When I think of a queen and a beaver, a few things come to mind:
1. A nickel (they new scum of the earth currency since the penny disappeared).
2. Something I saw on late night TV once.
3. A cool English pub on Elm Street in downtown Toronto.
In North America, the word pub has evolved to mean ” a chain that serves stuff that once resembled English fare”. Such establishments have popped up all over Ontario, promising fragrant curries and the best fish and chips in town wrapped in wax paper that looks like newspaper. The decor focuses on bar stools, big wooden bars, half a dozen “Drink Guinness” posters hanging beside the flashing Bud Light sign and your choice of three types of Johnnie Walker scotch. A football is oval instead of round and Leafs nation rules.
So, it’s a bit refreshing to enter a pub with an allegiance to the motherland. The Queen and Beaver has a worn look, nestled among steak houses, Italian restaurants and a Firkin pub along Elm Street. The bottom floor is a humble dining room and a trip up the stairs brings you to a quaint area with a big screen tv, a long, threadbare bar and weary chairs and chesterfields. The choice of menu ranges from traditional bar snacks to larger plates featuring an array of almost every type of protein a limey would crave.
On this night, I climbed the stairs and sat at the bar. An English football game was playing on the tele and I promptly ordered a cask ale, a rare finding in Toronto. Featured was an Arkell best bitter from the Wellington brewery in Guelph. I love a beer you have pull in order to pour.
For a starter, I ordered Wall Fish and marrow on toast for $11. The Wall fish, aka snails, were hidden beneath a sheath of arugula. Once removed, I had a feeling of an 10 year old uncovering an army of gastropods after removing a log or bunch of vegetation. The marrow offered a rich and salty accent similar to the garlic butter which drenches the escargot in the French dish. Delicious!
In the foodie world, you don’t discuss three things: politics, religion and burgers. I’ve heard arguments erupt over which burger reigns supreme. In many cases, Marben vs Harbord Room enters the discussion. A recent Burger Wars episode had a bunch of subway buskers crown Parts and Labour’s P and L burger the champion by beating out the iconic Vatican from Burger’s Priest and the mercurial Dangerous Dan’s Coronary Burger. I humbly offer the Queen and Beaver’s hand chopped burger as a strong contender for the crown. Instead of the finally ground offerings of most burgers, this chunky patty allows for medium rare without contention and was a thrill to eat, especially topped with aged cheddar and some english bacon and nestled in a sesame bun. The side of fries were stellar and served with some homemade ketchup and a few pickled vegetables. It was also cool (yes cool is an acceptable term in England) that they ask about cheese and bacon without an addtional charge. It’s the little things.
The array of puddings were a spectrum of contemporary and classic. Despite my strong affinity for the pineapple and marshmallows offered in the other desserts, I had to stick with the sticky toffee pudding. I must admit, I had high expectations, especially after the burger and few pints. It didn’t let me down. It hit every note of the traditional pudding; spicy moist cake, rich sauce and ice cream to balance it all off. The faint hint of treacle was evident in the sauce (which subsequently made me drive my car to the British store a few days later to buy a can).
Addendum: A couple of weeks after the initial visit I went back for some more pudding and a few bites of cheese (I subsequently bit the rest after taking the picture like Luis Suarez in a Chelsea game). The Lord of Hundreds cheese was amazing and the Sticky Toffee pudding was as good as the first time. I was rather touched to see the pudding served in the same bowl my granny had years ago. Although totally unintentional, it just added to my fondness for this place, despite the framed Ryan Giggs jersey hanging on the wall (this is coming from the mouth of a scouser).
I wish there was some regulatory body which would regulate the use of the word “pub”. Why not send Jeeves the Butler around with a checklist, ready to reprimand wannabees in a pretentious accent:
Lack of Neon Bud Signs….check
Staff which a beer knowledge base greater than “Guiness is Irish”…check
Damn Good Food….check.
The Queen and Beaver would easily pass. Whether the name pays homage to Canada as a part of the commonwealth or if it’s a name intended to generate snickers from teenage boys and “Naked Gun” fans, it’s a classic pub in a city of replicas and imposters who count down the days to St. Patrick’s day in a feeble attempt to justify their authenticity….even if I have to look at a United jersey the whole time.