Sweet and sour glazed ribs with crushed peanuts are a big hit at Electric Mud.
Electric Mud 5 Brock, at Queen W, 416-516-8286, @electricmudbbq. Black Hoof vet Colin Tooke and Ian McGrenaghan's southern-fried beanery is to barbecue as their nearby Grand Electric is to tacos: not really, kinda sorta-ish. Chef Ben Denham's flavour profiles may be as big as Texas and as loud as the ZZ Top on the turntable, but purists might want to look elsewhere. Look for the 28-seater to double in size come patio weather. Don't queue for 'cue? The Mud does takeout! Best: warm house-baked "crack rolls" with salty whipped butter laced with pork drippings; salads of Boston lettuce, crispy pigs' ears and slivered radish in cayenne-spiked buttermilk dressing; pork side ribs finished with crushed peanuts and a sticky sweet 'n' sour glaze; mini-Mason jars of deconstructed banana cream pie. Complete dinners for $40 per person, including tax, tip and a Beergurita. Average main $12. Open Wednesday to Sunday 5 pm to 1 am. Bar till close. Closed Monday, Tuesday, some holidays. No reservations. Licensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, tight seating, washrooms upstairs. Rating: NNNNN
Hawthorne Food & Drink 60 Richmond E, at Church, 647-930-9517, @hawthorneto. Based on the sheer professionalism on display at this smart 40-seat bistro, you'd never guess that half its staff are interns taking part in a joint labour-management partnership between the hospitality workers' union and local unionized hotels. Chef Binh an Nguyen's carte impresses with its polish, a mix of French technique and global ingredients. Best: to start, deep-fried paella "bombs" dressed with steamed mussels, clams and chorizo in garlicky tomato sauce; honey-glazed quail dusted in za'atar; mains like "perfect" sous-vide hanger steak with spicy ketchup and chunky Kennebec frites; house-made papardelle with wilted kale, charred fennel, toasted pecans and raisins; at lunch, hefty lobster knuckle sandwiches with house-pickled pear; to finish, Earl Grey crème brûlée and beignet. Complete dinners for $45 per person (lunches $30), including tax, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $22/$13. Open Monday to Friday 11 am to 3 pm, dinner Wednesday to Saturday 5 to 10 pm. Closed Sunday, holidays. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN
Grasslands 478 Queen W, at Denison, 416-504-5127, grasslands.to, @grasslandsto. Urban Herbivore's Stephen Gardner relaunches Fressen as a stylish cocktail lounge and tapas bar that just happens to be vegan. Inventive and beautifully constructed plates along with snappy, informed service will make even hardcore carnivores true believers. Best: to start, gluten-free corn fritters and gently battered popcorn "chicken," both sided with basil-scented pineapple salsa; larger plates like seared polenta and meaty shiitake mushrooms with garlicky wilted spinach in Italian-style tomato sauce; rice-flour cannelloni stuffed with tofu "ricotta" and walnut pesto; veggie sliders on house-baked buns dressed with pickled red onion, arugula, smoky house ketchup and hot Dijon mustard and sided with twice-cooked rutabaga 'n' parsnip frites; to finish, house-baked ginger snaps and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with dark chocolate cashew mousse. Complete dinners for $40 per person, including tax, tip and an organic lager. Average tapas $11. Open for dinner Wednesday to Sunday 5:30 to 10 pm. Closed Monday, Tuesday, holidays. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN