GLADSTONE HOTEL (1214 Queen West, at Dufferin, 416-531-4635) Open for dinner in the Melody Bar Monday to Friday 5 to 10 pm, Saturday and Sunday 4 to 10 pm. Café open Monday to Friday 7 am to 9 pm, Saturday and Sunday 8 am to 9 pm. Weekend brunch till 4 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Everyone's a star at the Gladstone . From the frat boys doing an ironic cover of Helen Reddy's I Am Woman on the Queen West hotel's weekend karaoke stage to the Barenaked Lady having breakfast in the café just off the lobby, they all get their moment in the spotlight.
This former member of the Dishes is squeezed into a low, black-vinyl-upholstered booth in the recently refurbished Melody Bar between Martha Johnson and Mark Gane, aka Martha and the Muffins. We're here not only to check out the joint's gastro-pub grub but to catch a set by the Lost Anglers, a country/new wave combo that includes four former Cads and another Muffin.
Thirty years ago this month, the Cads were one of the first Queen Street bands to release a record, a now-collectable 7-inch single titled Do The Crabwalk. These days, the part-time country/new wave combo are more likely to take a leisurely stroll through Porter Wagoner's A Satisfied Mind than blistering originals like Over My Dead Body or This Is Your Life Patti Smith.
As the band sets up for the suppertime show, we order a round of Rickard's Red pints ($4.92) from an accommodating chap in shorts and size up the lineup. We begin with a large bowl of chilled cucumber soup ($4.95 with baguette) that could really use a spicier kick in the pants other than a smidgeon of dill. Salt and pepper, perhaps? A main-sized salad follows, an easily shared mess o' mesclun, ripe cherry tomatoes, cucumber, lentils and nutty wheat berries in a tasty lemon zest vinaigrette, with a deep-fried puff of creamy goat cheese plopped on top ($10.95).
Most bar kitchens keep their sozzled punters happy with a tried and true menu of artery-clogging crap. Pickled egg, anyone? So the Gladstone should be applauded for including daily specials like pan-seared duck breast with saffron risotto, braised purple cabbage with fennel and a spiced apple-infused jus ($16.95) alongside poutine with vegetarian gravy ($9.95).
Sadly, my duck is slightly overcooked and its accompanying so-called risotto resembles mush (delicious mush, mind), but the sweet cabbage side makes the perfect foil for the fowl. Gane's tourtière ($14.95) comes closer to the mark, its savoury clove-scented ground chicken and pork filling nicely contrasted with flaky pastry top and bottom, a few firm new potatoes and limp rapini on the side.
The kids in the kitchen hit the bull's eye with Johnson's Maple-Cider Chicken ($16.95), its sweet glaze contrasting with the bird's moist boneless breast. But while the plate's spring wax beans reach the table al dente, its overly dry nuggets of wild rice and corn kernels suggest falafel rather than fritter. Just as we're finishing, the Lost Anglers wind up with a toe-tapping rendition of the Rolling Stones' It's All Over Now.
After catching photographer Don Pyle's show of his punk-era portraits the Ramones at the old New Yorker on Yonge, the Viletones and the Diodes at Crash 'n' Burn, the Dishes in concert at Hart House at Will Munro's rock 'n' roll Beaver Café next door, we're back at the Gladstone for lunch.
Back in 1981, Queen West restos like Peter Pan and the Rivoli had a deserved reputation for service with a sneer. But to encounter the same attitude nearly three decades later at the Gladstone is nostalgia we can live without. Our server today may be the next Feist for all we know; waiting on tables clearly doesn't figure in her life list.
Since we sorta liked the soup the other night, we ask what they're offering today.
"The kitchen's not sure."
We'll pass then. How about the cheese on the Classic Burger ($10.95 with fries or salad)?
"I dunno, it's just cheese."
It's also 75 cents extra, as are the scant portions of caramelized onion and sautéed mushrooms she upsells us without mentioning the cost. But she's forgiven when she eventually returns with the porchetta sandwich ($8.95), thin slices of slow-roasted pork on baguette dressed with cheddar, raw Granny Smith apple and tangy green tomato chutney.
Who says punk is dead? Proud of its history, the Gladstone proves that the old Queen West scene is still alive and kicking.