Humans have been using fire and smoke to cook food for millennia. There’s a totally reasonable explanation for this: It.Tastes.Bloody.Good. Add in the relatively recent (hundreds of years) acquired knowledge of spices and herbs and your barbecued meat becomes carnivore’s dream come true. I don’t know the science of why protein cooked this way turns into the tender, juicy, flavourful meat you just can’t stop shoving into your mouth, but trust me on this…it does. Calgary has, is, and always will be a meat lover’s town. Yeah, we’ve got some vegetarian and even a few vegan places but visitors and locals know that Calgary is known as ‘Cowtown’ for the simple fact that we love meat.
Trends in places to eat our favourite proteins have evolved somewhat over the years: In the beginning we had places like Hy’s Steakhouse (1955), Caesar’s Steakhouse & Lounge (1972), and Nick’s Steakhouse (1979) who serve[d] diners ‘classic steak dinners’ showcasing premium Alberta Beef. Then, we had a smattering of fine dining but still ‘meat-centric’ establishments open (Divino, Buchanan’s, Murrieta’s). Next came the modern wave of Calgary’s meat forward restaurants such as Notable, Charcut, and Modern Steak. At the same time, Brazilian churrasco barbecue restaurants became quite popular, Southern barbecue joints also hit the scene. Most recently Hayden Block Smoke and Whiskey has opened up in Kensington, giving Calgarians and visitors a tasty version of Texas-style barbecue while stoking our continued passion for whiskey (with over 150 kinds of the sipping spirit). The tender fall-off-the-bone smoked and charred meat is dry rubbed and is great to eat on it’s own…but then there’s the sauce dilemma. They give you the sauce so what are you gonna do? Sauce it up!!
Can you call rustic/barn-y/smoke-shack inspired surroundings, ‘décor’? This term seems a bit too fancy for what they’ve got going on at HBSW. Country ‘chic’ is way overused…I’m just going to call it ‘comfortable’. There’s weathered ‘barnwood’ walls, and old dairy style light fixtures, rusty knick knacks, and long bench style banquets. It’s all very monochromatic and practical, my one pet peeve is if you want to make a night of it, the seating is hard on your tushy. It doesn’t really matter anyway, because once that meat arrives at your table, you won’t give a rat’s ass what the place looks like or if you can still feel if your own ass is attached to your body.
With one look at the menu on the wall (menus are provided table side as well) my lunch date and I knew we’d have a difficult time narrowing our choices down to appear less gluttonous than we really are. So we didn’t. We each order the brisket (dry rubbed, then smoked 12-13 hours) because that was a no brainer. We agreed that we needed an order of hushpuppies and whipped honey butter STAT, and that the Three Cheese & Bacon Mac ‘n’ Cheese was taunting us but it was then that we went our separate [side]ways. If you come to Hayden Block…consider this a warning: you MUST leave your caloric worries behind and be okay with the fact that every calorie is worth it. The hushpuppies and whipped honey butter are insane.
Looking back on the photos, I can’t believe I didn’t try the chicken. My date did and said it ticked all the right boxes; juicy, tender, and well seasoned. I was so entrenched in my brisket and pulled pork that I barely looked up from my plate and had eaten half of everything before I remembered there was sauce. As was recommended, I tried the ‘Espresso Yourself’ with the brisket and the ‘House Barbecue’ with the pulled pork. Of all three, I enjoyed the ‘Espresso Yourself’ sauce the most and I was happy to hear it’s made from hyper locally made cold press coffee. Why do I say ‘hyper local’? One of the bartenders has a small cold brew coffee business and his cold brew makes up the bulk of the sauce. The third sauce was not my favourite but if you like an ultra vinegary hot sauce, this is the sauce for you. I was more than happy to much on the crispy pile of pickles provided on the side of my plate in between meats as they act like a bit of a palate cleanser so your mouth doesn’t get meat fatigue.
My date had the Pork Spare Ribs with his brisket and I just ended up with rib envy. Next time, my friends! I didn’t get a chance to try his ribs but he made my try his Baked Beans and I’m glad he did because they were the perfect combination of savour, sweet, salty, and sour with a bit of a kick at the end. He didn’t try my Smokehouse Corn in spicy queso because he’s a touch lactose intolerant (though come to think of it, this didn’t stop him from eating the mac ‘n’ cheese!) but I thought it was a great side, though I would generally share such a rich side dish.
I’m going to stop right here and give you a little lecture on expectations vs. reality. What is the first thing that pops into your head when you see the words ‘turkey breast’ on a restaurant menu? If you’re like most people (Date and myself included) you think ‘Oh Hell no, I’m not giving that dry tasteless piece of meat the time of day…bring me the brisket!’ And you would be WRONG my friends! Don’t forsake the turkey breast like we did because you won’t be fortunate enough to have general manager, Ian Walsh take pity on you and bring you slices of the succulent poultry even though you didn’t order it (though he does recommend it to most diners). It was so good, I have no photographic evidence that we ate it. Sorry.
This being a Southern Style restaurant there’s no escaping dessert. You can choose from Peach Cobbler or Pecan Pie. Not too many choices there, but you may not have much room for dessert anyway. If you must end the meal on a sweet note, I recommend the Pecan Pie to share. It gets two thumbs up from this self confessed pie junkie.
Hayden Block Smoke and Whiskey is a unique place in Calgary. It brings our city’s love of meat to a whole other level. I can’t wait to visit again and bring my boys because, wow they can eat a lot of meat. Word is, they sell out of meat every night by midnight (not whiskey, just to clarify) and if you have a late night meat craving the best time to visit is between 10 pm-12 am when the meat is half price until they run out.
***mustaches and beards not required, but most certainly are welcome***
Hayden Block Smoke and Whiskey (website)
1136 Kensington Road NW; 403-283-3021