Review:Toronto:Downtown:Origin

I was criticized recently for blogging about a restaurant that was open for less than a week.  I mean, who am I to make a comment about the fact that if you’re going to charge me $16 for a bowl of soup, it better be damn good,  a statement which to me seems unrelated to the length of time a place has been open?

So, as a result, I’ll reflect on my recent visit to origin, a King street joint that been open a lot longer than a week (although origin north is still rather new so I wouldn’t want to step outside my boundaries as a food critic/blogger/whatever).  I would argue that origin may have been a bit clairvoyant when choosing its name as it was one of the first restaurants which embraced the small plate, open kitchen concept which has since spread North, East and West across the Toronto landscape (I can’t say south given the geographical limitations due to Lake Ontario and the rather static Esplanade dining scene.)  I went to Origin a few years ago which at the time was under the watchful eye of Steve Gonzalez, who has subsequently opened up Valdez which has a strikingly similar philosophy.  I was a bit surprised to see that the menu and decor have changed very little during this time.

I started the night with  a “Brass Knuckles” cocktail. I normally don’t drink tequila, but the combination of fruity and bitter flavours along with the fact that a few dollars from each sale goes to cancer research was appealing.  It did have a medicinal taste which may explain the name as it feels a bit like a punch in the throat.  I wouldn’t go as far as to call it Buckley’s… it’s more like  that cherry cough syrup your mother gave you as a kid that you secretly didn’t mind taking when you had a chest cold.

Brass Knuckles $13
Brass Knuckles $13

The spicy spanish fries with chorizo and manchego seemed a good start.  They reminded me of poutine meets patatas bravas .  The additional of chorizo was brilliant but I would have liked a runny aioli or spicy tomato sauce to saturate the fries instead of the globs of thick mayo which topped it.  The fries were nicely cooked and the manchego added an appropriate saltiness to the $12 snack.

Spanish Fries $12
Spanish Fries $12

I must confess I have a bad habit.  I see deviled eggs on a menu, get giddy, order them, eat them and then sigh with a tad of disappointment. I sighed a little less at origin.  Although I found the taste of the filling to be average, these eggs were smart.  The souffletine (little cereal balls), the crisp salty and erect bacon plus the leafy herbs tantalized all the taste buds. I must confess I was a little happy my table mate wasn’t a fan of eggs.

Deviled Eggs $7
Deviled Eggs $7

Drink two was an old thyme sour, a spin on the classic cocktail.  Garnished with fresh thyme, it was bold balance of savory and sweet and laced with sour…a simple yet satisfying drink.

Old Thyme Sour $13
Old Thyme Sour $13

Instead of delving into the small plates, we decided to opt for the big guns and chose the two $33 entrees.  The black cod in broth with asian veggies was full of classic flavours,  The cod maintained its buttery texture while swimming in a nicely balance broth.  The bitterness of the veggies added another dimension.  I’m still hung up on the perfectly cooked black cod at George, so I can’t put this at that level but it gets honorable mention. The beef tenderloin sizzling hot plate (with potatoes , kale, mushrooms, roasted onion butter and ponzu) was the other $33 offering.  The concept was good but the execution not so much.  The onion butter lay cold atop the luke warm and less than abundant tenderloin.  The kale/mushroom mix was tasty and maintained a good temperature atop the hot plate. Perhaps I could have romanticized the dish a little more and mixed the butter and beef throughout the dish but hey I’m dumb and always appreciate an explanation of the procedure required to fulfill a chef’s vision.

Black Cod $33
Black Cod $33
Beef Tenderloin $33
Beef Tenderloin $33 (some beef was already snagged before I got to ake the picture)

The service was a bit slow, so I can use that fact to blame the poor quality of the dessert pics.  When it gets dark, I rely on old faithful…my blackberry 9700 with a resolution comparable to a Fisher-Price camera.  The two us have polar preferences when it comes to dessert, I chose the meringue with citrus and coconut…he chose the hot chocolate cake with soft serve ice cream.  My dessert looked like Stonehenge….the rocks  were alternating pieces of meringue and citrus slices on a plain of custard and sprinkled with coconut.  Like the legendary landmark, it was intriguing and yet a bit confusing.   The chocolate cake hit the mark.  The cake was moist and warm and topped with the right amount of bitter chocolate powder to offset the sweetness of the delicious ice cream.

