Near the end of an epic Saturday with our buddies Alicia and Renato, we stopped by the newly opened Bear’s Smokehouse in Hartford. Perhaps by some divine work of Bacchus, god of gluttony, we saw a parking spot right outside the restaurant and snagged it. You know, we figured the closer the better, so we could roll ourselves out the car after we devoured ribs, pulled pork, Paw Paw’s poutine, and a ton of sides.
The cool thing here about Bear’s Smokehouse is they serve up super high-end tasting BBQ in a super low-key atmosphere—cafeteria style, in fact. You just line up, think about all the food that you can handle, order, then bring it back to a table either downstairs, upstairs, or in the summer out on the rooftop BBQ garden owner and Pit Master Jamie “The Bear” McDonald plans to open. Yeah, the same Bear who won the 21st Wing Bowl by annihilating 287 wings in just 30 minutes. To find out more about his competitive eating gastronomic victories, check out his site. And, if you feel daring, you could challenge him to an eating contest on the spot or even try to down the Bearwich for a shot at $500.
Now, thinking about all the food you can handle is the hard part. With some many options of starters, sides, wood-fired KC-style meats like their special beef ribs that are available only on weekends, and combo platters, it’s easy to get caught up in the “eyes bigger than your stomach” conundrum. We decided combos are always a great way to try a variety of things, so we all went with our own delicious enumerations. Just a note, you might go and you might see that they’re out of things. This is pretty typical of a killer BBQ joint like Bear’s because they make all the food fresh so that it’s not sitting around. Alright, let’s get onto the food and see if Bear’s Smokehouse really lived up to all the hype that we’ve been hearing.
Ribs = Perfection: We bit down, gave a little tug, and ahh . . . the delicate meat was off. The sauce was great with a nice little tinge of spice to it (they can add it for you or you can add more at the table) and the meat was rich and bursting with smoky flavor.
Brisket = Like buttah baby: The delicate meat was super moist, tender, and had a nice amount of delicious marbled fat you like to get with a nice brisket. The “O” ring was minimal, but the flavor was all there!
Texas sausage = Snap-er-ific: the best part of a good sausage is that that deliciously rewarding snap you get when you first bite in. Yeah, that went down here, and the sausage was excellent, packed very well, and had plenty of great flavor with bursts of unctuous-ity from little bits of fat.
Paw Paw’s Poutine = Porky heaven: It’s an unwritten rule when you’re with four hardcore, genuine, balls-to-the-wall food lovers, and see poutine on the menu, you order said poutine. This ginormous plate of heaven featured a pile of pulled pork (you can ask for other meats, too) on top of crispy fries, smothered in melted American cheese. We’re not kidding when we say that this was some of the best pulled pork that we’ve ever tasted. It was moist, tender, bursted with that rich wild porkiness that you come to hope for, and satisfied with each bite. And of course the fries and cheese just took it over the top.
Pork + Beans = sah-weeeeet: These ain’t the beans that you’re used to, the kind that you find in a can or that come out of a 100 lb. barrel of industrial, preservative-laden nastiness. Nope, these were homemade, rich, beans with shreds of pork and the perfect amount of warm, delicious brown sugar. Some of the best Pork + Beans we’ve had, period.
Mashed Sweet Potatoes = better than yo’ mommas: We decided that next Thanksgiving we need to buy a vat of this to take to dinner, that’s how good they are. The flavors are warm and inviting, with hints of nutmeg and brown sugar. We often find that Mashed Sweet Potatoes are overly sweet, but these were nicely balanced.
Mac and Cheese = cheese-tastic: We believe (well, especially Kristien) that M&C is the King of BBQ sides. It’s the one all sides bow down to. This one here at Bear’s was most definitely worthy of that title. Rich, super creamy, with a nice tanginess coming from the Cheddar. It’s not the baked, crumbly M&C some people obsess over, but it was damn good.
Coleslaw = Kristien approved. Ok, so Kristien is serious about her coleslaw and is quick to say if it sucks or if it’s nomworthy. Nothing can stink up a coleslaw like soggy cabbage or too much mayo. Luckily, Bear’s version was super fresh, light on the mayo, which was well-balanced with some tangy vinegar, and it packed a nice crunch.
So, our final thoughts on Bear’s? The meats were all delicate, cooked nicely, and full of flavor; the sides were all stellar; the prices were excellent with us spending only about $50 for both our combos and the poutine. Again, keeping costs down, they are a BYOB spot, so we took down a squealer of Firefly Hollow’s amazingly delicious Cone Flakes DIPA that we had just filled up a few minutes previously. Throwing all the cards on the table, we have to say that this is definitely the best BBQ spot that we’ve ever been to in Connecticut. It doesn’t suffer from that all-too-common problem of BBQ in CT where only the sides are good or only the meats are good, or you pay the same prices as some celeb-chef, French restaurant in the city. This is all serious, good, stick-to-your-ribs, make you so-damn-happy kinda food at a good price.
Our only suggestion for Bear and his crew: buy wheelbarrows so you can roll people out when they’re done.
89 Arch St.
Hartford, CT 06103
2152 Poquonock Ave.
Windsor, CT 06095