It’s not much of a secret, but it still feels like a revelation to hear: Meat is the brainchild of a vegetarian.
“My business partners eat enough meat for all three of us,” Saylish Haas laughs, a sound that comes to her easy and often. It was her, not them—Michael Rebalkin and chef Nathan McLaughlin—who first thought up the place, a sister house to the trio’s already beloved Next Act Pub.
“I was thinking about the trend of being in Alberta,” she says. “How much people like meat; just the simplicity of it. So I pitched it to the business partners, and said, ‘Why don’t we go for this?'”
In principle, they agreed. And when the space next door to the Next Act opened up, they decided to go all in on the idea—providing the menu wasn’t going to undercut what they were already doing at the Act.
“We didn’t want it to compete,” Haas explains. “This is more of a restaurant, that’s a bit more of a pub. Nathan, he’s really good at simple ingredients done well. So we thought, well, what can we do that’s going to not compete, but it’s still the same sort of feeling?”
The answer was to focus on three of the most beloved syllables in cooking: barbecue. Texas-style barbecue, to be specific: smoked meats paired with bourbons and beer. Working with an imported smoker, they’ve been honing their ability to mass quantities of flavourful brisket, shredded pork, juicy sausage and other carnivorous delights. To encourage the sampling of bourbons, you can order a boilermaker (a beer paired with a bourbon), or a shot of “pickleback,” a salty, electrolyte-refuelling chaser of pickle juice. And, yes, despite its title, Meat offers veggie options: a feature sandwich, which will change every few weeks, and all of the sides.
Meat presents itself without the usual cliché imagery; instead of roadsigns and bleached cattle heads, the building’s a crisp, clean, surprisingly big room of blue-white tiling and huge windows. It also seems to have managed to carve out a niche as the only dedicated barbecue place in the area. The appeal of that is clear: although the first few weeks will find it only open for dinner, (lunch will follow shortly), no less than three separate groups wander in off the street while talking to Haas. “It just smells so good!” protests one, when Haas gently tells him to come back later.
To get a taste for authentic barbecue, Haas, Rebalkin and McLaughlin took a trip down to Austin, TX, and spent almost a week sussing out the nuances of the style—”I watched my business partners eat a ton of meat, and I ate a lot of beans and coleslaw,” Haas says. Then McLaughlin did a few days of barbecue training in Georgia under Myron Mixon, three-time Grand Champion in the Memphis Worlds, among mass quantities of other barbecue trophies.
“I think the timing of it is the trickier part,” Haas says, of what those trips taught them. “Figuring out how to make it come out fresh, hot, how to hold it properly, and the seasoning—a lot of people want dry rub, they want it to be really seasoned, flavoured, whatever. And with all of our testing, we went with a basic salt and pepper. That’s it.”
The sauce options are left to you. On each table are four bottles to choose from: Bourbon, Cherry, Mustard and Spicy. Though, Haas notes, in its first week of business, people have been more focused on the meat itself, rather than the dressings.
“We’ve found people like them, like giving them a try, but they’re just focused on the flavour of the meat and the smoke right now, which is kind of interesting. People like dipping, and using the sauces, but most people are like, ‘You don’t even need it.'”
It hasn’t been a totally tender ride for Haas and company to get here, though. Early on in Meat’s progress, permit issues arose when a neighbouring business evoked an archaic Old Strathcona bylaw that forbade issuing development permits to any business that didn’t have on-site parking—remember, this is Whyte Ave we’re talking about. And after working through that struggle, another has risen, this time surrounding its backlit sign: despite its heritage style, and having had it signed off on, Haas and co are now being told it doesn’t meet the heritage criteria.
“We’re hoping we can come up with a positive solution,” she says, diplomatically.
Anyway, Haas’s energy seems more focused on giving her new endeavour the proper focus it deserves, now that its scents are wafting up and down the avenue.
“It’s so simple,” she says of the Texas-style Meat is based on. “It’s literally just a smoker, with meat, and out come the sides. And we really like that; you eat it, it tastes great, and it reminds you of some home-cooked meal, or maybe something that you haven’t had here in Alberta—considering we are in cow country.”
8216 – 104 St