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AGAINST THE GRAIN (25 Dockside, at Queens Quay East, 647-344-1562, atgurbantavern.ca) Complete dinners for $50 per person (lunches $35/brunches $30), including tax, tip and a pint. Average main $20/$15/$12. Open Monday and Tuesday 11 am to 11 pm, Wednesday and Thursday 11 am to midnight, Friday 11 am to 1 am, Saturday 10:30 am to 1 am, Sunday 10:30 am to 10 pm. Licensed. Rating: NNN
Dining by the lake shouldn't be this good.
A self-described gastropub from the group behind the Foggy Dew and Pogue Mahone, among others, Against the Grain is located at the foot of Jarvis next to Sugar Beach.
But unlike virtually every other resto in town with a lakeside view, ATG spurns overpriced tourist-trap slop for a skilfully executed comfort food card that even cash-strapped locals can appreciate.
The patio on the south side of the new Corus complex is spectacular, some 200 seats around traditional two-tops, low-slung sofas and the occasional fire pit.
Friendly servers eschew the tarty schoolgirl uniforms worn by the predominantly female staff of its sister saloons for black shirts, pants and aprons. We're expecting south-of-Temperance "Hi, my name's Randy and who y'all be?" but instead get the polished Splendido of old.
Credit ex-Cowbell butcher, baker and now ATG executive chef Sera Antheunis for the difference. For pulled pork tacos ($12), she smokes preservative-free pork shoulder before braising it in Mill Street's Tankhouse Ale and molasses and layering it over soft flour tortillas deliciously dressed with smoked Gouda, pickled watermelon salsa and a flourish of avocado crème fraîche. Moist towelette, anyone?
Her Glazed And Confused salad ($18) starts with gorgeously fatty seared and pink-centred duck breast lacquered with raspberry Frambozenbier, then adds marinated mushrooms, organic mesclun in a citrusy balsamic vinaigrette, purple amaranth sprouts and five-spiced strips of wonton wrapper.
A clever update of retro chicken pot pie ($15) replaces plain ol' pie dough with a sweet potato biscuit. Fish and chips ($16) finds a flaky, ale-battered fillet of Cape Capensis - the sustainable MSC-certified cod substitute from South Africa - on a bed of creamy coleslaw, bowls of stellar hand-cut fries, lemony tartar sauce and spicy beer ketchup on the side.
Maybe it's just us, but charging an extra $2.50 for a second house-baked bun to sop up every last drop of the saffron-scented Pernod that steams Riviera Mussels ($13 sans frites) seems cheap.
However, no one's complaining about the Dockside Pizza ($17), a thin-crusted Libretto-style pie topped with prosciutto, Gorgonzola and a salad's-worth of arugula.
And while graham-cracker-crusted banana cream pie ($8) thick with both banana custard and banana bread makes a fitting finish on its own, the dessert's dated 90s plating, complete with carefully drizzled raspberry sauce, aerated whipped cream, mint sprigs and barely ripe strawberries deserves burial at sea.
Despite a few easily rectified gaffes, Against the Grain makes it safe to go near the water again.