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Restaurants

Cluck, Grunt, and Low

Posted by Jerrold Litwinenko / Listed on April 20, 2008 / review policy

cluck grunt and lowCluck, Grunt, and Low brings to Toronto's Annex neighbourhood the exciting taste of slow and smoky southern barbecue - in an area dominated by cheap sushi joints.

Initially a joint venture by esteemed Toronto chefs Marc Thuet and Paul Boehmer (who has since moved on to other endeavors), the resto/bar opened in July 2007 to fanfare and mixed reviews. Admittedly late on the bandwagon, I decided to check out what all the fuss was about. I dropped in, taste buds ready, to learn more.

cluck grunt low virginia mac and cheese
First up was the Virginia Macaroni & Cheese (small $6, large $12). This isn't your everyday, neon orange, college kid snack. CGL has taken mac n' cheese to new heights - the pasta is smothered in a lovely blend of four cheeses tossed with bite-sized chunks of Louisiana sausage, and topped with a thin shaving of aged Parmesan. What impressed me most is its balanced flavour - it's cheesy and the seasoned sausage imparts just enough saltiness to make it all meld well.

carolina pulled pork sandwich
According to staff, another rather popular menu item is the Carolina pulled pork sandwich ($9). Served on a soft "pain au lait" bun from Thuet Bistro Bakery, on top of a thin layer of slaw lays a generous heap of sweet and saucy seasoned pork. The meat is tender, the sauce doesn't overpower, and (impressively) it's not at all messy. But what's southern BBQ without a little finger licking? On to some ribs...

kansas sticky ribs
This was the part of my dining experience that made the camera shutter button a little sticky and the bowl of lemon water necessary. CGL's slow cooked Kansas Sticky Ribs (half rack $15, full rack $26) score high on tangy and smoky flavour and have a decent level of heat. They come off the bone with ease, but they're definitely a little drier than I'd like them to be, which is disappointing.

cluck grunt low cornbread
Sides I tried (the beans and coleslaw) were decent but nothing to rave about, but there are many I haven't had the chance to try. That said, the cornbread that I had to finish off the meal was simply divine. Soft yet full of substance (chunks of corn throughout) and an attractive yellow glow, the sweet-heat-bite of cornbread, with the cooling, thickness of butter was a real treat. I wouldn't go back to CGL without getting the cornbread again.

interior

One minor drawback to the Annex restaurant is the absence of an on-site smoker (and hence the absence of the heavy, lingering smoke aroma you might otherwise experience). CGL do their meat smoking off-site at their smoker up near Bayview & Eglinton, and have since (already!) opened a 2nd, smaller eatery at that location.

Although prices at CGL are a little higher than many of the nearby cheap eats restos, I'd argue that the little more you pay at CGL is worth the satisfied feeling you'll likely get from the smoky meat eats the experience affords.

In warmer months, the licensed outdoor patio and wide-open garage-style doors are sure to be a serious draw as well - especially with the wide selection of southern style cocktails they offer.

Discussion

29 Comments

Chester Pape / April 21, 2008 at 01:08 pm
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I've been generally impressed with CGL, in terms of getting the regional variations in mercun BBQ close to right. Memphis style ribs really are Memphis style, dry rubbed, not swimming in sauce. Similarly the Carolina pulled pork is pretty correct. Thinks are a little over lean (and thus dry) sometimes but this is better than any of the crud they sell as BBQ at the "rib fests"
Jerrold / April 21, 2008 at 01:16 pm
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You from the south, Norm?
sunshine / April 21, 2008 at 04:23 pm
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um, the place is closed for 'renovation' ; (
Jerrold / April 21, 2008 at 04:38 pm
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I just spoke to them... renovations are going to be quick and they'll be open on Wednesday (or as early as tomorrow if things go really well). But do call ahead to be sure. Cheers!
Bryan / April 21, 2008 at 06:50 pm
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So I just walked over there after reading this, and like Sunshine says, it's closed!

Very suspicious... they opened less than a year ago and are closed for renovations? And the windows are covered by a really poorly-done newspaper-covering job.

This location must be cursed :(.
Bryan / April 21, 2008 at 06:52 pm
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P.S. Total guess and could be totally off the mark... but maybe they're behind on rent, and are making a final attempt to get some money together in the next few days to save the restaurant.

Hopefully that's not the case!
Jerrold / April 21, 2008 at 07:09 pm
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I think you're totally off the mark. The place is hugely successful, and like I said, I spoke to them today and they're finishing renovations and reopening shortly.
ryth / April 22, 2008 at 12:06 pm
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I don't mean to be negative, but this review is horrendously light on detail to say the least. I have yet to check this place out, and doubt that I will based on somewhat more in-depth reviews on Chowhound that you can read <a href="http://www.chowhound.com/topics/421563";>here.</a>
Bryan / April 22, 2008 at 11:03 pm
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You're right... I passed by there tonight and it was open.

