City Bites

INTRODUCING: The Zydeco Smokehouse, Little Italy’s friendly new take-out sandwich shop

Greg Delair (right) came out of semi-retirement to share his love of meat from the smoker mopped with his own secret BBQ sauce.

Greg Delair likes to think of his new take-out sandwich counter as a food truck without the wheels. Open since December, The Zydeco Smokehouse is simple, crowd-pleasing food, made to order and served up fast, with an emphasis on Southern-inspired barbecue meats that have been left to linger for hours in the smoker.

His slow-cooked fast food is all made from scratch, he says. “The only thing that comes from a package is the potato chips.” He slices up the cabbage for his sweet and crunchy (blessedly mayo-free) coleslaw fresh every morning, saying, “Day-old coleslaw just doesn’t work for me.”

The sandwiches — pulled pork, pulled chicken breast, and Andouille sausage are staples on the winter menu — featuring hickory, maple and apple wood chips, respectively. There’s no deep-fryer, so rather than fries, sandwiches can be ordered with a side of Delair’s smoked Mac & Cheese or his chipotle and molasses baked beans with smoked pork belly. He makes his own version of “poutine” by topping those beans with house smoked bacon, pulled pork, and cheese curds.

Delair says he spotted the “for rent” sign on the former barbershop location after leaving a job interview. Encouraged by friends and his partner (who he calls “the love of my life”) to open his own food business, he decided to take the plunge after 30+ years spent working in the hospitality industry, both managing restaurants and working in kitchens. He fell for the leisurely pace and beer-drinking perks introduced to him by a food-smoking fanatic friend about 13 years ago. He’s been at it ever since and says he perfected his recipes — which have remained unchanged — over the last five years.

There is a special featured item on the menu every day of the week — Jambalaya with cornbread on Tuesday, for instance, or a smoked burger mopped with BBQ sauce topped with smoked pork belly bacon on Friday. In the spring, he plans to offer some lighter items, like a Cobb Salad with hot smoked salmon.

He has been asked about smoking ribs but says the cost so far is prohibitive. Delair is determined to keep the cost of a meal combo with a drink under 10 bucks.

When I popped by after the lunch rush earlier in the week, Delair let me sample some of his most popular items. Both the chicken and the pork sandwiches were juicy and tender with just a hint of heat on the tongue and gentle sweetness; not at all greasy or cloying.

The first thing I noticed about the Mac & Cheese was the nice prominent smokiness, and then came the smooth, melty, squidgy texture that makes it a comfort food classic. I inquired about whether it was made with Velveeta with its tell-tale ultra-cheesy texture. He assured me it’s not Velveeta but hinted that he uses a blend of different cheeses. “We use real sharp cheddar on the top,” he said.

While Southern food and BBQ spots are hot these days, Zydeco strikes me as being less about trendiness and authenticity and more about filling bellies with fresh, homemade grub for a good price.

The Zydeco Smokehouse, 432 ½ Preston St., (613) 230-5870; open Mon-Friday 11:30-7:30 pm and Saturday 12-6 pm. Closed Sundays.

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