If you ask lovers of barbecue to name the best spot in Hamilton for all things saucy, smoked, and slow-cooked, there’s little doubt that a lot of them would say Saltlick Smokehouse.
The restaurant and bar has been a fixture of James Street North since first opening eight years ago, and it’s not hard to see why its popularity has held strong throughout the years. Saltlick takes staples of Southern BBQ like brisket, chicken, pork, and sausage and turns them into mouth-watering indulgences, from heaping platters to sandwiches and beyond.
Saltlick Smokehouse was launched in 2015 by original owner and founder Shane McCartney, who had first turned the 282 James North restaurant space into a short-lived sandwichery and salad bar called McCartney & Son.
It wasn’t long before McCartney shifted focus to Southern-style comfort food, and Saltlick Smokehouse was officially born with the goal of bringing high-quality barbecue to Downtown Hamilton.
The restaurant quickly earned a reputation for its standout food, with a menu focusing on large shareable platters of expertly-prepared meats alongside house-made sides like mac ‘n cheese, slaw, and cornbread.
A sister takeaway counter for Saltlick’s popular sandwiches like pork shoulder and jerk chicken opened in the Hamilton Farmers’ Market a few years later in 2019, but ended up closing with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the flagship restaurant is still going strong, albeit with some rather large changes within the past year; the most significant of which being that McCartney has departed Saltlick Smokehouse and now runs another barbecue spot – Front Porch Southern Kitchen & Blues Joint – in Langton alongside fiancée Connie Rouble, formerly of Hamilton’s Mississippi Queen Foods.
Fans of Saltlick need not worry, though. In May of 2022, the restaurant was left in more-than-capable hands under the sole ownership of husband-and-wife team Kyle and Jennifer Ferreira, best known for their New Orleans-style cocktail spot Bar Sazerac just a few steps away from Saltlick on James North.
Besides their stacked experience in the hospitality industry, the Ferreiras are also no strangers to Saltlick itself. Kyle was previously the restaurant’s head chef, and Jennifer served as the bar manager a few years back; and when the opportunity to take ownership of Saltlick arose, the Ferreiras simply couldn’t turn it down.
“We jumped on the opportunity as we’ve always thought that BBQ – and Saltlick Smokehouse in particular – had a special place in the restaurant mosaic of Hamilton,” says Jennifer.
Sometimes, when a small business changes hands, it begins to shift uncomfortably far away from what locals have come to love most about it; but Kyle and Jennifer are deeply intentional about maintaining the integrity of Saltlick’s foundations, some of which they even had a direct hand in building back in the early days.
“We have maintained the style and ethic of Saltlick Smokehouse and its particular style of BBQ,” Jennifer adds. “Many of the meats that people have come to know and love had their recipes set back when Kyle was head chef, so we will definitely still have Texas style brisket, smoked pork side ribs, and more.”
If anything, Saltlick’s menu will simply continue to expand above and beyond the mainstay favourites, with enticing weekend features already available such as smoked apple butter pork chops, prime rib with honey-glazed carrots and beets, popcorn grits, and pan-seared striploin with bourbon mushrooms.
With Kyle and Jennifer heading Saltlick and Sazerac simultaneously, there are also numerous ways the two establishments have unified; and not just because they’re only two doors down from each other.
For instance, the creative and thoughtful drink lineup locals have come to expect from Bar Sazerac has bled into the beverage program at Saltlick, where craft beer, wine, spirits, and cocktails have been carefully curated and paired with the restaurant’s barbeque offerings.
In turn, Saltlick has fed into some of Sazerac’s offerings, influencing Sazerac’s recently added food menu and even spilling into some of their cocktails, like using brisket fat for their Smoked Brisket Manhattan. The two businesses are now also able to be booked in tandem for joint catering at events, in a package that combines the best of both worlds.
Shouldering the load of two different bustling hospitality ventures is certainly no easy task, but the Ferreiras are proud to do it in the city they call home.
“We love being a Hamilton business and being part of a thriving community!” says Jennifer.
“James Street in particular has seen a renaissance in the past five years, and everyone on the street is so supportive of each other. Kyle grew up in Hamilton and he absolutely loves being able to give back to the city that has given so much to him.”
While Kyle and Jennifer plan to keep playing the hits at Saltlick Smokehouse – after all, why fix what isn’t broken? – it’s clear that they also plan to take the restaurant and its offerings in some exciting new directions.
Whatever those directions are, they’ll surely be well worth following.
Images by Iryna Kostichin