The sultry aroma of hickory smoke wafts from large sunny windows opening onto the corner of 17 Ave. and 6 St. S.W. It’s a tantalizing hint as to what’s happening inside Comery Block – the newest venture by Calgary restaurateurs Jared and Aja Kichula. An ode to Tennessee barbecue, Comery Block adds counterpoint to the Kichula’s Texas-barbecue-themed Hayden Block across the river in Kensington. They also own Cardinale Italian Restaurant and Main Street Barbecue in Airdrie.
High ceilings, exposed brick walls and enormous windows set the stage for large communal wood tables, a gorgeous copper bar and a vast selection of 150+ whiskeys. GM Ben Fellowes says the hickory wood neatly stacked along the northwest wall is what smells so great and gives the smoker a sweet, strong fuel to infuse the pork, chicken, beef and turkey that rotate for up to 14 hours a day in chef Craig Ramsay’s pit.
“We travelled extensively in Tennessee to ensure we were offering an authentic experience for Calgarians,” says Fellowes. So what makes Tennessee barbecue unique? That’s the rub, says Fellowes.
“Texas barbecue uses basic salt and pepper rubs whereas Tennessee uses garlic and onion flavours to bring a real savoury taste to the meats.” But the folks at Comery aren’t too competitive, some menu favorites did make it over from Hayden Block including the broccoli salad and the famous bacon-wrapped corn. Some things came over with a twist. Comery Block tosses the pork belly in a sweet sauce before serving it. The chicken wings are also a favourite in both locations and are notably the only meat on the menu not sourced locally. It turns out only Brazilian chickens bear wings “beefy” enough to withstand 14 hours in the smoker.
We sampled the brisket, pork rib and hot chicken. The dry rub on the pork rib was rich, savory and delicious and needed no sauce to enhance the experience. The piece of brisket we got was a little on the dry side, but Comery Block’s sauces are exceptional with Nashville Hot (spicy), Memphis Gold (mustard) and Tennessee Brown (sweet) available in large quantities on every table.
Let’s talk about the hot chicken. Nashville is famous for its hot chicken and that hot chicken is famous for making grown men cry. Fortunately, at Comery Block, the delicate, crispy and flavourful skin comes in mild, medium, hot, crazy and xxx. We had the mild (because we’re wimps of the first degree) and it was one of the finest pieces of fried chicken we’ve had. We probably could have handled up to the medium before starting to complain.
We went old school with collard greens and grits which didn’t disappoint. The cornbread is heavenly with the honey butter and, while some may claim eating salad at a barbecue pit is sacrilegious, the cucumber and tomato salad added a fresh crunch and splash of colour to the meal. Emboldened by our virtuous vegetable dish, we felt we’d earned the mac and cheese, which oozes with creamy Velveeta and is an excellent complement to the hickory-smoked meat. We finished off with two Tennessee truffles (chocolate-covered homemade nut puree nuggets) that were neither too sweet nor too filling. Thank god, because we had no room left by the time we waddled out.
Comery Block offers late-night discount with half-lb meats offered half-price after 10 p.m. while supplies last and daily specials. Also, the cheekily-named cocktails offer something different for those who don’t drink their whiskey neat.