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Retro wedge salad
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County General chef Garth Legree serves the County heirloom tomato sandwich.
COUNTY GENERAL (936 Queen West, at Shaw, 416-531-4447, thecountygeneral.ca) Complete meals for $30 per person, including tax, tip and a pint. Average main $14. Open Sunday to Wednesday 11 am to midnight, Thursday to Saturday 11 am to 3 am. No reservations. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
County General, the new all-day resto from the Splendido 2.0 crew, didn't so much open as explode.
Why, here we are in the former Oddfellows for the inaugural Saturday brunch and management's turning punters away mere moments after commencing service. Little wonder they're already calling the General the next Hoof Café.
On a drizzly Monday afternoon, the 27-seat room seems relatively serene, though the diner-like space soon fills up. Gone are the 'Fellows' truly odd affectations - the uncomfortable communal table, the upside-down fireplace, the brutally loud grunge soundtrack - and in their place, butcher-block two-tops, gingham napkins and the greatest hits of the Supremes.
Executive chef Victor Barry's carte also reflects the current urban barnyard trend. Find it in his house-smoked Cumbrae ham and white navy bean soup ($5) drop-kicked with Kozlik's triple-crunch Dijon mustard, diced jalapeño and coriander. And they don't come any more retro than wedges of iceberg lettuce ($8) in creamy blue cheese dressing tossed with smoky bacon and a scattering of croutons 'n' chives.
Chef layers toasted Thuet sourdough with outrageously ripe heirloom tomatoes, lemony avocado chutney and aged Ottawa Valley cheddar ($10), while his take on a Reuben on rye ($14) sports house-smoked brisket, house-made sauerkraut and Gruyère, a ramekin of Thousand Island dressing on the side. Both come with either buttery bibb lettuce in honey vinaigrette ($8 à la carte) or a tumbler full of super triple-blanched frites ($3) paired with chunky Indo ketchup.
Back at the chaos of brunch, a roughly diced hash of more of that ham, brisket and pork belly ($12) arrives in the company of two fried free-range eggs and a sauté of parsley and fresh herbs. So, too. the exemplary English Breakfast ($18) of sliced boudin noir sausage, smoked peameal, fried 'shrooms and house-baked beans laced with miscellaneous pork parts.
Unsweetened iced tea and allegedly rosemary lemonade (both $3) taste straight from the packet, and $3.50 for an Americano refill is highway robbery no matter how exotic the blend. Seven bucks for coffee?! And as pleasant as it is, no slice of apple pie ($5) is worth a 30-minute wait, especially when topped with a scoop of plain ol' vanilla ice cream ($3).
But perhaps the biggest offender in the quality-versus-quantity stakes is the General's County burger ($12 with fries or salad). Advertised as 6 ground ounces of naturally raised beef on a grilled milk bun, it clocks in closer to 4 ounces on a 3-inch bun - I always carry scales and calipers - the initial reaction, "What happened to the other two sliders?"
"The portions aren't supposed to be huge," says Barry. "It's meant to be really good bar food. I go to other restaurants and get these really big plates and I want to go to sleep afterwards. When people eat at County General, I want them to go home and have sex."