Citrus Curd $10
Citrus Curd $10
Hot Chocolate Cake $10
Hot Chocolate Cake $10

My Take

Whether a restaurant is brand new or a veteran in the Toronto dining scene, I have argued before that Darwin’s theories are applicable to restaurants.  Survival is a process that requires an understanding of the environment including food trends and value.  At the same time, new eateries need a seed, a foundation in which any new concept will grow from as opposed to replace. Perhaps this is my justification to “whatever” a place within days or years of opening.

Origin was exactly that: the origin of the evolution of eateries for the cool kids in the GTA.  Obviously, its success is evident in the fact that it has offspring in both Liberty Village and Midtown.  Although I didn’t delve into the mozzarella bar or the raw bar,  the foods I did try were scattered across the spectrum.  Although nothing was highly memorable, the Spanish fries, eggs and cod were on the better side and the beef fell a little short.  The desserts were a definite talking point. The meringue was light and abstract…the cake was rich and traditional. The mix of trendy cocktails, witty small plates and a few tempting and expensive classics have become a blueprint for  a number of other emerging favorites in all directions outward from  King and Church.  In the end, maybe Claudio Aprile’s gradual evolution from Colborne Lane to origin was sheer luck or maybe it was sheer brilliance, but I’ll give credit where credit is due (and kindly ask him to remember this should I try out for Masterchef Canada again next year).

Origin Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Advertisement

Review:Toronto:Kensington:Seven Lives

Kensington is often a turnstile for what’s trendy.  As a result, it’s not surprising that Seven Lives has opened in an attempt to follow the lead of  tacocentric eateries such as Grand Electric and La Carnita.  Sitting in the middle of this neighbourhood, it’s a small space with great music and seating for no more than a dozen people plus a small patio area in front.  The menu consists primarily of tacos although one could get ceviche or fries as well.

Seven Lives Menu
Seven Lives Menu

In honour of the fact that seven lives has a  logo which strongly resembles internet sensation grumpy cat, I’ve invited him along to assist in the review.

Seven Lives Logo
Seven Lives Logo
Grumpy Cat
Grumpy Cat

One of the features is three vats of juice (flavours rotate)  sitting on the counter.  You get a pint size serving for only $2. I opted for mango over tamarind and it was quite refreshing, which was a good thing since it killed the significant amount of time I had to wait.  I managed to beat the crest of the the rush, which topped 30 or so people in line, but I still had to wait 20 minutes (or 3/4  of my mango juice) for my 3 tacos.

$2 Mango Juice
$2 Mango Juice

Grumpy Cat?

Grumpy-Cat1
Waiting  Sucks

My definition of a good taco: one with moist, well seasoned fillings and abundant toppings.

I decided on the signature $5 Gobernador (stuffed with smoked marlin, shrimp and cheese).  The taco was stuffed full and its flavour was dominated by plenty of smoky fish, which was slightly dry.  The shrimp, cheese and other ingredients couldn’t compete with the intensity of the marlin in either texture  or taste, so in the end it was quite monotone.

seven marlin
The Gobernador $5

Taco number two was the $5 pulpo en mole verde (octopus with pumpkin seed mole). Unlike the Gobernador, the flavours were much more complex (as a mole should be), complete with a little sweet and a little spice.  The condiments were also more abundant, so the flavours were more rounded. The pumpkin seeds added a nice crunch.  The octopus was a bit chewy however.

Pulpo en Mole Verde $5
Pulpo en Mole Verde $5

The standard $4 carnita (pork) was taco number 3.  It was topped with the standard guacamole, tomato and onion.   I didn’t understand the huge chunks of pork which resulted in a dryer, less flavorful filling.  It lacked much of the pizazz of other pork tacos I have had.

