The new to me dem Bones sign caught my eye upon leaving the 401 in search of mid-day sustenance. Its been newly rejuvenated with a "SmokeShack and SportsBar" theme. But who wants to eat in a shack? Dual theme operations can also be difficult to clearly market.
This Friday noon there was no hint of smoke in the restaurant, unusual for a BBQ operation. Maybe they smoke overnight? So we were somewhat cautious about menu item quality or freshness. Adding to our hesitation was the scant number of customers inside the large single room and on the patio. However, we persisted mostly due to hunger and the cheerful greetings received from the hostess and servers. Yes, a greeter on guard at the entrance even though the number of employes nearly outnumbered the customers at the height of the lunch hours. The interior looked very clean and neatly organized that was further encouraging. And we soon discovered the wash rooms were particularly clean and showed detailed attention to cleaning.
The menu offers most of the expected bbq standards at very aggressive price points which may explain our ample choice of seating. We sat at the bar and cheerful bartender greeted us. Father ordered a Canadian and I had a very hoppy draft beer with a cutesy yet unmemorable name. After much deliberation he chose the "Old Faithful Burger" ($13.99), their bacon and Cheddar version while I ordered the Pulled Pork Sandwich ($10.99) with cole slaw on and put the pickles on the side please. Our sandwiches promptly arrived served in checkered paper lined baskets and accompanied by a tidy condiment caddy and a generous roll of paper towels for fingers. I often wonder why more BBQ restaurants don't offer hot finger towels a la Mandarin. They are nearly unlimitedly recyclable and far more useful for sticky fingers.
Father's burger was pronounced very good if remarkably undistinctive. My pulled pork sandwich was served on a standard hamburger-style bun with nowhere near as much crisp cole slaw as depicted on the menu. With cabbage being about the lowest cost restaurant industry ingredient after water I often wonder why it has to be served in such skimpy amounts. It did add some pleasant crunch and flavour to the tender-moist pork that was thankfully almost without sauce. The depicted garnish with a cherry tomato pick on top of the sandwich was also missing in action. Could someone please show the menu to the cook? The pickles on the side were strangely minced and served in a miniature sauce cup. My side of baked beans was nicely seasoned but in a far too thick tomato based sauce. As often happens, they were rather dry and could have benefited from some rehydration before service, the typical downside of having a total of 19 side dishes to maintain service ready. Yep, I counted them. Who could expect that number to all be freshly prepared and enjoyable, particularly if the restaurant isn't very busy? When a restaurant charges premium prices for its offerings don't its customers deserve better than good enough? Fewer items done particularly well might enhance the customer experience.
On a subsequent visit we encountered the previously expected delicious smokey aroma. Father had the Beef Brisket Sandwich ($12.99) and I had the highly recommended Smoked Prime Rib Beef Dip ($13.99). The brisket was moist and tender and fortunately came with the Homemade BBQ Sauce on the side. Fortunately on the side because the strong flavour of cloves that so dominated the sauce it would have ruined anything it was applied to. My sandwich's Prime Rib slices were tender and lightly smoked, just the right amount for me so its beefy flavour was also discernible. It came with a half-filled sauce dish of a mild au Jus, just about enough for half the sandwich. Out of curiosity I had the side of beans once again, but they were no more moist this time, but I did get a much larger portion than on our prior visit a few days earlier.
Overall, I recommend dem Bones as being an above average option for food and service quality along the 401 corridor. Still, there are some significant opportunities to improve here. For a start, how about not confusing customers by proclaiming "with our BBQ Ranch Dressing" alongside a picture of the salad with the Renée's salad dressings logo next to it? Think about the value of asking for feedback from customers, a business basic? If an operator really wants to improve, its usually helpful to know where to start. The yellow-shirted suspected manager who flitted around us on both visits never managed to make eye contact, inquire about our experience, or even smile. Too busy to improve? Or maybe he believes it's good enough?
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