Photograph by Jean Levac
Annie & Clyde’s
895 Bank St., 613-236-9499, annieandclydes.ca
Hours: Monday to Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday noon to 11 p.m.
Prices: barbecue plates from $16.95 to $42.95
Access: one small step to front door
In the last few months, I’ve tried smoked gnocchi, smoked mushrooms, smoked olive oil, smoked garlic and even smoked granola.
But despite these novel and even trendy creations, when I crave something smoked and good to eat, what I want are the classics of American barbecue and nothing fancier than that. Give me side ribs, pulled pork and beef brisket, please. And don’t spare the sauce.
With these hankerings in mind, I made visits in the last week to Annie & Clyde’s, an unpretentious Bank Street eatery with a history that requires a bit of explanation.
In 1979, owner Clyde Ross opened Mexicali Rosa’s, at Bank Street and Clarey Avenue, where Annie & Clyde’s now stands. It spawned the Mexicali Rosa’s restaurants — more than two dozen franchises in Ottawa and the Maritimes. The franchise business changed hands, twice, and to make a long story short, in January 2012, Ross changed his restaurant’s name and revamped its menu.
Ross, who also owns the Feleena’s Cantina restaurant on Bank Street, decided to move beyond his time-honoured Tex-Mex menu and get into barbecue staples — not because they’re as of-the-moment as smoked gnocchi, but because he’s a U.S. expat with roots in Oklahoma as well as East Los Angeles. Ultimately, he has wound up serving both barbecue and Tex-Mex at Annie & Clyde’s because regulars didn’t want a fajitas-free zone.
We were there Friday night, soaking in the casual atmosphere. Most of its 70 or so seats were full, and Ross, 70, had stopped by a table. White Christmas lights and U.S. Route 66 bric-a-brac hung overhead, and a giant mural of Ross and a facsimile of Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde dominated a back wall. Classic rock provided the soundtrack, but not so loud as to hamper conversation, or staff who sang Happy Birthday to one table. On Wednesdays, Friday and Saturdays, live music replaces the classic rock.
Food-wise, this visit was rather measured. One female dining companion had a pulled pork sandwich ($14.95), the other had a brisket sandwich ($14.95). For flavour and texture, the pork topped the beef, said my dainty fellow diners, who ate their sandwiches open-faced with knife and fork. I had just a quarter-rack of pork side ribs ($19.75), washed down with a local craft beer. The ribs were tender, meaty and bolstered by their sauce (although I thought the sauce, on its own, was too smokey). We enjoyed our food and were in and out in just over an hour.
The more exhaustive and exhausting meal came a few days later, when I returned with my carnivorous pals, the Meat Brothers.
We figured we could eat the place’s family platter ($59.95) — $20 worth of food per man, right?
Wrong. The meal, which landed on our table without much delay, consisted of two baskets and two heaping platters. Leftovers were inevitable, but only after some good eating.
Basket No. 1 was full of cornbread, sweet and fluffy, with a nice crumb, and Basket No. 2 was full of fried chicken, which was moist and had a crisp, cornmeal-flecked breading, rather than a bigger, crunchier coating of batter.
Platter No. 1 held six big ribs, two mounds each of pulled pork and brisket, and bowls of sauce (an atypical but nicely tangy mustard sauce for the pork, a “Kansas City” sauce for the ribs). Again, the ribs, marked by a nice smoke ring, were well-trimmed and meaty. Again, the pulled pork, which included some tasty burnt ends, was tender. Again, the brisket — a trickier cut to cook, I’ve always found, especially compared to pulled pork — was the only letdown because it was a bit dry and not very flavourful.
Again, I thought the barbecue sauce was overly smoked, but a Meat Brother dissented, and thought its sweet molasses base carried the day.
Platter No. 2 held our four chosen sides. There were so-called “skid” potatoes — deep-fried slices that tasted bar-food good while they were piping hot. There were bowls of mac and cheese (tangy and spicy, I thought; a bit curdled texturally, a Meat Brother thought), impressive collard greens (tender, not bitter, and garlicky), and Texas chili (chunks of fall-apart beef in a dark, spicy, cuminy sauce). I confess that my taste buds could be clouded by sentimentality about the chili because I last tasted it when I was in high school, circa 1981, dining at Ross’s long-gone San Antonio Rose, a basement eatery on Rideau Street. That’s some spicy nostalgia.
We took home about a third of the platter, but not before splitting some sweet-sauced, whipped-cream-crowned bread pudding ($6.50), which like the rest of the meal, had no airs to it beyond tasting good.
Before we left, we learned that our server had been working for Ross for 20 years, and that the chef, now cranking out barbecue as well as Tex-Mex, had worked for Ross for 30 years. I have to say I admire that kind of longevity, as well as the down-home food.