Carnita Taco $4
Carnita Taco $4

The Seven Lives’ salsas were well done.  I tried both medium and hot, both of which were a nice balance of flavour and heat.

Grumpy Cat?

There's more to like than salsa.
There’s more to life than salsa.

My Take

In a taco shop containing all things Mexican, Speedy Gonzalez wasn’t one of them. Even by beating the rush, I still had a 20 minute wait.  Bring your pesos, because Seven Lives is CASH ONLY.  For the most part the tacos are quantity versus quality. relying on copious amounts of overcooked  and underseasoned meats at the expense of  the delicate architecture which normally exists  between shell, fillings and condiments.  In the end, it was a bit of a disappointment.

Grumpy Cat?

If this is Seven Lives, I don't want the other two.
If this is Seven Lives, I don’t want the other two.

Seven Lives on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Little Italy:Bestellen

A colleague of mine asked me a simple question the other day.  “Where can I get a good steak in Toronto?”.  There seems to be a few answers:

1.  A steak house with cuts of beef  as pricy as buying half a heifer at an auction not to mention the fact that the creamed spinach is extra.

2.  A chain offering AAA cut steak which inevitably ends up being generic like the rest of the menu.

3.  A few bistros which pair it with frites and douse it in some kind of butter so they can call it French cuisine.

This got me thinking about my recent visit to Bestellen and why it didn’t come top of mind.  The showcase of the rather large dining room is a transparent meat locker housing steaks of all shapes and sizes. One of the features is a $98, 32 oz steak with marrow and sides. Otherwise, they offer a daily cut in the $30 range. Add the fact it’s the brain child of Top Chef contestant Rob Rossi and it sounds like a slam dunk, right?

Must

You can’t go wrong with “buck a shuck” oysters, which  were fresh and addictive.  Although not served with fancy mignonette, they had the essentials; a lemon wedge, horseradish and a bottle of Tabasco.

Buck a Shuck Oysters
Buck a Shuck Oysters

The “toad in the hole” was a current spin on a old favorite.  The batter had a yorkie lightness which surrounded dense and delicious black pudding.  The eggs were a good medium to blend the contrasting textures and flavours.  The spattering of scallions added a bit of colour and and freshness.

Toad in the Hole $15
Toad in the Hole $15

Opting for the small charcuterie option for $13, I was treated to 3 house-made meats complete with a few pickles, some mustard and some toasted bread  drenched in olive oil which was absolutely fantastic.  The meats themselves were thinly sliced and cured beautifully. It was a pleasure to eat.

Charcuterie- Half Order $13
Charcuterie- Half Order $13

Maybe

Although a little skimpy on the condiments, the steak tartare was delicious. Half a quail egg and a few jalapenos were nothing more than decorations.  The chips were alright but weren’t the tastiest vehicle for scooping the tender meat.

Steak Tartare $14
Steak Tartare $14

Why do I order deviled eggs in a restaurant?  They were tasty enough  but not worth 6 buck and shuck oysters (see picture above…with the charcuterie).

The Budino dessert and olive oil cake were  reasonably priced at $7 and a good example of Rob Rossi’s Italian heritage although they did not elevate to the level of Lutheran grace.   The ice cream was splendid, an apparent reflection of a new machine just installed in the kitchen.

Budino and Olive Oil Cake ($7)
Budino and Olive Oil Cake ($7 each)

Mundane

On this particular night, the feature was flank steak for $28. I envisioned a slice of a magical beast taken from the locker adorning the centre of the restaurant.  Instead I received a few overcooked slices of tough, overdone meat served on a rather bland puree. Even the presentation was rather lame. It looked a bit like leftovers.

Flank Steak $28
Flank Steak $28

Given it wasn’t a really busy night, the service was rather slow.  The wine list is set up by offering $45, $65 and $85 bottles.  I opted for a mediocre Pigeoulet Provence at the middle price.  The waiter did not seem overly concerned that I didn’t enjoy it, assuring me it was “the type of grape”.

