By Michael Lowe
When Hillfire SMK & BBQ opened about eight months ago, I just knew it would be a success. Not only is the chef and owner well known in Niagara, he is a stickler for detail when it comes to great food.
The last time I enjoyed the food of Chef Anthony Greco he was still cooking just a few doors down at Zest Kitchen. His new place is a casual, comfortable place serving some of the best smoked meats and barbecue fare around, and the brightly coloured decor (photos above) pays homage to much of what ends up in the smoker.
Greco told me that the restaurant caught on from Day One and the first summer was a busy one. So much so that, besides the inside space, the 32-seat patio is also often filled to capacity and there are plans to add an outside deck this spring bringing the total seating to about 130.
Hillfire is also a Feast On certified restaurant dedicated to serving the best food and drink sourced from Ontario. My lunchtime visit begins with a crisp, dry hopped brew from Dragan Brewing & Wine called Piva pilsner (photo above) — the perfect partner with what’s to come.
The menu offers a couple of salads ($11-14), a few sandwiches with a burger and vegetarian option ($14-18) and a collection of mouth-watering meat platters and classic side dishes that will cause some deliberation over what to order. My advice — order plenty and take home the rest.
I go for a platter called Fixing it Pretty (photo above) featuring 1/4 pound each of three meats and three sides. At $38, it’s plenty to feed two to three people. I decide to stay with as southern an approach as possible and pair the meats with macaroni and cheese, brisket baked beans and cabbage and kale slaw. Those golden brown fries in the photo above are an add-on and a welcome addition. The amazing house-made sauces are also available for purchase for those not daring enough to make their own.
A point worth mentioning is Greco’s technique of using what I’ll call judiciously applied smoke. There’s just enough smokiness to let the meaty flavours shine through. All the meats are tender, juicy and expertly seasoned. The menu always has brisket, chicken and pulled pork during the week with an added feature on weekends. That feature could be house-made sausage, smoked turkey or ribsb—bI guess a return visit is in order. The side dishes alone are worth a visit to Hillfire.
The crumblyb—bbut to too much so — texture of the cornbread is divine with a smear of honey butter. That texture is no accident. Chef Greco grinds his own cornmeal to exacting standards just to get it right. That’s attention to detail. With my belly full, I ask for the remainder to be packed up to take home (photo above) — another meal in itself.
Just before paying, I spot a sandwich special on the board. The pastrami sandwich is too tempting to pass up so I add that to my order to take home. It’s hard not to devour it on the spot but, when eaten later, it is as good as it looks (photo above).
In addition to the lunch and dinner menus, there’s a brunch offering on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. There’s plenty of parking in the lot behind the restaurant but the rear entrance is not accessible whereas the front is. Hillfire is a place that is sure to please any lover of good BBQ.
Hillfire SMK & BBQ
1455 Pelham St.,