No lake, no palmer

But a burgeoning strip on Bloor West now boasts Emerson


EMERSON (1279 Bloor West, at Lansdowne, 416-532-1717) Complete dinners for $35 per person, including tax, tip and a cocktail. Average main $14. Open for dinner Wednesday to Sunday 5:30 to 11:30 pm. Lunch/brunch Friday to Sunday 11 am to 3 pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday, some holidays. Licensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN


Though locals still aren’t sure what to call the stretch of Bloor that runs west from Christie Pits to Lansdowne – Bloordale? Bloorcourt? Blandsdowne? – everyone agrees the nabe’s on the cusp of change.

You see it in storefront cafés like Karelia and Ortolan and the just-opened Northwood. And then there’s Conor Joerin and Scott Pennock’s barely four-month-old Emerson. Some may remember the space as the original home of the Caribbean Queen of Patties, now relocated across the street. And while the dimly lit decor may seem a tad generic (exposed brick, white subway tiles, a wall of glass that opens to the street), former Gio Rana’s Really Really executive chef Pennock’s grub is anything but.

A salad of frilly frisée and peppery arugula comes topped with a handful of lightly battered sweetbreads ($9), while a second of decorative kale gets tossed with anchovy filets and toasted barley ($8), both in a syrupy champagne vinaigrette.

The house burger ($12) finds 8 whopping ounces of good ground chuck of no particular provenance (we’re guessing Gasparro’s) on an eggy bun from Jean-Pierre Challet’s terrific Le Matin Bakery in Leslieville. A whack of chopped iceberg lettuce, a humongous dill pickle and a creamy sauce made from pricey Beemster cheese make this the Big Mac of your dreams.

Too bad 10 ounces of gorgeously grilled medium-rare rib-eye arrives overdressed with a textbook Béarnaise. And since it’s Wednesday, it’s rib night, a great rack of meaty pork side ribs (both $18) in a sweet old-school tomato sauce that virtually fall from the bone.

“They’re just like Mom used to make at the cottage,” says the Literary Device, licking her sticky fingers by way of compliment.

But it’s the kitchen’s sides that really shine, all $5 each or all five for $20. A gratin of butternut squash and caramelized onion shows up thick with Gorgonzola and Parmesan coleslaw gets extra crunch from raw cauliflower and roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon and maple syrup get the Momofuku treatment. And why not? Everybody else is doing them that way. And while we’re at it, let’s throw a fried runny-yolked egg on some grilled romaine, and some sea salt on a heap o’ skinny frites.

What better way to finish a family-style dinner than with an old-fashioned vanilla ice cream sundae ($5) layered with real whipped cream, maraschino cherries and crumbled house-baked cookies? And someone alert the stroller brigade: the Emerson introduces weekend brunch Saturday and Sunday (March 16 and 17). There goes the neighbourhood!

stevend@nowtoronto.com | twitter.com/stevendaveynow

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