My Take

Bestellen is a German named pseudo-steakhouse  run by an Italian on the edge of Little Italy. It’s atypically large compared to other eateries in the area, so one can argue it lacks a bit of coziness, especially if it’s not busy.  It has a bistro feel in the front, with tall, wooden tables and a window view.  Toward the back is an open kitchen with long, communal seating for larger parties.  The above mentioned meat locker divides the two concepts.

At the time, the menu offered a spattering of cultures but since, the menu has evolved and now seems to offer at whole lot of Italy,  minus the ubiquitous pizza and pasta peppering the rest of College street.  The toad in the hole and deviled eggs has disappeared, leaving  polenta, octopus and fritto misto on the forefront.   A little over a year ago, the Globe and Mail review referred to Bestellen as a steak house.  Yes, you can get a $100 steak with all the fixings but the daily cut was disappointing. It’s a bit of a tease that you’re 15 feet away from tenderloins, porterhouses and skirt steaks but have no access to most of the choices on a nightly basis.

I can sum up Bestellen with one word…awkward. Traveling  to the suburbs of Little Italy for buck a shuck oysters but questionable service and suboptimal steak leaves me undecided.  Maybe delving into a suckling pig or indulging on a  full charcuterie plate would make me feel better. As far as recommendations for my colleagues…I suggested the following advice by Buddy Black and Leroy Van Dyke:

Forty-five dollar bidja now, fifty dollar fifty wouldja make it fifty biddle
Onna fifty dolla fifty dolla. Wouldja gimme fifty, wouldja gimme fifty dolla
Bill? I gotta fifty dolla bidja now, five, wouldja biddle onna fifty-five,
Biddle onna fifty-five, fifty-five. Who’s gonna bitta the fifty five dollar
Bill?

-The Auctioneer (1956)

Bestellen on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Little Italy:Campagnolo

Campagnolo, a creation of Craig Harding,  sits quietly along the busy Dundas West dining corridor.  Well, quiet if you consider its subtle online presence versus local internet juggernauts  Pizzeria Libretto, Black Hoof and California Sandwiches.  Not so quiet when you consider it was voted one of 10 Toronto restaurants on Mclean’s top 50 in 2012 and has a food, decor and service Zagat rating of 27, 23 and 27 respectively. There was  nothing really fancy about either the inside or outside of this Little Italy venue upon arrival but it gave me a swagger  similar to walking into a queen street consignment store and buying a yellow Lacoste  cardigan.  I was seated right by the window and was subject to a rather annoying draft for a good part of the evening.

The menu is ever changing and based on fresh ingredients but hinges on a few signature items which you can get regularly.  That being said, I was here a few weeks ago so a few of the items may not be available if you go today.

Must

There’s  no doubt about why Campagnolo is known for its roasted beef marrow…because its fantastic.  The buttery, rich flavour of the marrow is sliced by a sweet and sour plum marmalade and spiced up with a tender oxtail stew.  Its primitive presentation made me feel like a modern day carnivorous Fred Flintstone, although I was wearing shoes.

Bone Marrow
Bone Marrow ($13)

The rabbit cavetelli was another gem.  A good portion of  rabbit was braised to perfection and served in a vibrant, light sauce and finished with a few greens, a few pine nuts and salty cheese.  The pasta had the softness of a firm pillow, sending my tongue into a slumberful bliss. On that note, I will mention that my other party member  sent the spaghetti back, finding it too firm. The kitchen quickly made another and “overcooked” it according to the kitchen but importantly made the customer’s desire paramount vs the chef’s wishes.  I appreciated the “nobody’s wrong…we just differ in opinion” mentality and guarantee this would not happen at a few of the other eateries in the area.

Rabbit Cavatelli
Rabbit Cavetelli ($21)
Spaghetti
Spaghetti ($19)

Another signature item is the burrata served with roasted grapes to add some subtle sweetness to the rich cheese.  It was satisfying and simple to the point where the obvious quality of the product is not compromised by too many bells and whistles.

