Sure, trends come and go, but, when you have a reason to celebrate, or want to mark a special occasion, the steak dinner will always be at the top of the list. The prime-cut dinner is an event unto itself — and two new (or maybe, new to you) restaurants are taking beef to a new level.
Vegetarians, you just might want to skip the next few pages — because there’s really not much for you, here.
Partners Tyler Sorochan and Tim Gordon could have gone with a concept that had less prohibitive costs. The two both had experience in the restaurant business, and had worked together before. So, a startup wasn’t exactly new territory.
But they both wanted to create a refined-yet-casual dining experience in Spruce Grove, where they both reside. And their vision was to make steak on wood-fed flames, not on gas grills. But, cooking steaks over burning birch isn’t something for the faint of heart. It’s more costly than using gas.
But they stuck to their guns, and found a spot in an industrial park south of the railroad tracks in Spruce Grove. They gutted the space, built a kitchen, brought in bar and lounge seating, but mounted no televisions — because a night out is not about looking past the person sitting across from you, as you pretend to pay attention while watching sports. And, in April of 2021, Barbacoa was set to open to the public.
Except, COVID-19 restrictions went into place and all that could be done was takeout. For the first several weeks of operation, steaks were going out in boxes and bags.
“The grill is where I am most comfortable,” says Sorochan, who cooked with Bundok’s Ryan Hotchkiss when they were both at Sage. “So, right in the middle of COVID, we said, OK, let’s do this.”
But, now, the restaurant is fully operational. Both Gordon and Sorochan say that the response from Spruce Grove, and from the Edmontonians who have ventured west, has been positive.
Barbacoa works with local suppliers, like Grove City Meats, Wild Game Consultants and Nonay Beef. Bread is brought in from Benny’s Bread and Butter (profiled in Edify in November, 2020).
It all comes back to the fire, though. Not only does Barbacoa use birch when grilling steaks, but the smoker uses other hardwoods like apple and cherry.
“Tyler has done a great job of exposing people to different flavours in an approachable fashion,” says Gordon. “The first thing you notice when you come here is that smell. That smoke. It’s a sensory experience.”
“The idea behind the name Barbacoa is a nod to the history of people getting together to eat,” says Sorochan.
Chef Paul Shufelt didn’t envision opening a restaurant in Cameron Heights, located right off the Henday in southwest Edmonton.
But a friend of his kept recommending an open space in a strip mall just off the highway. After some persuasion, Shufelt, the head of the Robert Spencer Hospitality Group, visited the space — and was hooked. And, a new concept was born, to go alongside Workshop Eatery in the Ellerslie Road area and Woodshed burger spots.
When you walk into Hayloft Steak + Fish, the first things you’ll see are various cuts of meat aging behind glass.
Shufelt says that dry aging beef was the norm until the 1950s, when grocers realized that selling “wet” beef in vacuum-sealed packs meant extra weight, which helped the bottom line.
“But we lost something that we got from dry aging,” says Shufelt. “The enzymes and bacteria break down the meat and tenderize it. It concentrates the flavours.”
Shufelt says the tenderness comes at 30 days of dry aging, and flavours emerge after 60 and up to 90 days.
“You get the umami of aged cheddar or blue cheese.”
But doing it the old-fashioned way does present logistical problems. As the meat ages, the amount that needs to be discarded increases. After a couple of months, Shufelt might be discarding as much as half of the original cut. As well, he’s planning menus two to three months ahead of time.
Customers have asked why steaks are plated on their own, and don’t have a lot of bells and whistles. Shufelt says we have got so used to dressing it up, that we need to understand how great aged, well-made steaks are when they are simply seasoned.
“We are focused on quality, not steaks as big as your head.”
As well, Hayloft shares a kitchen with a new Woodshed location.
“We wanted to use the entire animal, all contained under one roof, and we have two concepts that work well together,” says Shufelt. “We are in Alberta. We are in beef country. And, when you want to highlight that, nothing does it like a great steakhouse.”
Like this content? Get more delivered right to your inbox with Ed. Eats
Sip and savour highlights for local eats. Delivered every Thursday.
This article appears in the June 2022 issue of Edify