In town eats Victoria – Pig BBQ versus Smoking Bones

beer and espresso pork ribsIn a city seemingly built for meat eaters, there are a couple of stand outs – with a caveat or two. And they are Pig BBQ at the Atrium and Smoking Bones at the Hudson.

Chatting on the social network (twitter) today, I mused that in an active comparison between two of the more visible and successful smoked meat vendors, one of them kind of stood out.

But seeing how limited Twitter is for a truly meaningful conversation – or as a medium for getting ones complete opinion out, I offer this additional analysis.

To be fair, Pig BBQ (at the Atrium) and Smoking Bones at the Hudson are two completely different places doing two completely different things – with varying degrees of success.

On one hand, Pig BBQ is more of a no frills joint with semi-communal seating, order at the counter, take a seat and wait for your grub to be called out. What they do: pulled pork, pulled brisket, pulled chicken, specials like a yummy schnitzel sandwich or the frequent fried chicken on a waffle. Sides include palatable if slightly sweet baked beans and satisfying blocks of deep fried mac n’ cheese and the predictable corn bread and slaw. The digs are not fancy. In fact, they initially felt “cold” to me the first few visits. Repeated visits… well, I felt more at home.
Andrea and I can have a very satisfying quick lunch by sharing one sandwich, 1 mason jar of home brewed ice tea and two sides – typically the beans and the mac n’ cheese. This mid-day repast sets us back under 15$.

I was a regular visitor to the “Bones” when it was out in the West Shore – initial impressions were: “This is the best stuff I have put in my mouth…” over time some of the small things started to slip – but it was not the meat. I loved ribs. And I do have one or two favorite recipes I do at home – The long marinade grilled ribs that I do at home I am particularly proud of – but this isn’t about me. “Bones cook shack” does the meat quite well – where it falls off the bone for me are in the sides and some of the foundation items… like the bread. Ah. The bread. Here is the thing folks – if you are offering things like hush puppies, fried oysters, and good ole deep baked beans and Po’ Boys… well get the ingredients right.

To me (and this is just my opinion) the fried oyster basket tasted suspiciously like previously frozen bad boys from CostCo. And the cocktail sauce on the side seemed like it came out of a bottle. If it did not come out of a bottle, fine – at least formulate it like it is unique and attention getting… not like it was done on the cheap with too few good ingredients. I had a Oyster fry up at the “Crow and Gate” pub south or Nanaimo near Cedar, B.C. yesterday. 6 plump oysters fried to perfection served with two kinds of salad, a home made tartar sauce, a fresh but mass produced large dinner roll and a pad of butter. The Oysters from the Crow and Gate are light years ahead of the somewhat overcooked mini-oyster nuggets that “Bones” tries to pass off as an appetizer.

To their credit, “Bones Cook Shack” does a lot of things… well, OK – but they do not leave me gasping for joy. My thought is that perhaps they are trying to do too much with the space that they have – and it is a big space.
In all visits I have found the service to be spot on, the wait staff are well informed, knowledgeable and friendly. So, it is not about what’s happening on the floor – it is a bit of a disconnect in the kitchen – perhaps with the quality of some of the supplies.

In summary, I think that Smoken Bones Cook Shack could be consistent and amazing. Their signature meats are generally pretty good – well prepared, sauced and presentation. The most common complaint that I have heard that I do not necessarily agree with is with the plating… or the lack of it. I have heard it said that everything is served in plastic containers on wax paper – have not noticed this particularly – nor would it bother me if they did.

In comparing the two; PIG BBQ and Smoken Bones Cook Shack… it has to be acknowledged that they are two distinctly different “beasts” – and in the end analysis, PIG wins by not trying to be too many things with too many big ideas. The meat is tasty and is presented commensurate with the environment in which the products are prepared and delivered.

How could Smoken Bones Cook Shack step up? A: Take a good look at the menu. Trim it a bit – maybe a couple of items – or rotate some things and do them with a bit more authenticity and a dollop more pizzazz.
B: Step up on the bread. Bake it yourself if possible. Nothing destroys an Oyster Po’ Boy sandwich or pulled pork than dull tasting factory bread.
C: A message for all restaurants – outsource your sauces and breads at your peril. Think we do not notice? We do.

Colin Newell is a Victoria resident, IT Guy and food/drink writer – his writing has graced the internet since 1995