THE ROXTON (379 Harbord, at Roxton, 416-535-8181) Complete dinners for $25 per person (brunch $18), including all taxes, tip and a pint. Average main $10. Kitchen open for dinner nightly 6 to 11 pm and for brunch Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 3 pm. Bar open till 2 am. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NN Rating: NN
If I were ever foolish enough to open my own saloon, it would be exactly like the Roxton. This cozy neighbourhood haunt at the wrong end of Harbord does just about everything right.
With only a kitschy oil painting of a reclining nude over the bar instead of the customary plasma TV turned to the game, customers - all six of 'em - are forced to make conversation while listening to well-chosen CDs that range from current alterna-folkie M. Ward to classic Kinks.
At one end of the small room, in a raised dining area, are four black vinyl booths outfitted with red formica tabletops. Lamplight floods into the room from the street through venetian blinds, casting film-noir shadows on the grill of a 35 Chevy that's been cleverly nailed to the wall above as an attempt at decor. Though the joint's hopping this early evening, we're the only ones ordering from the small open kitchen's card of pub grub.
We start with borscht ($4.75), a large, flat bowl of evenly chopped sweet and tangy purple cabbage dolloped with sour cream and garnished with ripped parsley. Two slices of baguette ordinaire look on from the rim. Escoffier would likely blanch (in court bouillon, no doubt) if presented with the Roxton's take on French onion soup ($5.75), a scalding crock of meek broth laced with sliced onion and capped with crostini-like toast and gooey cheese. Napkins would be nice.
The house ribs, meaty and slow-cooked in sugary barbecue sauce ($13.95), come with fabulously lumpy old-school mashed potatoes and a commercial mesclun mix - organic, no less - that's been extended with English cuke and ripe cherry tomatoes. The same salad accompanies shepherd's pie ($10.25), one of my favourite comfort foods, here reduced to a mishmash of over-processed spuds, ground beef that tastes of Oxo cube and unfortunate frozen veg.
Next time I'll stick to the Guinness ($5.21).