Location: 638 17 Ave SW, Calgary
Cuisine: Southern food with an emphasis on Tennessee barbecue
Atmosphere: Casual, fun and lively
Drinks on offer: Draft beer, whisky, cocktails
Best bets: Brisket, turkey, grits, hot link
Vegetarian friendly? Salads and vegetable side dishes available
Additional information: Open seven days a week and also offers weekend brunch
My love for Comery Block’s sibling concept, Hayden Block, runs fairly deep. Consistent in both food quality and service, the Texas-style barbecue go-to in Calgary’s Kensington neighbourhood is probably one of my favourite places to go in the city for a casual bite with friends. Even with a kid or two tagging along, it fits the bill.
In a similar Southern vein, the fresh-faced Comery opened this summer in the former space of Italian institution Fiore’s and boasts a similar interior to its older brother – exposed brick, piles of wood stacked up in an accent wall of sorts, plank tables and the like – but a much more striking exterior. Brick archways and an eye-catching hog-topped neon sign right above its entrance are akin to something you might see while strolling down the Broadway strip in Nashville on any evening.
That’s exactly what Comery is trying to be: a little piece of Tennessee up here in Alberta. Seventeenth Avenue is a fair enough street, in terms of foot traffic, to echo the (sometimes frantic) energy that Nashville’s Broadway Street exudes. It’s a place where the neon signs can draw a person in like a moth to a flame, and that must be what’s happening at this barbecue restaurant and bar because it’s packed nearly every day of the week.
When a place like this is busy, it’s a recipe for fun. The long thick wood-plank tables result in small groups of people mingling and chatting. Let’s call it “accidental communal dining” in the most charming of ways. Drinks flow freely from beer taps and whisky bottles behind the bar. When I sit down for barbecue, I appreciate an ice cold, no-frills beer and I have happily found that here with a frosty Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Being someone whose love for Nashville runs fairly deep, I’ve experienced a fair share of this style of Southern food in Tennessee. While I can admit this eatery does boast a fun-loving vibe similar to sitting down at a place such as Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint in the Music City, Comery’s culinary offerings are in need of some work to get up to par.
This ever-bustling spot is a perfect example of how a restaurant needs to rely on more than just its food to find success. For a more casual dining experience, I think an emphasis on a cool atmosphere, fair price point and friendly, informed service staff will keep people coming back again and again. These things can help make up for any culinary shortcomings, which at Comery Block, are more than a few.
After three visits, most dishes outside of the impeccably smoked meats, including a delectably tender beef brisket and juicy smoked turkey and buttery grits, have left my friends and me wanting more. Specifically, more seasoning.
Although there are a multitude of vegetarian dishes one can order, I’d caution against “vegetable-forward” people eating here, as they will be presented with things such as the horribly undercooked and under-salted collard greens, a bland succotash (corn, beans, bell peppers) or a “wedge” salad comprised of small chunks of hardly dressed iceberg, tomatoes and fried onions.
The restaurant’s signature cornbread proves to be a crumbly mess on each of our three visits –admittedly, Hayden Block also has the same problem – which is a shame when you get a side of delicious, sweet whipped honey butter and can’t spread it on anything.
For its suggested Tennessee focus, the hot chicken and chicken-strip version of such both seem to be an afterthought with tender enough meat, but suffer from, again, a lack of balanced seasoning. You can absolutely get the burn that “Nashville hot” is famous for, but where’s the salt?
Dessert doesn’t fare much better. There’s a hot mess of a banana pudding served in a disposable cup that consists of pudding layered with a few banana slices, nondescript out-of-the-box biscuits and whipped cream. Do yourself a favour and do not order this.
There’s also a lineup of rotating pies which, on one visit, happened to be a blundered version of the trademarked “Crack Pie” by Momofuku. Upon researching if this particular dish was trademarked, I also discovered that the dessert has since been renamed to “Milk Bar Pie” by the famous New York institution because, well, using “crack” in the title of menu item isn’t overly enticing or appropriate.
The pie filling was appropriately sweet like the famed original, but the one-inch-thick graham-cracker crust was sloppily formed and a little hard to break through.
For all of the missteps in the kitchen at Comery on my multiple visits, I think a good rule of thumb is to stick to what’s smoked. In other words: a completely carnal diet of dry-rubbed pork ribs, piles of brisket and turkey, succulent sausages and more.
With that in mind, you’re sure to leave full and satisfied.