This weekend I attended a southern barbecue sample tasting at Buster Rhino’s in Whitby (7-2001 Thickson Rd.). This was a special tasting event that I found about over Twitter from @foodie411 where seven of us were given the opportunity to sit down with the proprietor, Darryl Koster and Buster Rhino’s chef and sample a large selection of his menu.
Appetisers were moink balls (an Italian meatball wrapped in bacon), candied bacon, and cream cheese stuffed jalapenos. Stuffed jalapenos exhibit that beguilingly variable level of heat of this particular pepper. One can be hot enough to have you reaching for water while the next barely registers on the Scoville scale.
All of the sauces–meant in particular for the pulled pork sandwich but I found they went nicely with the hush puppies and potato salad as well–are deliciously balanced but the Holy Habanero truly stands out. When we were sampling it Darryl and the adventurous early adopters in the group insisted to the rest of us that this sauce was “spicy but you can still taste the habanero flavour”. Frankly, I have no idea what habanero chilies taste like because any time I have tried one all I could think about was rushing to pour enough water, milk, or sugar into my mouth to dull the pain. In other words, I am definitely not a chili-head so I appreciate that this sauce actually does just take me to the limit of my comfort zone and leaves me there for an easy slow burn. The three Buster Rhino’s sauces are available as part of their retail selection.
I am still not sure what to think of the smoked meat lasagna. In earlier posts I have admitted to liking a dish because it pulls at my nostalgic heartstrings and reminds me of comfort food before my tastes veered towards strange pig parts, raw fish, and bone marrow. I don’t know if anyone remembers (no one else Saturday night did) but for a good part of the nineties President’s Choice had a product called Pizzagna. This concoction married the traditional lasagna noodles and slightly traditional tomato sauce with the more avant garde pepperoni, mushrooms, and mozzarella cheese. Buster Rhino’s version uses smoked brisket as the meat and I think it is probably the accompanying mushrooms and green peppers that recalled PC pizzagna for me. The smoke from the brisket plays wonderfully with the tomato sauce and especially the cheese (in my books smoky cheese is second only to smoky pork).
For me the highlight of the tasting was definitely the barbecued brisket sandwich. Both the beef and smoke flavours manage to assert themselves in a sort of meaty tango. I was most awed at the texture of the meat in this sandwich because it had none of the stringiness that deli afficianados accept as par for the course with their brisket (be it from Montreal, New York, or Toronto). If anything the texture reminded me of the tongue sandwich from you-know-where.
The ribs are dry-rubbed, smoky, and true to ribbing orthodoxy definitely do not fall off the bone. I guess I’m a barbecue philistine in this respect because while I like the smoke-laden, intensely porky flavour of these ribs I think I still prefer the less traditional wet-braised version.
Darryl is hospitable to a “t”. Chatting about everything from his experience trying to spot reviewers to customers who are slow to accept the if you really must have something call ahead to make sure they haven’t sold out rule. Because they are set up as a processing facility many of the goodies are available cryovacced for home preparation and the instructions for reheating the pulled pork and barbecued brisket (20 minutes in boiling water if from the freezer, 10 if from the fridge) come with an anecdote about customers surprised at the lacklustre results when they failed to leave the meat in the plastic.
Between the National Post article and two sample tastings over the weekend a lot has been written about Buster Rhino’s over the last few days. Many have gone as far as to call this the GTA’s most authentic southern barbecue. I have only been south of the Mason-Dixon line on two occassions so I don’t know how well-equipped I am to judge authenticity but I do know that this is really good food.