Jason Rees didn’t mean to start a culinary career – it just kind of happened. While working full-time in IT, he entered barbecue competitions in the U.S. “as a hobby. Weekend warrior kind of stuff.”
Catering part-time followed in 2007, “to offset the costs of barbecue contests.” The team’s name for competitions – “Pork Ninjas” (members were fans of “Iron Chef,” and a third were Jewish or Halal) – stuck. Then, Rees says, “It blew up.”
Known for his love of cooking, “legendary” Super Bowl parties and Sunday dinners for friends, he moved into catering full-time in 2012.
Rees signed on to do a ’cue pop-up at The Monarch Tavern in 2014 under the name Baju BBQ, partnering with Zane Caplansky of Caplansky’s Deli. He says, “It was the worst decision I ever made,” but follows with, “The Monarch was great, and I learned a lot.”
After a year at The Monarch, Rees did his own pop-up at Wenona Lodge for two years.
His new restaurant in the Corso Italia area showcases his particular barbecue, which he describes as “sincerely-sourced meat and anything you’d find at a church social.”
His fuel source? Wood pellets – 100 per cent sustainable byproduct from Barrie – a blend of apple, hickory “and a little bit of our own.” Rees staunchly believes, “If your fuel source is something other than wood, it’s not barbecue.”
On the menu
Looking for regional fare? You won’t find it here. “We don’t have to do that in Toronto,” he says. So expect brisket burnt ends à la Kansas City, Carolina mustard sauce, and a “white sauce,” similar to the one served in Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Alabama for over 100 years.
You’ll also find traditional southern dishes like Pulled Pork ($18), Beef Brisket ($20), and Hush Puppies ($6), right alongside mashups such as Pork & Kimchi Spring Rolls ($8) and BBQ Poutine ($15), and vegetarian/gluten-free Smokey Falafel ($17) made with smoked chickpeas.
Quality of ingredients is paramount to Rees. Using the freezer only for ice, he does not use vegetable oil (“It’s really bad for you.”), choosing instead animal shortening for deep-frying, hand-cut fries, and free-range chicken, which is often served pink due to the poultry absorbing the nitrogen from the wood smoke.
Meat is always 100 per cent Canadian, with almost everything from Ontario. Naturally pastured ribs are smoked for four hours, Ontario pulled pork for 12, and Alberta AAA beef brisket for 20, but food comes out fast – less than seven minutes is the goal.
House-made desserts are in the works. Sweets in the past have included: Campfire Smoked Brownie with bourbon whipped cream, and Bacon Praline candy.
The extensive, primarily Ontario, craft beer list features draught, Tallboys, “crushable” cans, “beer for your Dad,” gluten-free selections and ciders. Beer is $9 or under, “No matter what it is,” Rees says.
There’s a “brown liquor buffet” featuring bourbons and other coffee-coloured spirits. Cocktails (2 oz./$14) are mostly bourbon based – Bourbon Mule, Bourbon Sour, and Apple Bacon Julepwith Ezra Brooks Bourbon, pressed apple cider, smoked apple, rosemary and bacon salt rim. The 512 Lemonaid features Jack Daniels Honey Whiskey, fresh lemon juice, orange juice ginger beer, sugar rim and mint.
Looking for something in particular? Rees says, “If it’s not here, that’s because we haven’t found it properly sourced yet.”
Take a seat
Located down the stairs of the office building at the corner of Earlscourt and St. Clair West, the former Portuguese soccer club got a $70K makeover, with about a quarter of that spent on the kitchen alone. Rees tore the old kitchen out, repaired the floor and plumbing, outfitted the room with LED lights, and brought in one of his many smokers from home.
The large open room is simple – wood tables and chairs, L-shaped red bar, TVs showing the extensive craft beer list, with much of the decor coming from Artist Duro 3’s mural of bright yellow flames licking the vivid red walls.
Rolls of paper towel are set right on the table, alongside house-made sauces.
Dig into Southern-style barbecue with “thoughtfully-sourced,” local ingredients in a casual environment.
Earlscourt BBQ By Pork Ninjas (1278 St Clair Ave. W.) accommodates 100 guests for dinner Tuesday to Sunday 5 pm “till we run out.” Take-out and delivery is also available in biodegradable containers made from sugar cane and corn.
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