East Side Social: A Lesson in the Evolution of My Homophobia

I think I’m still homophobic.

Before you cast stones and banish me to hell, let me explain.  I believe there has been an evolution in the definition of homophobia over the past two or three decades.  As a high school student at an all guys school in Sudbury, Ontario in the late eighties, I sat around the lunch table with a bunch of social rednecks and laughed at  gay jokes like the rest of them.  I had little regard for the struggles associated with homosexuality. First, I naively thought that none of my friends could possibly be gay.  Secondly, I believed that in fact nobody in Sudbury was gay and that the whole movement was a trendy urban phenomenon.

After high school, I was keen to get out of Sudbury (much like my gay friends it turns out)  and I pursued my post-secondary education  at the University of Guelph.  Guelph was interesting in the sense that it was quite dichotomous; one one side were flocks of macho agricultural students and on the other were the advocates for social justice in which gay and lesbian rights lead the charge.  Add the learnings from my first year sociology course, and I grew to realize that I needed to tolerate people who were different than me in whatever way that was.  Still, I was leery to full embrace the movement because, while I was being taught the need for tolerance in order to live in a utopia, my science courses challenged me to believe that everything, whether it was faith in God or same sex attraction, required a biological rationale.  If you could show me that brain size or the expression of a specific gene could explain why I don’t steal or why I would prefer men over women then I would be much more accepting.  I never found definitive evidence which continued to allow me to live in a bubble and live with the mentality that,although I was in the midst of gays and lesbians, I still really didn’t know many so I really need to understand.

Years later, with the advent of social media and other means of communication, I learned that many of my schoolmates and,  in fact, a few of my  closer high school friends were now overtly gay. It was a bit of an epiphany and really the first time when I truly understood my self-righteous nature.

There is no question that in the past few years, gay rights have been at the forefront.  The explosion of the pride movement and changing legislature catalyzed by a proactive federal and provincial government have set the stage for mass social acceptance of anybody regardless of gender, race, age and, of course, sexual orientation.  During this movement, I have further evolved along my homophobic spectrum to a point where I think I finally get it.

So, why am I still homophobic and why the hell am I writing this stuff on a food blog?  It’s simple; I had a dining experience which put things into perspective.  I met a couple of work colleagues for dinner at Eastside social.  Located in mercurial Leslieville, Eastside offers a seafood heavy menu in the trendy prohibition decor. Since it was still summery outside, we opted for the quaint back patio and were introduced (or at least playfully warned) about our waiter for evening.  Eccentric to say he least, we was a 53 yo gay guy who hails from…yes….Sudbury, Ontario.  I relayed that this was my hometown and for the remainder of the night we had conversations about our native neighborhoods, porchetta bingos at the Beef ‘n Bird, Tarini’s meat shop and why we both got the hell out.

Fighting the desire to order off the small but impressive cocktail menu, we each ordered a pint each from the small draught menu (I went with the Junction Conductor’s ale). His passion for life mimicked his passion for the food.  He quickly agreed when we suggested the sardine crostini to start.  For the main, he proudly boasted that there wasn’t a bad offering but in particular recommended the fish tacos and octopus. We agreed and also added the crab stuffed leeks to the mix. One of my colleagues had a seafood allergy, so, although there was an arctic char special, it was suggested that he stick to land dwelling protein for safety purposes.  When he asked about the hanger steak, the waiter explained it was quite good, especially since it was seasoned with a rub and that he likes anything which involves rubbing meat.  My normal reply would have been “Why do you think I’m ordering the char?” but a total lack of confidence in the given situation killed it and I simply laughed.  This is why I think I’m still homophobic; my phobia lies in my confidence about being straight. For some reason I have it in my head that I should be apologetic about liking woman; a philosophy which upon reflection is simply ridiculous.

As for the meal, the sardine crostini was brilliant in its simplicity and presentation.  The crab stuffed leeks were quite interesting in that they were almost a modern spin on the famed Crab Louis salad.  The fish tacos were smartly served on corn tortillas and gently breaded so the flaky fish instead of everything else was the star.  The octopus was charred a little more than I prefer but still very tender and seasoned beautifully with olive oil and citrus (personally it’s nice to see a generous portion of octopus minus the potato and/or olive which seems to grace most of the other menus in town).  Each of the dishes, however, was served with the waiter’s confidence which almost forced me to agree that the meal was great and maybe even better than it actually was.

