1 of 4
Pumpkin cake’s a winner.
2 of 4
Steak “Tar Tar” with taro chips is innovative.
3 of 4
Pulled pork tacos is irresistible.
4 of 4
Chef Danai Hongwanishkul preps kale salad at County Cocktail & Snack Bar.
COUNTY COCKTAIL & SNACK BAR (798 Queen East, at Boulton, 416-781-4743, countycocktail.ca, @countycocktail) Complete dinners for $45 per person (lunches/brunches $30), including tax, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $15. Open for lunch Monday to Friday 11 am to 4 pm, dinner Sunday to Wednesday 5 to 10 pm, Thursday to Saturday 5 to 11 pm. Weekend brunch 11 am to 4:30 pm. Café from 7 am Monday to Friday. Bar nightly 5 pm till close. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access : two steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
If Victor Barry and Carlo Catallo of the County General and Splendido were band members, their recent split would be blamed on musical differences.
The amicable divorce sees Barry take sole control of the way-upmarket Splendido on Harbord, while Catallo hopes to expand the more accessible County brand later next year on Bloor west of Dovercourt next to the old Paradise Theatre but first here in rapidly gentrified Riverside.
You'll note the slight variation in name. This General fancies itself a cocktail and snack bar, albeit snacks of the 416 rather than Gale's variety. There's even "commuter service" available weekdays from 7 in the morning, though Samuel J. Moore tried something similar over on the west side and look where that got him.
With its bright-red cast-aluminum chairs and barnboard-topped tables, the 30-seat room feels familiar, too, as does the retro-rockin' playlist that bounces from the Clash and the Stranglers to Deep Purple and Vanilla Fudge. Can Iron Butterfly's In A Gadda Da Vida - the full 17-minute version with drum solo - be far behind?
Some of Catallo and ex-Canoe sous Danai Hongwanishkul's all-day carte is a blast from the past as well, including General signatures like the deep-fried chicken thigh sandwich ($14) and the beefy County Burger ($15) made with aged Cumbrae chuck. Both come with a choice of sides, either the house salad with creamy shallot vinaigrette, the soup du jour - today, a tasty vegan carrot purée spiked with ginger - or commercial kettle chips.
At dinner, the menu shifts to the type of small plates that go well washed down with a molasses rum sour ($13). There are squares of warm cornbread laced with jalapeño and dolloped with sweet-potato jam ($3), and free-range devilled eggs finished with cod fritters ($5). And who can say no to steamed Chinese bao stuffed with braised beef cheeks and trumpet-mushroom marmalade ($4), or boudin noir sausage dressed with rum-soaked raisins and barely pickled mustard seeds ($3), especially at these prices?
A terrific starter-sized salad of leafy Swiss chard comes tossed with slivered almonds and shredded Thunder Oak gouda ($7), while a trio of pulled-pork-shoulder tacos piled with pickled carrot slaw and spicy salsa verde ($12) can also be ordered as a DIY $40 shareable feast. In the same vein, Arctic char confit on pretzel toasts sided with crème fraîche and cucumber relish, and an innovative steak "Tar Tar" thick with peanuts, green mango and hot pickled jalapeño (both $14) are sure to keep most everyone happy.
Of the three desserts, Mason jars of creamy panna cotta topped with Corn Flakes and candied orange, and slices of still-warm pumpkin cake drizzled with pear butter (both $4) are the clear winners. But 4 bucks for a chocolate chip cookie made with cheap Hershey's Chipits is a rip-off.