June 11, 2024

Words by: Twyla Campbell

Photography by: Erin Walker

Smoke and pizzaz in the suburbs

An industrial area in a suburb isn’t where one would expect to find a restaurant serving scallops, steaks and fresh-baked beef tallow brioche—and even sea urchin, on occasion. The location was a risk, admits owner, Tyler Sorochan, but it worked. One step inside this Spruce Grove hotspot and visions of auto repair shops and equipment rental yards fade to black. 

Barbacoa is cozy, comfortable and casually posh. A bank of split wood stands at the ready beside a massive grill where hunks of Alberta beef sizzle and spit over a roaring fire. The combination of brick, wood, dark leather and the faint smell of smoke makes a wonderful first impression.   

The wine list is concise but intriguing enough with noticeable leanings towards New World production. Despite having playful names like Let’s Get Fizzical and Whoa Black Berry (wam-ba-lam), cocktails are skillfully crafted with good depth and balance. If you like a bit of razzle dazzle with your dining experience, go for bourbon-based Playing with Fire, or the Fireside Old Fashioned that’s tempered with creme de cacao and sweetened with marshmallow syrup. 

The serious side of Barbacoa is the food. Fresh-baked bread, house-made cheese, and a strong inventory of locally sourced ingredients speak to the integrity of the owners and the experience and skill level of the cooking crew. 

Chef Benjamin Perez makes a wicked deviled egg. He first smokes the eggs and then to the yolks, adds bacon marmalade, aioli, pickled jalapeño, and maple syrup. What results is a revitalized, decades-old party favourite with considerable wow factor. 

Perez gets crafty with parsnips, too, preparing them three ways—pureed, pickled and fried crispy-thin—to pair with perfectly seared scallops. “It’s not worth having scallops if you can’t get a good sear,” he says. He’s right, of course. A good sear is everything. 

The steaks, though, are the undeniable draw and the inspiration for the restaurant’s name. The word, barbacoa, comes from a 16th-century Taíno word, barabicu, and refers to meat cooked over fire. It would be criminal to pass on the 40-ounce Tomahawk steak (for two people) at dinner, but the steak sandwich is the real steal. Thick slices of sirloin are presented on house-baked focaccia, smothered in whisky peppercorn cream sauce and garnished with a hefty amount of chopped chives.

The steak sandwich is on the lunch menu which differs from the dinner menu, so you’ll have to make more than one visit. Trust me, you won’t be mad about it. 

Tyler Sorochan grew up in Spruce Grove and says he and his wife, Ashley, wanted to open a restaurant that “fit the people.” Ellen Elton, a longtime friend of the Sorochans, and now restaurant manager, offers that Barbacoa is a “sexy in the suburbs kind of place where people can connect over good food in an intimate setting.” From a tenuous start amidst pandemic restrictions to becoming the darling of the food scene drawing visitors from around the province, Barbacoa is all that, “with a little smoke and a pizzaz to keep things interesting,” according to Chef Perez. 

Find Barbacoa at 470c South Avenue, Spruce Grove, Alberta.

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