Burrata with Roasted Grapes
Burrata with Roasted Grapes ($14)

Maybe

If you’re going to ask me to pay for bread at the table, it better be good.  The homemade  bagettes and gougeres (cheese pastries) were delicious  but for four bucks were not significantly better than some of the complimentary loaves available at other places.

Bagettes and Gogueres ($4)
Bagettes and Gougeres ($4)

The shaved cauliflower salad was a seasonal offering.  Despite the attractive presentation and array of ingredients, the sulphuric taste of the  cauliflower was too prevalent. Whatever dressing was used in an attempt to unify this adventurous amalgam was off key. That being said,  my table mate disagreed and thought the salad has a fresh and balanced taste.

Cauliflower Salad
Cauliflower Salad ($11)

Mundane

Some restaurants are not known for dessert and don’t have the same passion toward the concluding course.  I suspect Campagnolo fits this bill.  With no dessert menu per se, we were offered a couple of choices and settled on the budino (caramel pudding).  It was a cloying concoction, topped with an ashy tasting sponge toffee.  Two bites were enough.

Caramel Pudding
Budino ($8)

The wine menu is quite small and quite expensive.  It’s difficult to find a red under $12 a glass.  The white list is a little more reasonable in price but still limited in choice.  In the end, I opted for mulled wine on the cocktail list which was a more modest $12 and offered welcome relief from the ongoing draft running up my back.

Mulled Wine ($12)
Mulled Wine ($12)

My Take

Campagnolo relies on a moderately sized menu of signature and seasonal  items to fill its modest sized dining area.  It’s trendy, in demand and has received accolades  from critics and diners alike, although it flies a bit under the radar on online social media sites.  The service was top-notch, friendly and informative  other than a moderate delay between starters and mains.  Despite an uncompromising approach to food, there is enough flexibility for the customer to be right despite differences in opinion with the kitchen.  They don’t apologize but make it right which is more important than offering comped drinks I don’t want. Bring your wallet  though; it’s not a cheap evening out.  In the end, Campagnolo is cool, crass and comforting and  does so by adhering  to their country bumpkin philosophy in a classy fashion.

Campagnolo  on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Kensington Market/Chinatown:Strada 241

Strada 241 is the newest creation of Toronto restauranteurs the Rubino brothers.  Espresso bar by day and Italian restaurant at night, this restaurant is geographically confused, appearing in the middle of Chinatown instead of as another clone along Queen West or College Street.  The front is subtle and easy to miss amongst the loud signs of the surrounding grocery stores and asian eateries. Once inside, you are warped into a rustic decor characterized by brick walls, high ceilings, low hanging light shades and worn hardwood floors. The spacious coffee bar is separated from the back dining area by an open prep area  showcasing a modern pizza oven. After I was seated, I met Tanya who sat down at the table, , explained the menu in-depth and made wine recommendations with a flare and passion missing from other restaurants who assume I should just know. I started with a Pecorino wine at her suggestion and later progressed into a red from the modest and heavily Italian list.Must

If I could eat my dessert first, The Budino (vanilla-poached apricots, saffron custard and olive oil) would be top of the list. Everything about this dish is delicate, from the vanilla poached apricots to the subtle saffron custard, offering a variety of textures and tastes bordering on savory all  placed with perfect balance inside a mason jar. I’m developing quite a taste for the incorporation of olive oil  into dessert and in this case neither the oil nor the saffron was overpowering but subtle and accenting.

Budino

Maybe

Pizza is a competitive word in Toronto and Strada has a bit of work to do to move up the ranks. At this point they may be able to claim the “best pizza” on Spadina (given it’s a stand alone Italian joint in the middle of Chinatown), but some refinement is need to compete with some of the Queen Street or little Italy juggernauts. The Alessandro was topped with a fresh sauce and tasty meatball but it all seemed to pool onto of an average crust, creating an overall texture that was a little disappointing.

