LOCAL 4 (4 Dundonald, at Yonge, 416-915-0113) Complete meals for $30 per person ($17 at brunch), including all taxes, tip and a domestic lager. Average main $10/$8. Open Monday 5 pm to 2 am, Tuesday to Thursday 4 pm to 2 am, Friday 3 pm to 2 am, Saturday and Sunday noon to 2 am. Brunch Saturday and Sunday noon to 4 pm. Licensed. Access: 10 steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Come Pride weekend, the hardest decisions most folks have to make are how bare they dare and in what order to consume their party drugs. I, on the other hand, have the daunting task of determining which restaurant in the Church and Wellesley village places more importance on its food than its best chest contest.
Local 4 is one of the few that do. On the site of several ill-fated sushi joints as well as Andrew Chase's long-gone but seminal Youki, it's flourished where others have failed. Opened exactly a year ago, in time for last year's street party, Local 4 comes into its own on the trellised 20-seat deck out front. With its raised sightlines, is there a better patio along the parade route?
The other evening, a gang of us show up at the Boystown boîte for several heat-wave-quenching pints of Beehive Honey Lager ($5.35) and Strongbow cider ($5.75) before digging into co-owner and self-taught chef Nancy Gilmour's lineup of globally inspired pub grub.
We begin with a tasty trio of portobello caps chock full of roasted sweet red pepper and grilled leeks, dressed with melting shards of Grana Padano and a drizzle of fruity balsamic ($5). Next up, two delicious panko-crusted hockey-puck-sized fritters made from mashed corn, potato and yam ($7) come plated on a pool of Subcontinental coriander-laced yogurt. Oh, that they were just slightly crisper.
Served with a fishy Thai-style dunk, a half-dozen wontons arrive at table (sticky picnic bench, more like) under-stuffed with processed sweet potato ($6). They're also puzzlingly dark, as if the vat they were deep-fried in needs an oil change.
While James Brown informs us over the sound system that he feels like getting up because he's a sex machine, we move on to the meat of the menu.
Straight Up Steak is exactly that, a correctly grilled 7-ounce strip loin plated with nothing more than parsley. Bourbon-kissed back ribs (both $10) are just as naked, though intensely tender and fall-from-the-bone fleshy. The house burger ($8) seems somewhat common in comparison, a hefty grill-marked mound of ground round - no prefab patty this - on a first-rate bun.
As at Lolita's Lust or Seven Numbers, entrees and sides are ordered separately. The crew makes history of a plateful of fabulous skin-on Yukon Gold frites ($5) with three dips: garlic aíoli, curried mustard and a garlicky cinnamon-scented Moroccan jam that Gilmour calls "my answer to Heinz ketchup."
Her treatment of cool steamed stalks of sesame-tossed spring asparagus finished with lemon juice, cubed bell pepper and a daub of citrusy sesame aíoli, topped with a scallion chiffonade ($5), is as equally assured. But mushy overcooked broccoli with orange sauce ($4) is one of Gilmour's rare misfires and best avoided.
A few days later, we're back on L4's breezy curbside deck for a sunny Sunday brunch. Sipping Spicy Caesars, their peppered rims festooned with super chili-pickled green beans and splayed "drunken" baby Roma tomato marinated in Worcestershire, vodka and vermouth ($5.35, hold the ice), we find our conversation turning to recollections of when Yonge, and not Church, was Toronto's Great Gay Way. Back in those sleazy 70s, happy hooker Xaviera Hollander regularly patrolled the main drag in a stretch limo - and not much else - and Craig Russell headlined the midnight show at the Manatee.
Why, I vaguely recall sharing a cheroot with Carole Pope at the Chimney's stage door back in 75 when she played directly across the street from where we're sitting, that nightclub now a trendy Japanese knick-knack boutique.
Back in the present, our food's up. The house burrito finds two large flour tortillas stuffed with black beans kicked with smoky chipotle and roasted pepper, sweetened subtly with honey ($7.50). We add fluffy scrambled eggs to the wrap ($1) and a leafy lettuce salad in creamy poppy-seed vinaigrette ($3) as well.
Named for Prince Charles, the beans-on-toast riff turns out to be an ample dish of oven-baked navy beans topped with gooey cheddar and two hard-poached eggs, its garlicky sauce sugared with maple syrup. An army of toasted multigrain soldiers complete the impressive plate ($7.95). But why the tribute to Chuckles the royal clown? Surely, the Saint Charles - the legendary Yonge Street gay bar - would be a better honoree?
While we're at it, let's recast everyday Eggs Benny ($9.95) as Eggs Parkside as a tribute to that other notorious homo haunt: two excellent paprika-peppered poached eggs over thinly sliced Black Forest ham on English muffins, sided with multi-spud home fries - a white, purple, redskin and yam combo - and fresh fruit. Sadly, the Parkside is now a Burger King.
Though it will likely be a zoo Pride weekend, Local 4 has much to be proud of all year round.