Brooklyn Tavern (Leslieville)

Brooklyn Tavern @ 1097 Queen Street East in Toronto Ontario, call them @ (416) 901-1177

Brooklyn tavern.

It was the beginning of Autumn in Toronto and we were all in denial. I attempted to cope by having brunch at Brooklyn Tavern with a new friend. We had a post-prandial walk down to Woodbine Beach and watched all the other deniers playing in the sand. Ice cream soon followed.

Based on this one visit it’s hard not to conclude that Brooklyn Tavern is a wonderful place to have brunch. We dined on their intimate and garden-like back patio. I can’t imagine it will be much of an option in the coming months, but on that day the weather was perfect for brunch among the flowers and leaves.

Brooklyn tavern.

I opted for the signature Caesar, which features Dillon’s unfiltered gin and a natural Caesar mix. Other than a more subdued flavor, I didn’t detect much of a difference between this and a standard Caesar (the spiciness of the drink overwhelms the other subtleties), so I would probably just go with the standard next time and save a few bucks. My entrée was the carnitas hash and egg over arugula salad ($12), which was delicious and a fair price. The arugula was immaculate, the carnitas clearly homemade and the egg perfectly cooked.

Despite the clearly well-conceived and –executed food program, I was more impressed with the service. On this quiet Saturday afternoon the restaurant was staffed by just a server, bartender and chef. They couldn’t have been more friendly and approachable, and perhaps more importantly – proud of the establishment and what they were doing there. I told them – and it’s true – I’d be in every week if it wasn’t across the city for me.

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Carbon Bar

The Carbon Bar @ 99 Queen Street East in Toronto Ontario, call them @ (416) 947-7000

I’ve written about hipster BBQ before with the general conclusion that it’s a difficult concept to do well. In other realms, I think hipster takes are a good thing. For instance, places like La Carnita and Grand Electric do offer some value with flavor combinations you can’t get at a classic taqueria, and that are often quite good. Sure they’re probably more expensive than they should be, but what they offer goes well beyond the standard taco.

BBQ is an altogether different beast. While there’s a lot of enjoyment to be found in dressing up a taco, BBQ is all about smoking technique. The master craftsmen and women in Texas, South Carolina and Kansas City spend a lifetime tweaking their smokers, their timing and their wood. Simply put, there is just no quantity of lychee BBQ sauce and craft beer is going to temp me to overpay for BBQ.

Carbon bar brisket. It's expensive.

And that’s exactly what places like Carbon Bar and Electric Mud want me to do. At Carbon Bar, I ordered the brisket, which consisted of five slices of the titular cut, a pickle and a ramekin of sauce. The cost of this “plate” was $22, which in some sort of entrapment-like situation more-or-less requires the diner add a side. The brisket was, in fact, quite well executed – smoky and tender. Unfortunately, the price is prohibitive.

By way of contrast, I went to Memphis a few years ago and paid about $5 for the pulled pork sandwich pictured below:

Neely's Pulled Pork

I understand, of course, the cost of ingredients and real estate is a lot lower in Memphis. And there’s a good chance that these restaurants aren’t making a lot of money off their smoked meat (rather, their beverage program). Indeed, I’m not blaming Carbon Bar or Electric Mud – they seem to have a genuine interest in the art of smoking, and are quite good at it. It’s just that from the consumer’s perspective, paying a lot for a plate of BBQ and not leaving sated is difficult to swallow.

In short, BBQ, by its nature, is food for the masses. I’m fine paying a surcharge for creative takes on some dishes. This isn’t one of them.

This End Up in Toronto

Date 51: Revisiting This End Up! with my mom (pt. 2 of the Mom Series)

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This End Up, at 1454 Dundas Street, Toronto; call (647) 347-8700

Every time I go to This End Up I like it a little more. As you may recall, my date here with Bryn was memorable, but I left with questions about the concept. I liked it more the second time with my brother Steve. And my mom and I had a blast here this time.

iphone dump 1 084

After a long day navigating Toronto’s tortured public transit system, we wanted nothing more than to have Porchetta & Co. for dinner, a sandwich I loved earlier in the year and one that mom has been drooling over since she saw Bordain try in in the Layover.  After absolutely hoofing it over there, we were sad to find out that they closed 15 minutes early that day.  Perhaps they ran out of pork.  Seems amateur to me.

