1. re: Teffub

                                  Wings get tricky becauise it is usually "pre-cooked" weight where as smoked meat has to be after cooking weight.. you should bring in a scale and check it :-)

                                  1. re: OnDaGo

                                    Thought has crossed my mind....But a stunt like that would probably end up with me arresested after an altercation....

                                    I doubt very many wing places, if any, would have the cook actually way out a pound of wings before cooking them, although I agree, that their refrain is always the "pre-cooked weight"...

                                    I spoke with someone at Honey's Beestro and he told me that they (unlike other places he said) dont partially pre-cook the wings in order to save frying time, and that is why their wings take longer to cook and are better.

                                    1. re: Teffub

                                      Um, yeah, I would be surprised if anyone EVER weighed them out. The time to do that would be painful and the chance of cross contamination would be HUGE. I would guess (annnd it's fairly educated on this) is that either they are told by the food service companies how many wings are roughly in a lb, or they simply weigh out one lb, then assume that this will be the amount of wings in a lb forever!

                                      1. re: BusterRhino

                                        I've had to make pulled pork before at work with yield tests. After cooking/smoking and removing fat etc........You're looking at somewhere around 30% of your original weight in picnics.

                          2. re: grandgourmand

                   mean they are not removing the fat cap after cooking? I have made many pork shoulders in the backyard and find when cooking to 190*-195* the internal fat is mostly in the drip pan, with exception of a bit internal and the insulating fat cap on top which you peel off and discard...then devour the meat directly under it as it is as good as gold!!!

                            1. re: ebay3392

                              Agreed, any fat that is in there is there as filler. It's not supposed to be there and anyone who says it is, is lying or doesn't know what they are doing.