LIBERTY BISTRO (25 Liberty, at Atlantic, 416-533-8828) Complete meals for $20 per person, including all taxes, tip and a $5.25 pint. Average main $10. Open Monday to Friday noon to 11 pm, Saturday 11 am to midnight, Sunday 11 am to 5 pm. Weekend brunch 11 am to 4 pm. Licensed. Access: three steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NN Rating: NN
Since NOW first reviewed liberty Street Café, a charming if unassuming space deemed worthy of a four-N rating last spring, much has changed at the popular spot.
Not only have Liberty's then owners moved on and a new crew overhauled its menu, but the Food Network's upcoming Restaurant Makeover reality show has just given the west-side joint a whole new look. They really shouldn't have bothered.
Though opened up and brightened considerably, the space somehow seems cold. The purple-and-pumpkin colour scheme has been replaced with blinding yellow, chocolate brown and pale steel blue. Black leather couches, bar stools that resemble urinals and chrome-accented chairs in the sitting area complete the updated decor. Anyone who previously enjoyed loafing in the old Liberty's casual comfort while wolfing down its reasonably priced comfort food will have to go elsewhere.
We wait almost an hour for our brunch to arrive, though the diners at the two other occupied tables in the empty place have finished their meals. When the big breakfast ($9) of two eggs, bacon, veal sausage, toast and string hash finally arrives, everything is lukewarm.
The limp string hash, refried french fries with peppers and onions, is so greasy it shines. One piece of bacon is petrified; the sausage casing is tough. Not much better, pesto and goat cheese pizza ($9) sees an overcooked crust with a smear of gritty, earthy pesto dotted with a miserly amount of chèvre. Vinegar from the artichoke hearts is the dominant flavour.
Returning for a midweek lunch when it's busier, I expect another interminable wait. Barely five minutes after ordering, my burger ($10) arrives. The waitress says they're kept on the grill due to popularity, but I suspect a mis-order.
The Caesar salad's dressing - fries are available, too - is a thin and flavourless liquid much like watered-down mayo. The burger, however, is juicy and tasty, topped with bacon, Swiss and mixed greens. No condiments are offered. When Restaurant Makeover airs this spring, its producers promise reactions from the Liberty's owner as well as from regulars and a top food critic. They'll no doubt disagree with me.