Alessandro Pizza

Mundane

The rapini served with a lemon vincotto dressing sounded appealing but fell flat. I envisioned a warm, al dente dish with a nice citrus punch but instead received a chilled, under seasoned clump of overcooked rapini  hidden beneath some crisp bitter greens and some rather tasty pickled red onions. It became boring really quick…in other words, when the onions were gone.

Rapini

I appreciate an effort to accommodate to a meatless clientele, but the squash fritti seemed like a lame attempt to replace traditional calamari. Served impaled on what looked like a bed of random nails in which the lack of practicality trumped the artistic value. The squash was tender and served piping hot, but the accompanying salsa verde added nothing more than colour. I was craving some heat or acid to tear though the fat, sweet and starch flavours which characterized the deep-fried gourd.

Squash Fritti

My Take

Strada 241 is an italian inspired cocoon nestled among a neighborhood more likely to actually offer 241 pizza as opposed to rustic Italian fare. The question is whether it will materialize as a stand alone in an area not far from dozens of similar establishments. The decor and service are above par but the food needs to catch up. I would go back anytime for a morning coffee if the advertised house baked goods even remotely mimic the budino. Other than that, I’ll wait to see if it emerges as a butterfly or remains a chrysalis hidden among the dim sum shops and noodle houses straddling Spadina Avenue.

Strada 241 on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Downtown:Richmond Station

Richmond Station posts the following message on their urbanspoon page: “Richmond Station is a stopping place, a bustling neighbourhood restaurant in the downtown core. We are committed to delicious food and excellent hospitality.” A simple message but one forgotten by many eateries in the area.

Upon arriving for my reservation, I was brought to a table with a great view of the open kitchen. Unlike some other restaurants which boast retro soda coolers or toque-wearing moose heads, the decor is a simple white tile, black accents  and classy hardwood tables. I was impressed with the layout of the chef’s table which seats about 8 people.   The wait staff were equally as classy, dressed in black.  Even the chefs were traditionally dressed, donning crisp whites and black aprons.

Richmond’s open kitchen with chef’s rail.

The hostess was very friendly, sat me quickly, provided a menu and I ordered a fantastic modernized version of a whisky old-fashioned cocktail at her recommendation. The waiter arrived  shortly after and immediately asked me my name which he used for the remainder of the night.  His service was impeccable, making menu recommendations while confidently explaining the restaurants concepts and philosophies. He seemed by my side all night, filling my water glass repeatedly and often explaining the station’s journey to date.

Old-Fashioned Cocktail

Excellent hospitality…check.

Now the food.

Must

The featured New Brunswick oysters were fresh and shucked without a flaw. The presentation was like a visual aphrodisiac, served on a bed of ice  with fresh horseradish and house made condiments  including a tangy mignonette, fresh marinara and spicy hot sauce.  I witnessed a definite devotion to “excellent hospitality” from the kitchen when the lady beside me still received all of the accompaniments when ordering a single oyster. At $3.5 each, there may be a temptation to break the bank of these tasty critters even before tackling the main menu.

Oysters with condiments

I received a lesson in  what a real lobster bisque is supposed to taste like.  Ignoring the trend to call any soup a bisque because it sounds better, Carl Heinrich’s team reverts to old school French methods, producing a thin but flavourful broth emulsified with  classic ingredients such as cream and seasoned with tarragon.  The result was a marriage of tantalizing flavours and although it did start to separate a bit toward the end, most will easily consume the majority beforehand.

“Real” Lobster Bisque

Keep an eye on the blackboard.  On this night there was a duck breast served on a braised duck leg.  The shredded leg was thoroughly cooked but still tender while the breast was sliced a perfect medium rare.  Both cuts were graced with a flavourful sauce and served with some vibrant greens.  This dish may answer the old question..am I a breast man or a leg man?  Based on this dish, my answer is both. Then again, maybe it’s the oysters talking.

