Ian McGrenaghan and Colin Tooke, the owners of Parkdale’s perennially popular Grand Electric, quietly opened their new BBQ joint last night. And yes, there’s already a line-up.
The public face of Electric Mud BBQ, the new restaurant from the owners of Grand Electric, is an outgoing phone message. It features the world’s worst southern accent, phony to the extent that Texas and South Carolina should file a class-action lawsuit.
“Come for the voicemail,” co-owner Ian McGrenaghan proudly explains to me, “stay for the food.”
Despite running the most popular restaurant in Parkdale, or because of it, McGrenaghan and his chef/partner Colin Tooke chose to open their barbecue joint on Saturday, March 2, under a shroud of secrecy, which should last about half as long as a wait for the Queen West streetcar.
“Not telling anybody allows us to open properly, to give us a better picture of how the flow of things is actually going to be,” says McGrenaghan. “So you get the best of both worlds. You get passersby, familiar faces, more realistic traffic flowing into the restaurant, without being completely juiced.”
Grand Electric’s menu of tacos, bourbon, and loud hip-hop hasn’t changed much since they opened in late 2011. This time, expect the same extensive selection of bourbon, plus more cocktails: Clydesdale (bourbon, grapefruit, lime, agave, $8), Beergurita (Agua Loca, tequila, lime, agave, $10) and Big Boi Rootbeer ($8). “It’s basically root beer syrup and beer,” says McGrenaghan. “It tastes like a root beer but it gets you fucked up.”
Described as “traditionalish,” the barbecue is as faithfully southern as Grand Electric is dogmatically Mexican. That is to say, the sticky, acidic ribs ($13.50) are covered in peanuts, and that black beanish, hoisonesque flavours rear their heads in dishes such as duck ham ($13.50) and shrimp and grits ($13.50). The sweet, salty, smoky food is consistent with Tooke’s grand ambition, laid out before opening the first Electric. “I wanted to do something like crack,” Tooke says. “And at a price point that you can eat it again.”
The partners maintain their titles as “supreme overlords,” while Ben Denham runs the kitchen and Chris White the front of house.
Red tape from city hall continues to indefinitely hold up Grand Electric’s second floor expansion. Mud is smaller, with room for about 24. But a patio doubles that space, and could to lead to conflict with neighbours and/or city hall.
As usual, there will be no reservations and no credit cards (though Electric Mud houses a cash machine upstairs by the washrooms, which feature porny ’80s pinups so aesthetically challenged, frat boys hosting a yard sale would be ashamed to use them for wrapping paper).
Rather than an expensive renovation of the former Stampede Bison Grill, the room seems stripped naked, particle board walls hung with memorabilia—soft drink and beer ads, preserved animals wearing toques and crosses—that, to call it crap would be doing a disservice to crap.
The name Electric Mud, McGrenaghan confirms, is taken from a 1968 album by Muddy Waters, an experiment in psych-rock from the legendary bluesman.
Mud is as loud as the first restaurant, as any restaurant. This time, the soundtrack is rock, on vinyl no less. When the music fades at the end of an album, Tooke, in between plating dishes of roasted cauliflower with almonds and fried lemons
($7.50), slaps on Black Sabbath, dropping the needle 30 seconds into the first track before jumping back into the kitchen.
The calculated aloofness of the partners (which belies the fastidious nature of their labour, like barrel aging hot sauce and honey mustard) seems to be working. A crowd of Parkdalians forms at the door on opening night without so much as a tweet’s worth of promotion.
Grand Electric has at least a website that lists their hours. Its one-sided Twitter account has only ever posted holiday closings and photos of album covers, has never issued a single reply, and ignores all questions, which are usually requests for reservations or vegan/gluten-free options.
“When you come down to the restaurant with a question and talk to us, we’re pretty nice guys,” promises McGrenaghan. “That’s more of our approach.”
Electric Mud BBQ, 5 Brock Ave, 416-516-8286. Kitchen open Wednesdays to Sundays, 5-11 p.m.; bar open to 2 a.m.