But I thought This End up, which is just west on Dundas, might sate my mom’s hunger for a good sandwich.  If not, she could drown her disappointment in a stiff drink.  Turns out that although the latter wasn’t necessary, we did enjoy some nice drinks.

Long story short, mom loved this place.  It’s just the kind of casual, affordable type of restaurant she loves.  Her margarita and po’ boy hit the spot.  They also let us substitute a cup of soup for fries at no extra charge.  That day it was a vichyssoise.  Chilled, yet filling, it was the perfect remedy for a long day of walking around in midsummer sun.

My mom’s main complaint when I moved out of Eric and Emily’s was that she wouldn’t get to go back to this restaurant.

At the end of they day, This End Up perfectly characterizes what Toronto’s food scene is doing now.  Casual, well-executed small restaurants who know what they are and don’t try to exceed that.  It reminds me a hell of a lot of Brooklyn, and that’s a very good thing.

Date 33: Foodwares Market in the Bay with Tom, Rachael, Connie and Aiwen

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Foodwares Market in the Bay, at 76 Yonge Street

About midway through work, some colleagues and I decided to explore some of the lunch options outside of our building. Finding nothing suiting our fancy at the Bay-Adelaide Centre, we made our way to the Bay and eventually decided on the cafe they have in there.

Smoked meat

On offer at what is apparently called “Foodwares Market” is a variety of little stations, serving things from salads to sandwiches. I went with the special that day, a pastrami sandwich with potato salad.

The pastrami was carved to order and the potato salad was suitably tangy. For about $12, I think I could have done better, but not much.

Date 26, 27 & 28: This End Up, The Common and The Midfield with Steve (pts. 2-4 of the Steve Series)

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This End Up, at 1454 Dundas; call (647) 347-8700

On Steve’s second and final evening, we supped at This End Up, known for being my first date with Bryn. While I came down a bit hard on This End Up in that post, I still had several positive feelings associated with it. Foremost, I genuinely had a good time there and thought the food was good. The main drawback was the self-limiting concept. However, Steve and I like to drink when we hang out, and This End Up’s beverage program is first rate. It’s also just a block or two from my house, and is thus eminently convenient.

Hamburger and fries at This end Up!

All of this rationalization probably obscures the fact that my first date with Bryn way back in May was the start of a new lease on life. It didn’t work out at all, but it was the happiest and most carefree I had been in a long time. Although Bryn and I have lost touch, I owe her a great deal. And for that reason, I will always think of This End Up fondly.

On this evening Steve and I had a grand adventure. Although This End Up’s notoriety stems from its cocktails, it also has a decent beer selection. In particular, it offers beers on draft from King Brewery. Steve and I chose these beers to go along with our sandwiches, mine being the chutney burger ($11) and Steve tackling the fish po’ boy ($15). Each sandwich offered the option of salad or fries, and we both chose fries. Skin-on, not overly-greasy, and on the skinny side, these are a perfectly acceptable accompaniment to a meal.

The chutney burger was good, if a bit small. The pork belly brought the smoke element you would normally get from bacon, but without the crunch. None of the other ingredients were much help in this matter – I might have even preferred iceberg over the arugula to provide some texture. Despite being one note texturally, the flavor was spot on, and the price reasonable.

Steve approved of his po’ boy with the caveat that the fish got lost in the bread a bit.

Thirsty for more action, we made our way over to The Common on College.

The Common, at 1071 College Street; call (416) 546-7789

The Common represents a new breed of coffee shop by day/bar by night enterprises, a natural extension of the coffee shop business and one I’ve been championing for years now.

The Common is a terrific place to hang out, with an accommodating staff that goes to lengths to establish a neighborhood atmosphere. I’ve spent many a day there writing and sipping cappuccinos.

As evening rolls around at the Common, the barista cum bartender drags out a box of various spirits and a few bottles of wine. The prices for wine and beer are affordable at $5 for a generous pour of red or white, and the same for a bottle of Mill Street Organic.

On this night, Steve and I both opted for red, sat by the window and opined lost love.

Midfield Wine Bar and Tavern, at 1434 Dundas Street West; call (647) 345-7005

Not fully satisfied, Steve and I opted for a final drink at the Midfield, an inviting Wine Bar a few doors down from This End Up. It was a stage of the night where there was quite little damage left we could do. At this point, I think we just shared an order of frites ($6), and each had a light beer.