Duck Two-ways

Maybe

Also on the blackboard was a 6 oz beef offering for $26. Beef is usually a safe bet and Richmond Station was no exception.  The seasoned beef had a beautiful sear and was sliced medium rare but was difficult to see amidst the jungle of greens covering the perfectly cooked steak.  The meat itself had a fantastic flavour but I wasn’t  fond of the bed of overly buttered chopped brussel sprouts which laid the foundation for the beef,  which just made the already rich tasting beef taste even richer.

Beef Special (see blackboard)

Mundane

The regular menu features a starter section highlighted by a $13 lobster cocktail.  Lose any premonition of a tall glass overflowing with fresh, chunky lobster.  Instead, expect a more measly presentation of 4 deep-fried lobster pieces served on a piece of lettuce with a dollop of cocktail sauce.  Sharing means you’ll only get two (or maybe three if you can mildly distract your table mate).   If you’re going to go fishing at Richmond Station, spend $14 and get 4 oysters instead of these land-battered crustaceans.

Lobster Cocktail

My Take

Richmond Station’s urbanspoon proclamation  claim holds true lead by a well-trained, courteous staff and a trendy menu with classic French influence overseen by a proven champion in Carl Heinrich (who even came out to ask how the meal was). The classic decor follows suit, characterized by a modern but bourgeois surrounding  reminiscent of the style of Candice Olson as opposed to Red Green, Bruce Wayne or Beetlejuice.  In the end, both the concept and the location create a perfect storm, appealing to celebrity chef chasers, downtown dwellers,  floating foodies and those who appreciate french inspired food without the confines of  bistros adorning white table linen and equally stuffy service.   I’ll come by again when they open for lunch, but for now I don’t mind this train stop along my voyage in search of culinary pearls.

Richmond Station on Urbanspoon

Review Toronto:Queen East: Leslieville Pumps

The last thing I want to do when driving anywhere in Toronto is get gas, especially if I can’t use one of the five reward points cards I have. However, if there was a solid sandwich waiting for me , would I reconsider?

I visited Leslieville Pumps to answer this question. Located on Queen St. near Carlaw, I would not consider it the most convenient place to gas up.  It has a  small menu with 4 sandwiches choices, a few sides and a couple of snacks. The woman at the counter was very friendly but seemed a bit overwhelmed when I asked her what the best things on the menu were. She recommended everything.  It was interesting to sit at one of the few tables and read old paper clippings from 1942 through the glass.  Also interesting was looking around to the small selection of normal gas station snacks, beverages  and  ping pong balls. A one stop party shop.

Must

The corn fritters were dreamy. Crusty, moist and filled with roasted corn, it was served in a small bag which made me crave Swedish Berries and Sour Keys.  It came with a unique, spicy and very flavorful creole dipping sauce as opposed to the normal trend of adding chipolte to ranch dressing and calling it Southwest Sauce.

Corn Fritters with Brisket Sandwich and Slaw

 

I must say the service was very good. I was impressed to see a delivery man drop off some fresh produce and the owner (I presume he is the owner) offer him a cold water. Very classy.

 

Maybe

The brisket sandwich was ok. It had a nice flavour but  I did get some very gritty pieces.  I wasn’t fond of the bun. It was dry and too big for the sandwich. The veginator was similarly flimsy although we were offered more of the other vegetables when no mushrooms were requested. In both cases, some optional condiments to boost the sandwich might of helped.  In fact, I put some of the creole sauce on the brisket to add another dimension of flavour.

The slaw was decent, fresh and flavorful.

Mundane

The sandwiches were almost $8 with no sides. I would either up the sandwich filling a bit or offer a cheaper side option (an individual portion of slaw for a buck) so I could get a meal for under $10.

My Take

I didn’t try many of the menu items including the corn salad, fries, beans and fried pickles.  The quality of the fritters make me want to come back.   I do like the thought of having a fresh, hot option (although it may not be a sandwich) instead of the packaged cheeseburger or a twinkie,  both with an expiry date sometime in 2019.  However, with no Aeroplan, Air Miles or Petro points card and an awkward location to fill up, I think I’ll only be leaving with one kind of gas.

 

Leslieville Pumps on Urbanspoon