AUNTIES AND UNCLES (200 Bathurst, at Queen West, 416-703-9378) The folks from the identically named College Street lunch and brunch spot with proto-mod decor open a second diner-style eatery closer to Queen West serving retro comfort food. Unpretentious atmosphere and cool classic tunes. Complete dinners for $25 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine or pint of beer. Open Sunday to Thursday 5 to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 5 to 11 pm. Closed Monday and holidays. Fully licensed. Access: four steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
considering recent developmentson the world stage, it's not surprising that people want to be reminded of happier times. A surefire way to recall halcyon days is to wrap ourselves in a security blanket of comfort food.
Only the deeply cynical would suggest that restaurateurs David Ginsberg and Russell Nicholls are cashing in on that desire for simpler things. But their new 50s-style diner on Bathurst -- just a hop, skip and a stumble from Queen -- fits the current cultural zeitgeist like a pair of fuzzy bunny slippers.
The duo are responsible for the wildly popular Aunties and Uncles (74 Lippincott, at College, 416-324-1375), a shabby-chic breakfast and lunch spot with a 60s mod look. The concept of a similarly themed eatery aimed at the dinner crowd isn't much of a stretch. Coincidentally, this month-old resto is called Aunties and Uncles, too.
The menu is pure comfort, the kind of nostalgic noshes that far fancier joints disdain and home cooks never find time for any more. Things like meat loaf ($11), here a thick slab of minced beef, veal and pork mildly spiked with fresh thyme and oregano and ladled with a tomato gravy built on veal jus.
Grilled Roma tomatoes and superb buttery mashed potatoes revive nearly forgotten taste memories. The same meat mix shows up in spaghetti and meatballs ($9), the most retro dish in town.
A thick, pink-centred pork chop ($11) comes sided with more of those fabulous lumpy spuds, as well as vibrantly green sautéed spinach and sugary caramelized apple and pear compote. For the money, Aunties' Caesar salad ($5) is quite simply the best in the city: tender inner leaves of romaine doused with a powerful, creamy vinaigrette and peppered with smoky pancetta, sharp sheep's-milk pecorino and cornbread croutons.
Chicken-liver pâté ($6) presents a study in contrasts. The smooth pâté, cool from the fridge, is spread on grilled cornbread wedges brushed with olive oil, and a bit of that is followed by the crunch of cornichons. And what better way to finish a meal than with velvety rice pudding (all desserts $4)?
Not everything at Aunties and Uncles comes straight from June Cleaver's E-Z Bake Oven. Nicholls shows off his culinary acumen -- he used to cook uptown at Arlequin -- with the cleverly named Auntie-pasto ($7 small or $12 large), a great grazing plate consisting of garlicky hummus, coarse sun-dried Moroccan olive tapenade, green lentils stewed in pomegranate molasses, minty couscous salad, roasted peppers and red onion drizzled with balsamic vinegar, as well as grilled zucchini and eggplant. To dip, there are pita chips dusted with zahtar (sesame seeds, sumac and thyme).
A baker's dozen of marvellous mussels ($7) get steamed in white wine heavy with garlic, shallots, tomato and bacon. An 8-ounce flank steak ($13) ordered medium well done arrives medium rare. Maybe there's been a mix-up in the kitchen, but since flank is a tough and thin cut, it's better this way. A lovely tomato-eggplant ratatouille accompanies the steak.
But Aunties' fries, which show up with the steak and with several other mains, are just OK. They taste frozen -- though they're not -- and fail to meet the high standard set by everything else so far. But dunk them into homemade chipotle-powered ketchup and all is forgiven. Almost.
The 6-ounce hamburger ($8) sees another well-executed mound of beef joined by these same ho-hum fries and some wimpy coleslaw. The Reuben sandwich ($9) -- hold the fries -- needs a lot more sauerkraut.
In my position, I'm generally pretty blasé when it comes to choosing my supper. I let my guests select what we'll eat, with a few provisos -- I'm not having the liver -- but tonight I have dibs on macaroni 'n' cheese ($9) with red leaf and arugula salad. Like Christmas when I was a kid, it's anti-climactic, tasty enough, but it seems to be an offhand assemblage of pasta, pancetta, cheddar, mozzarella and a bit of blue swirled together with cream. No sign of the oven-cooked classic I remember, complete with a thick, cheesy crust and sauce oozing into every macaroni crevice.
However, the best of the rest is more than anyone could reasonably expect. Throw in a streamlined space decked out with red vinyl booths, and a CD jukebox that plays tunes by the Four Tops and the Spencer Davis Group and you'll be flying back through time in Mr. Peabody's Way-Back Machine.
Though the Shangri-las insist that you can never go home again, at Aunties and Uncles you can eat your way back to a much more innocent age.