In the race to win over ravenous hipsters and foodies, a number of new horses have joined the field. Thoroughbred is no exception. By reading the name you would expect telewagering, mechanical bulls or country-inspired karoke. Instead, you get a trendy, multi-floored work in progress. Floor one is an attractive smaller area housing a bar and a few tables and serving food which can be described as bar food done differently . The second floor is the kitchen complete with a 10 seat chef’s table. Only a few steps up is the third floor which will be a 35 seat dining room with a complete dinner service. Closed Sundays and Mondays, it offers lunch, dinner and late night service Tuesday to Friday and opens Saturday at 5pm.
And they’re off…..
Although tempted to relish a mint julep in honour of the thoroughbreds of the Kentucky Derby, I was intrigued by pop-culture inspired Art Vandelay instead ($13). Made of London dry gin, Dr. Van Nostrand’s tonic, sage, hopped grapefruit bitters, lime and egg white, I presume it’s a spin on a Gin and tonic or even a Tom Collins developed by a guy who spent Thursday night’s in the 90’s in a spirit-induced coma laughing at the Soup Nazi, Puddy or shaking his hands at neighbours and muttering Newman under his breath. It was sweeter and smoother than I expected, perhaps a reflection of who Art actually would be compared to creator George Costanza.
The race started with a simple bowl of olives ($6). Although it’s hard to imagine a twist one one of the most ubiquitous dishes on Toronto menus, the addition of slim jims and peperoncini peppers was a noble effort. The portion size was generous and and despite the fact I’m not an olive fan,the additions were smart and they were very acceptable.
The next leg was with a bloomin’ scallion, a daintierz twist on the Outback bloomin’ onion. Light batter surrounded tender whole green onions and served atop a citrusy “dipping” sauce. Although a plain dish, it was attractive and well executed. It’s more of a knife and fork nourishment as opposed to a get your hands greasy goody.
Coming into the final turn, I ordered the roast broccoli marrow, broccoli carpaccio, plum vinegar and mache ($6). Perhaps a shot at the bone marrow movement, this dish was visually stunning and textually complex. At first sight, the roasted broccoli stalks would fool a PETA member. Surrounded by jicama, red pepper and cashews, the flavour was as balanced as the presentation. Although primarily vegetables, this dish was a steal for the price and absolutely delicious.
The home stretch was another vegetable creation; shaved summer squash with watermelon, pine nuts, lemon vin and grana padano ($6). Another show horse, piles of shaved zucchini were garnished with ribbons of the same and a few radishes. The watermelon’s sweet and the cheese’s salt sung a harmonious tone atop the tart lemon vinaigrette and spots of olive oil. Like the broccoli, it was a light, well constructed, striking and balanced dish.
Not only is the food delicious, but the service was top notch. Lacking a Kentucky Derby pretension, professional staff run the place, including an engaged business partner who is cordial and visible. He introduced himself to me and brought me upstairs to meet the head chef and show me the kitchen, chef’s table and future dining area. The chef table’s concept includes unique group offerings including a Flintstone’s (ribs and all the fixings) or east coast seafood theme. Patrons can also set price points and let the chef go wild. The menu is in progress but promises a full dinner menu reminiscent of the offerings in the bar below.
Thoroughbred has come out of the gates offering a cool, trendy yet slight awkward set up close to the entertainment district. So far, the food and service are winning heats. They ignore the expected equine cliches by naming cocktails after Axel Foley instead of Willie Shoemaker. Excellent service and engaged ownership combined with unique and innovative snacks, sinful meats, seafood and sandwiches make up the bar menu which leads me craving the bigger show upstairs once it’s offered.
If using the metaphor of a horse race, so far Throughbred is a winner. In the Toronto restaurant derby, the biggest question is whether their vision will come to fruition and this foal will achieve the success of Secretariat or the unfortunate fate of Barbaro. If they stick to this gameplan, I’ll place my bets on the former.