Can't wait to check it out now...
Jerrold / April 22, 2008 at 11:13 pm
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@ryth

You are being negative. But feel free to post your own in-depth review here, and be as heavy on details as you want to be.
banffgirl / April 28, 2008 at 05:24 am
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I read the Chow stuff. Looks like a few people have only posted there a few times, or less, and only to level extreme anger at the place. Sounds suspicious. A quick inquiry revealed that the kitchen underwent a two day upgrade to improve on the quality and delivery time. As the place seems packed most days, sounds believeable. There are too many people who read negative hype and, like ryth, jump on the bandwagon. Nothing new I suppose. And, BTW, the PP sammy and ribs have been very good to excellent the many times I've had them over the past year or nearly so.
igor / May 2, 2008 at 02:04 pm
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This resto is #1 new cheap eat in town? Are you serious? Their prices are more suited to gourmet dining. E.g. a sandwich and drink runs you $15. Their coleslaw is weird, and where are the chips?
apetimberlake / May 2, 2008 at 04:09 pm
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Cheap eats?
Big Toe / May 3, 2008 at 01:24 pm
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This place is a joke! Worst BBQ in town! Don't waist your money! Servings are tiny too...
banffgirl / May 5, 2008 at 09:06 pm
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I think the article was about places with entrees under 15.00. And, the portions are plenty big. Have you seen that 14" beef rib? Like I said, the accountable reviewers write that it's good to great. And it's consistently packed. Often followed by angry comments by anonymous posters. Almost sounds spiteful. And I still think it's very good as of a couple lunches ago.
Big Toe / May 6, 2008 at 12:42 am
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banffgirl has obviously never smoked meat herself or eaten proper Texas BBQ ever. There is plenty of local, organically grown meats in this town and the quality of service, knowledge and delivery at the Cluck is embarrassing. Think of it as a tourist attraction for 905-ers! Much better choice is www.memphisbluesbbq.com
chenyip / May 6, 2008 at 04:25 pm
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This place would is almost a modest mediocre at best. The lack of smoker is also a nice touch. Nothing says southern-cue like re-heated meat in an oven.
Miles / May 6, 2008 at 05:34 pm
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@chenyip: Hate to break it to you, but almost all BBQ places reheat their meat. It takes at least 3 hours to smoke and virtually all BBQ chefs agree that the flavour remains unchanged if properly reheated.
banffgirl / May 6, 2008 at 07:05 pm
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Well, hubby does most of the smoking but I certainly do a bit myself. Mostly the fish. (Big Green Egg) I've been to Memphis Blues a few times. Good stuff. Service is really sketchy at times. I don't think that the meat is smoked any better. I've also been to most of the BBQ places in NYC (faves are Daisy May's and BBQs) and a few places in the South. And, I'm in T.O. so Texas would be much closer to visit. :-) But what's the big deal with "real" Texas BBQ? Everybody has a favourite style. But that doesn't make any particular one the hands down best as you suggest. I could say that you have obviously never tasted real Tennessee BBQ. But what would be the point of that?
Big Toe / May 7, 2008 at 01:04 pm
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You are right banffy, everybody has their favorite. Cluck is not one of mine. The Big Green Egg is the best. Good for you.
Adam / May 9, 2008 at 10:35 am
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Would people stop writing "BBQ," please? This is a message board, not a neon sign. There's plenty of room for "barbecue."

Spelling these days. Jesus.
jorge / May 14, 2008 at 04:22 pm
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It's not a good place. I live around the corner and went there three or four times (I am a sucker for barbecue) but each time it was a disappointment. Service is god awful and the sides (WHEN they are available) are mediocre at best. The saving grace was the roast chicken and the chicken and pork sandwiches. The place is regularly packed which continues to amaze me. I guess others find the cuisine more palatable.
Henna / May 23, 2008 at 03:39 pm
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What a terrible review!

I went here and the Mac and Cheese was the worst I've ever had - it was gritty instead of smooth and I just got one piece of sausage. Also missing was the parmesan shavings on top but that's a small thing to complain about after eating that crap.
Jami / May 27, 2008 at 03:25 am
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This place rocks! Ten of went and split a few platters. Service was great. We ate a *ton* of quality BBQ. They even bought us a round at the end.
Sweetpea / June 2, 2008 at 12:46 am
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Their mac and cheese was sour and unedible but the server kindly replaced my order free of charge. Service was great! It took a while to get the food though.
Jo / December 23, 2008 at 11:00 am
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plain & simple, the food is just ok.
tbird replying to a comment from sunshine / February 3, 2009 at 07:49 pm
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When a restaurant says it's closed for renovation it usually means they can't afford to pay their suppliers and staff and need to not be available to question. At least that's what it meant in this case.
foodieprincess / May 4, 2009 at 09:31 pm
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The Sunday brunch is really good. The homemade biscuits are warm and yummy, the brisket is usually nice, and the smoke bacon is good if there's any left when you get there. Love the fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches on the sweet table.
Vara / May 30, 2009 at 01:31 pm
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This place is closed!!!

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