Bear's Smokehouse Opens In Downtown Hartford

Bigger is better for Bear's Smokehouse, which opened its new Hartford location at 89 Arch Street Monday. 

The new Bear's is a 2,300-square foot industrial-style space with 60 seats, including a balcony. The Kansas City-style barbecue joint, which got its start within Bart's Drive-In and The Beanery Bistro in Windsor, is serving lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinner hours will be added next week, says owner Jamie McDonald. 

The menu remains largely the same from Windsor, said McDonald, with pulled pork, ribs, burnt ends, brisket and kielbasa among the best-selling meats. Sides include smoked BBQ beans, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, coleslaw and mashed sweet potatoes.

Bear's unique appetizers are also in Hartford, including "moink" balls (smoked beef meatballs wrapped in bacon); smoked wings, crispy beef ribs and "Paw Paw poutine," a Southern twist on the French-Canadian staple. At the new restaurant, the fries are hand-cut and smothered in pulled pork, cheese and sauce. 

In time, the Hartford location will serve smoked half and whole chickens and a larger variety of sides and desserts along with milkshakes and floats, McDonald said. 

The expansion has been "in the works for several months," said McDonald. He's the "Bear" in Bear's – an acclaimed professional eater with dozens of trophies to his name.

Business has boomed at the Windsor location since its June 2013 opening, and McDonald was soon looking for a restaurant space with capacity for a larger volume. 

In March, McDonald was named the winner of the Big Leap, a Go Daddy-sponsored national marketing competition. He was awarded about $40,000 in prize money, he said, which helped finance the massive stainless-steel smokers that are the centerpiece of the new Bear's.  

McDonald is also working on a brand-new Windsor location at the intersection of Routes 75 and 20, he said, which he hopes to open this fall. "We just can't serve fast enough" at his original restaurant at 55 Palisado Avenue, he said. 

And yes, he's still active on the competitive eating circuit - he's due to take on the legendary Takeru Kobayashi in a Canadian pizza-eating contest next week. McDonald also welcomes would-be competitive eaters to his restaurants, offering two challenges: an 8-pound barbecue sandwich, which needs to be finished in 45 minutes for a $500 prize; or a direct battle with The Bear himself, in which two contestants must choose one item and eat more of that food than the professional in 10 minutes' time. McDonald offers a $1,000 prize to anyone who can beat him.

But he's still looking for somebody to step up. "Nobody tries!" he said.

Bear's Smokehouse is at 89 Arch Street in Hartford. 860-724-3100bearsbbq.com