TOBY’S FAMOUS (411 College, at Bathurst, 416-925-9908) Complete meals for $30 per person, including all taxes, tip and a $10 pitcher of suds. Average main $10. Open daily 11 am to 2 am. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: N
Restaurants that feature nachos, chicken wings and potato skins, never mind $10 pitchers, rarely call for critical culinary scrutiny. After all, if you’ve eaten one jalapeño popper, you’ve popped them all.
But when the last remaining downtown outpost of Toronto’s legendary Toby’s Good Eats – there are still two independent Toby’s out there, one in North York, the other in Hamilton – leaves Bloor and Yonge for down-market digs next to Sneaky Dee’s on the College student strip, we’re in there faster than Britney with an umbrella on a Subaru.
Despite the claim on the marquee out front that it was established in 1976, Toby’s – now branded Toby’s Famous – was only founded five weeks ago and has little to do with Chrysalis, the classy resto group that was responsible for the original as well as Bemelmans and the Bellair Café back in the day. Nor are there any white bull terriers named Toby in the house.
Formerly the pool hall known as Jugz (ahem), it’s a cavernous room decked out in purposely beat-up furniture and the occasional wagon wheel.
Exposed brick walls hold beer signs, ye olde fake beams run overhead, and really old Madonna plays on the sound system.
Still, the burgers are as big as we remember, the 4-ounce Truck Stop a de facto Banquet correctly layered with bacon and Swiss. Topped with not terribly spicy chili, the Courage (both only $7.56, sided with a pile of fairly good fries) also comes smothered with what the multi-page menu calls “our famous hot melted cheddar sauce,” better known as vile microwaved Velveeta.
You can do a lot worse than Toby’s Sunshine salad, a reasonably fresh mix of spinach, romaine, grated carrot, tomato, almonds and sliced chicken breast in commercial ranch dressing ($6.99 small/$8.99 large). The house’s so-called French onion soup ($4.99) is not only an insult to the taste buds, but to gastronomy in general. Some trick that!
Ordered medium-rare, our 10-ounce New York strip loin ($19.99) arrives tough, grey and gristly, its side of coconut shrimp nutty in name only.
A half-rack of pork side ribs ($12.99) is stringy and obviously precooked, its sides of substituted mash stone cold ($1.25), gravy congealed ($1.29) and veggies – lettuce, tomato, red onion and sliced pickle – identical to those that dress the burgers.
But, like most everything here, the portions are beyond huge, just the thing to soak up all that booze during a night of binge drinking. And did we mention those $10 pitchers?
Noting that the kitchen staff – who, in their defence, are only following orders – appear to be South Asian, we figure we might have a bit more luck with a vindaloo ($12.99).
We’re wrong. The cubed chicken and potato in saccharine red sauce with plain refined white rice is as incendiary as a night on the town with Stephen Harper.
And we can only wonder who counts Tuesday’s milquetoast Taste Of Thai cashew nut chicken ($7.99/ rest of the week $11.99) as his “traditional favourite.” Ned Flanders?
We have our hearts set on Toby’s apple betty, but since the kitchen’s all out, we make do with the Buster brownie (both $4.59) instead. Some brownie it’s more like chocolate cake from a mix, sided with supermarket ice cream, its “oh so good hot fudge sauce” AWOL.
Any goodwill garnered by Toby’s Good Eats has long gone. Like Pearl Harbor, Toby’s Famous will only live on in infamy.