As mentioned, the whole experience got me thinking.  The biggest barrier I had in the past was the need to believe that people needed to make decisions for reasons which are rooted in science or logic or whatever you want to call it and that by making decisions outside of norms will draw attention so a person needs to consider this when deciding what to say or do.  That couldn’t be further from the truth. Some people seem to think that our forefathers fought for the freedom of our country with some sort of stipulations. I don’t think even the most conservative veterans put their lives on the line for some Canadians..they did it for all Canadians.  They were protecting the freedom and liberty of us all and last time I checked, this meant making whatever decisions we want.  If someone wants to wear pajamas to Walmart, so be it.  If sometime was to tattoo their mother’s name on their shoulder or the first letter of Paul to Corinthians on their forearm then so what.  If a little girl decides she’s going to escape poverty and blow the world away, she has the ability to do so.  What took me years to understand was whether a person chooses to be gay or is biologically gay is a moot point..the fact is they are gay and have a right to be.  In saying that I came to realize that I can be confident and proud about the fact that I’m straight in the same way I’m proud to be of Irish or English descent.

In the end, confidence is a virtue, whether it is expressed as an establishment or as a person. Claims  such as “The Best Wings in Town” or “Sudbury’s Best Fries” have been effective and primarily unproven claims of restaurants for years because they are rooted in confidence.  Despite the aforementioned waiter, an experienced owner and a swanky decor designed by celebrity stylist Cherie Stinson, perhaps the biggest swagger Eastside Social has is setting up with some success within the boundries of the stubborn Leslieville scene.

On a personal note,  I can get up in front of a group of 200 and speak.  I can lead a team building discussion with ease.  So why can’t I declare my frank heterosexuality in the midst of a confident gay man?  Maybe it’s because I’m still homophobic. In this regard, next time I come here I’ll confidently order the char and better yet, switch to the chicken shortly after.

Eastside Social Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


It makes sense…add a little Italian to Parkdale. They already have tacos, lobsters and ssam. Why not some capocolla too?  Even better, make it tapas.  Porzia has recently opened in the proximity of Grand Electric and Chantecler and promises edgy food in a  edgy environment.  Most of the menu focuses on aggressive uses of chicken liver, tripe, sweetbreads and other  delicious body parts served as is or concocted into charcuteries.   There are a few safe items on the menu in the event that one is not fond of animal parts used for things other than running.


The citrus salad ($11) was the easiest dish to understand without waiter interpretation.  However, the thought of  olives and oranges playing together in a salad was a bit odd.  The chilis added a great kick and the abundant parsley added a little green.  I suppose the olive might have been an attempt to add a bit of salt while deviating from the normal addition of some salty cheese  but it was rather unnecessary.   Overall, it had a freshness that offered a refreshing option to many of the other dishes on the menu.

Citrus Salad
Citrus Salad


The crostini ($12) were highly recommended by the otherwise preoccupied waiter.  The sausage was the delicious mainstay but was covered with a rapini mixture that was highly oversalted, especially when topped with cheese.  I was left to scrape the roughage off the remaining two pieces and discard it like an overcooked pizza crust so I could just  focus on the meat.


The eggplant involtini ($14) was one of the few vegetarian dishes on the menu although it was priced like it had some kind of creature in it.  It was served hot and the eggplant was spot on in terms of texture.  From a flavour perspective, it too was a little heavy on the salt and a  little more of the advertised roasted garlic would have been nice.

Eggplant Involtini
Eggplant Involtini


Maybe I didn’t have the balls to go for the tripe, so  I went with another set of balls and opted for the classic polpetta ragu ($15).  They were simply presented with crostini and sauce.  Once again, there was an abundance of salt which almost made it unbearable.  It was like taking  tylenol; I only ate two and needed copious amounts of water to wash it down.

Polpetta Ragu
Polpetta Ragu

I’ve come to the conclusion that a $12 cocktail better make my meatballs tingle.  I tried with the grappa sour (grappa, lemon, cardamon and egg white)…no tingling…just another example of me falling for the old put an egg in anything and I’ll order it trick.

Grappa Sour
Grappa Sour

My Take

I’m not sure if the abundant use of salt or the big prices left a worse taste in my mouth.  The staff seemed  a bit unfazed by my woes as there were no inquiries about my half eaten dishes (I was only asked when I got my coat and after I paid the bill)  if there were any issues with the food.  By then it didn’t matter. With an abundance of other small-plated ethnic choices available within a few blocks, I’ll get that tingly feeling elsewhere and leave the overpriced Italian fare to the other parts of town.   Plus, I know a lot of places that serve a mean fruit salad.

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