Bear’s Smokehouse at The Stack Opens in New Haven

Stellar BBQ and very beery things are happening at the DISTRICT

As if I needed another reason to LOVE New Haven…now the Elm City can boast that it has a brand-new addition that smokes some of Connecticut’s best BBQ. In a state where very good BBQ isn’t common, there are two names that stand out. One is Hoodoo Brown and their Texas-inspired ‘cue. The other is Bear’s Smokehouse.

I’m here to talk about the latter. If you reside in or around Hartford you likely need no intro to Bear’s, so I’ll let it slide if you choose to bypass this part. Bear’s Restaurant Group is big up north with Smokehouse locations in Hartford, Windsor, and South Windsor. Additionally, their tree of restaurants includes Chango Rosa (a taco concept) and Blind Pig Pizza in Hartford.

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Actual entrance. Just go towards “the stack.”

The New Haven iteration is called Bear’s Smokehouse at The Stack, located in the new DISTRICT development, just off I-91 and under two miles away from the city’s busier downtown.

The Stack is a team-up, however, between Bear’s owners Jamie and Cheryl McDonald and Jason Sobocinski, who you may know from Ordinary, Caseus, and Black Hog Brewing.

If that sounds like an awesome assemblage of talent, that’s because it is!

I’ll get to that, but first, BBQ.

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Bear’s smokers are custom and keep low-and-slow temperatures steady. Each of the four fits plenty of meat to keep y’all fed.

At The Stack, you can expect the same hickory-smoked Kansas City-style staples Bear’s is known for; brisket, turkey, chicken, burnt ends, pulled pork, and more. Their glistening, tender slices of brisket, perfect pink smoke rings and all, are not to be missed. But the star of the show for me? Baby backs, baybayyy! The meat pulls off with a slight tug of the teeth, the spice rub turned BBQ bark is a touch spicy, and it’s sweetened by a thin honey glaze. It’s as good a rib as I’ve had anywhere, and easily the best in Connecticut. Sauce ‘em up? I wouldn’t freaking dare!

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Bear’s get high marks for their sides, and rightfully so. Creamy, ultra cheesy mac, an even vinegar-to-mayo ratio in their crunchy slaw, but dem beans thoooo…sweet, smoky, some chunks and shreds of brisket.
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One part of KC-style BBQ is having a mean sauce game. Our faves were the middle two for their balance of sweet and heat. Don’t be afraid of the ghost pepper. We tried it. Survived.

They’ve brought over other favorites, too, like the Mac Attack (creamy mac & cheese, topped with your choice of meat) and addictive bacon wrapped smoked meatballs called “Moink Balls.”

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Didn’t mention it in the body, but whoa! Don’t sleep on the Bear’s cocktail program. “All About Our Coco Stout” is a beertail that uses Black Hog Coffee Milk Stout, Old Forester Bourbon, Stillhouse Coconut Whiskey, Licor 43, and simple syrup. It tastes like a milkshake, but it’s mostly all booze! So slow, if that’s even possible with this smooth, desserty drink.
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A BBQ cocktail? Why not?! Bear’s version of a Manhattan starts with brisket fat washed Old Forester. You’ll taste the beef, the heat from their signature spice blend, and quite a bit of smokiness. Not for everyone, but I dug it.
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The Bacon Maple Old Fashioned is very much my speed. The black walnut bitters and maple syrup lighten up the liquor. The bacon flavor is present in a subtle way, I just wish the garnish had been more candied. That’s nothing that can’t be worked out, though.

Amongst all the BBQ, you’ll notice a twist on The Stack…it’s got multiple personalities and they’re all dope! First, it’s part fast casual. When you walk in, you can opt to stand in line, order up, pay, take your grub to a booth, and crush it. If you decide you want to hang out, go to the back marked with a “Drink” sign for a full-service experience.

One of The Stack’s other alters is immediately noticeable. It’s a brewery – biergarten. There’s a lot of Black Hog on tap because that is Sobocinski’s brewery, after all. “We have a lot of local stuff, but we have a Modelo line, Radeberger, a Spaten line,” he said. “It’s a biergarten, and not everyone likes craft beer, but maybe I can get people to try something different.”

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Sweet draft line system

That “local stuff” is all the who’s who of Connecticut beer, so think Two Roads, Kent Falls, New England Brewing, Half Full, and the list goes on.

“What we really want to do with our little brewhouse is experimental ales, we want to do wild things, so instead of always having Kent Falls on, I’ll have a collab with Kent Falls,” Sobocinski said. “The following month we’ll have a collab with Tribus or No Worries. We have a year’s worth already lined up with the likes of Stony Creek, Five Churches, Beer’d, Dogfish Head, Allagash, and Radeberger.”

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This and a beer all damn day.

Because of this, biergarten fare—made by New Haven local businesses—is represented in addition to BBQ. There’s a giant, buttery Chabaso Bakery pretzel dusted with spice rub, and plump, snappy casing sausages are a thing in the form of classic Texas sausage, kielbasa, and beer brats all made by Lamberti’s.

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That shipping container? It’s a bar.
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Overhead heaters and pits will keep you cozy

Even the 250-seat outdoor patio is biergarten-like with bocce ball, cornhole, an outdoor bar, fire pits, overhead heaters, and an amphitheater that’ll soon blast live music.

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Flaky, sweet, (packed with nuts) pecan pie is a dessert star. Peach cobbler, apple crisp, and fried biscuit cinnamon sugar “donuts” are other sweet endings.

If it seems like a lot, it is, and it’s very cool. The Stack is sure to become a destination, and BBQ is one of those culinary delights people travel for. Come for the ‘cue, stay for everything else. It’s a damn good time.

Bear’s Smokehouse at The Stack
470 James Street; New Haven
(203) 350-9060; https://www.bearsbbq.com/

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