Slack's (562 Church, at Wellesley, 416-928-2151) Complete dinners for $50 per person (brunches $25), including all taxes, tip and a cocktail. Average main $20/$11. Open for dinner Sunday to Tuesday 4 to 10 pm, Wednesday to Saturday 4 to 11 pm; bar nightly till 2 am. Brunch Sunday 11 am to 4 pm. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
When it comes to food, Church Street has little to be proud of.
Sure, there are exceptions - Omi, Byzantium and the Garage (now inside Pusateri's market) - but at the rest of the resto's on Toronto's cruisiest strip, dining on pub grub comes in a distant third behind kamikaze cocktail swilling and best ass contests.
And why shouldn't it? Since when does anyone go to Susur to check out his butt?
But Slack's - the former Slack Alice's - just might be able to reverse those priorities. Spiral attempted something similar a few years back, but after an initial splash it failed to click with the set for whom haute describes couture and not cuisine.
First off, newbie restaurateurs Michele Hammerton and Karen Halliday have given Alice a much-needed makeover, replacing the dingy room's fugly late-80s decor with a sleek contemporary look that verges on understated elegance, as Trading Spaces' Doug Wilson would say. The equally upscale card, by chef Tyler Beach of Ottawa's trendy Ritz Clarence, is credibly executed, sizably portioned and reasonably priced.
Dinner begins with a linen-lined basket of assorted Ace breads and a saucer of quality olive oil laced with balsamic for dunking. A generous starter of pan-fired mussels steamed in smoky Gouda cream compounded with even smokier pancetta follows, those absorbent slices essential to sop up every last delicious drop of broth.
Coupled with the house poutine (both $10) - crisp and lightly sea-salted sweet potato frites dressed with shredded duck confit, creamy molten Brie, sweet cranberry compote and a scallion chiffonade - they make for serious grazing.
Mains like pan-roasted wild Pacific salmon ($20) find the fork-flaky fillet finished with a delicious grilled jalapeño glaze, while meaty medallions of pork tenderloin come bathed in a delightful Gorgonzola cream.
Those of the vegan persuasion will adore an olive-oil-based phyllo pastry strudel stuffed with a duxelles of various 'shrooms mixed with roasted tomato, spinach and the surprise of crunchy pecans (both $18).
All come plated with grilled spring veggies - tonight strips of yellow bell pepper, baby carrot and slim green beans - and a choice of either house greens in a garlicky balsamic vinaigrette, basmati rice pilaf, sweet potato frites or spectacular roasted potatoes tossed in paprika and thyme that one of the trouser enthusiasts in our group proclaims the best spuds he's ever tasted.
Suitably impressed, we split a considerable slice of Carole's gluten-free lemon cheesecake ($6) and drain the last of our robust Spanish red (2003 Torre de Berreda $7.50 glass/$36 bottle) before making plans to return for Sunday brunch.
Having eaten enough eggs Benny to last a lifetime while compiling NOW's Ultimate Brunch Guide, I call dibs on Slack's DLT ($14). A terrific triple-decker overstuffed with double-smoked bacon, duck confit and remarkably ripe tomato, it comes stacked on Texas toast spread with apple-cranberry mayo and sided with more of those sensational sweet potato frites.
Sided with what the menu calls potato hash (our description: home fries), Slack's Benedict comes with a twist, too, its runny poached eggs lightly blanketed in chive hollandaise and layered over thick prosciutto that's almost too thick to cut with a knife. But Beach's superb French toast - made with thick slices of Ace cranberry focaccia topped with grilled banana-infused cream cheese and drizzled with maple syrup (both $9) - literally melts in the mouth.
"I didn't really know too much about Church Street before we opened last August," says Beach. "Since then, we've simplified the menu and lowered prices. We don't want to alienate our audience, but at the same time it's still a lineup I can be proud of."
As he should be.