Still, the staff was very friendly and this is certainly a place I wouldn’t mind exploring more. They have a thoughtful wine list and several small plates that would seem to match well with an evening of drinking. I am particularly curious about the quail escabeche with asparagus and potato ($8).

One warning sign, however, is that the fries weren’t particularly well done, some cut very small and the oil tasting a bit dirty.

Date 25: Hipster BBQ at Electric Mud with Steve (pt. 1 of the Steve Series)

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Electric Mud BBQ @ 5 Brock Avenue, Toronto (Parkdale) – Call: (416) 516-8286

My half-brother Steve came to visit me during the long Canada day weekend. Steve has always threatened to visit me, starting back when I moved to Vancouver in 2004. He never did. Before Toronto, the only other time I was able to tempt him was probably due to a combination of convenience and proximity to booze. Back when I lived in Santa Rosa, Steve made the drive from his work in Sacramento to come visit me and go wine tasting. It is one of my fondest memories.

Steve is quite a bit older than I am, probably about twenty years. He’s my dad’s son from his first marriage and while his brother and sister understandably kept their distance from their estranged father and his new family, Steve was a big part of my childhood. He often came by bearing presents and taking my brother and I out for movies and cheesesteaks. We pretty much thought he was the coolest. And I think it’s still fair to say that he’s a pretty great guy.

On Steve’s first night in Toronto I took him down the street from me to Electric Mud BBQ (“EMBBQ“), the new – you guessed it – BBQ concept from the people who brought us the outrageously popular Grand Electric. It made sense as Steve was pretty exhausted after several delays with his flight from DC, and EMBBQ is quite close to my present apartment. We are also both fans and BBQ.

Overall, EMBBQ was a slight letdown. It’s nothing to do with the service and execution, but more the price point and my own issue with the concept itself.

Elecric Mud meal

Beginning with the latter, EMBBQ is sort of an indie take on a BBQ joint. Whereas I think most BBQ joints are laser-focused on the smoking process and perfecting their sauces, EMBBQ is doing riffs on the BBQ concept. For instance, we ordered the beef rib, which is indeed one rib with a fried onion topping. I didn’t find it particularly well smoked or sauced, and challengingly priced at $14.50.

Sides of crack rolls (buns with a butter/bacon grease topping) and potato salad were better, but not enough to save the restaurant. A fine rendition of shrimp and grits (a daily special) was similarly marred by a high price point.

Shrimp and Grits at electric mud

In terms of beverages, EMBBQ takes a page from its south-of-the-border cousin and offers a very focused cocktail menu – we enjoyed the watermelon lemonade – and a few well-chosen beers.

While Steve and I had a great time catching up, it was a little off-putting spending nearly three figures at a BBQ restaurant and not leaving full.

Date 24: Assistant-appreciation lunch at Beer Bistro with Larysa, Kristi, Jenn and Rachael

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Beer Bistro @ 18 King Street East – Call: (416) 861-9872

On the first Friday of July, Jenn, Rachael and I took our litigation rotation assistants, Larysa and Kristi, out for lunch at Beer Bistro. As I know many of you tune in for the weather reports: it was a typical rainy summer day in Toronto.

I have been to Beer Bistro a few times and it’s generally a good, reasonably priced joint given the area. In a date that I forgot to take photos for, Darryl, Peter and I had a nice lunch early in the summer. I appreciate the extensive beer list here, and the attempts to pair dishes with beer. The selection of local craft beers, however, is a bit wanting.

Pork sandwich

On this day I had the pulled pork sandwich ($15), the pulled pork being beer-braised. One thing to keep in mind here is that the sandwiches do not come with a side, and thus adding fries or a salad can push the cost up to the $20 range, which is a bit much for a sandwich and a side for lunch. Add a beer and you’re looking at a relatively pricey lunch. Again, it’s not unreasonable given the area, but you would like to see some of that price reflected in the food.

With regard to the pulled pork sandwich, I just didn’t think the value was there. It was a fine sandwich, and I while the beer-braising sounds cool, I didn’t get much or really in beer flavor reflected in the meat.

From the social-side, this was a very nice lunch with some very nice people. I think I did manage to put my foot in my mouth at least once.

Fries at Beer Bistro