RIVERSIDE CAFE (730 Queen East, at Broadview, 416-406-2943) Cozy, dark local offers a considerable lineup of fusion-lite fare -- bouillabaisse with potato gnocchi? -- but scores with a myriad of mussel mains sold by the pound. Complete meals for $30 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for dinner Wednesday to Sunday 5 to 11 pm. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN
Don't get Riverside Cafe's Patrick Guinane and Signe Langford started on road construction. In the five years since the partners opened this cozy neighbourhood local, the street in front of their saloon has been a non-stop work-in-progress. The city's dug up the streetcar tracks -- not once, but twice -- rebuilt the Queen East bridge over the Don and has just finished ripping up the sidewalks of south Riverdale.
Tonight, the Literary Device and I enter Riverside via a wooden plank placed precariously over a sandpit waiting for a cement mixer. Despite traffic chaos and non-existent parking, the long, lean room is a third full with regulars slugging back after-work cocktails. Once past the bar, the space turns into a brick-walled, candlelit grotto where those in the know chow down on nearly 30 different kinds of steamed mussels.
The price is right -- $9 for a dozen or so plump molluscs in the shell bathed in a number of intriguing sauces. We consider several: Asian, cooked with baby bok choy, sesame oil, soy and ginger; Cajun, in cream with crawfish and butter; and spicy Berbere with harissa, tomato and purple onion. But we zero in on citrus mussels steamed in lemon vodka.
The presentation is perfect. Our server places a bowl over a bowl in front us and lifts the lid, releasing an intoxicating cloud scented with lemongrass.
Sourdough slices immediately go into the boozy broth and deliver a second hit kicked with white wine as well as Absolut. These delicious critters would have topped our Mussel Mania marathon, but because the deep fryer's on the fritz, there are no essential frites.