Got the munchies? So does the rest of Toronto. Here’s some new small plate menus worth leaving the house for – and some eats you’re better off skipping for a bag of Cheetos.
Its ever-changing beer taps and menu of classed-up comfort grub are such a powerful draw for the King West after-work crowd, the Bar Hop folks probably thought they could open another location four blocks away and still ram the place.
They were completely right: I drop in on the two-floor Queen and Peter location on a Tuesday, and it’s packed. Good thing they brought the same binders full of beer and kegs of oddball collab brews with them. When you’re downing pints of Blood Of Cthulhu, a one-off berry-infused imperial stout from Sawdust City, a 30-minute wait for a table goes by real fast.
The owners tapped chef Mark Cutrara, who’s run with the social vibe and created a menu heavy on split-able eats. While the original Bar Hop leaned a little more on sandwiches and fork-and-knife mains, this location features a beefed up apps section and new shareable mains.
Bigger crews can avail themselves of whole roasted chickens with piri piri and Brussels sprouts, envy-inducing platters of 40-day-aged rib-eye fanned into slices, or pig’s-head nachos. Those are, the server tells my friend and me, pretty much what they sound like: half a porker’s head roasted and served with the cheek diced into edible little bits with garlic and parsley, flanked by a pile of tortilla chips and a few fixings. They can only serve a few a night, since it’s so labour-intensive to prepare.
My friend and I agree that this sounds slightly excessive. On the other hand, what are we gonna do – not order the pig’s-head nachos?
Forty or so minutes later, the beast emerges from the kitchen (teeth and all, with a single jalapeño slice covering the eyeball that the server tells us is still there), and we make like the kids in Lord Of The Flies. The guanciale is flavourful, caramelized to a great, tooth-sticking consistency. But after topping fried chip after fried chip with fatty pork, the rush of grease becomes a brick in the stomach (something the tiny ramekins of guac and honey mustard do little to help).
Avoid eyes-bigger-than-stomach syndrome and go for the smaller plates. The cold-smoked trout on crostini are fresh and light and a pretty good bargain at three rounds for $5. Olives done up like Scotch eggs ($6) are a perfect bar snack, tempura okra comes with an Indian-spiced peach chutney that will convert even the staunchest okra-haters, and savoury potato churros ($6) manage to be remarkably fluffy and light while still satisfying fried-starch cravings.
In summary, there are lots of wonderful beers available at Bar Hop. If you drink enough of them, those beers might tell you to bypass the multiple well-considered dishes on the menu and treat a four-person platter of tortilla chips with a roasted animal head on it like some kind of dare. Enjoy responsibly.
137 Peter, at Queen, 647-348-1137, barhopbar.com
Rock Lobster’s management decided Leslieville wasn’t for them earlier this year, putting their space near Queen and Jones up for sale. The new tenants, Baby Huey owners Mike Homewood and Nolan Lynch, seem keen to fly the flag for the east-end neighbourhood with P.O. Box 1192.
Jerk chicken nachos at P.O. Box 1192 look promising, but an overdose of marinade and salt wrecks them.
The interior is pretty much as Rock Lobster left it, with some new shout-outs to the neighbourhood painted on the walls. Even staff wear Leslieville Vs. Everybody shirts (which is kind of cool, even if they are a rip-off of a rip-off). The other big addition to the space is a collection of gaudy booze logos: Ciroc, Jack Daniel’s, Budweiser. Together they seem to be saying, “Welcome, Leslieville! Here’s a place for you to drink.” And it is (I can at least say this about 1192) a perfectly good place to drink.
Mealy pizza fries are popular for reasons difficult to comprehend.
The snack-oriented menu is another matter. It works off a simple scheme: small plates are $5, mains $10 and sides $3. Mix-and-matched drunk foods (pizza fries, deep-fried mac and cheese) rule the menu. Pretty wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am stuff – except it takes over an hour to get it. We peer into the kitchen. There is one dude back there, and his grill appears to be on fire.
The first dish to arrive, a trio of sliders, features briquette-like patties atop slightly stale buns. Jerk chicken nachos sound promising but taste like a full bottle of jerk marinade and a half-shaker of salt were upended onto the plate. The chicken breast strips, green beans and peppers make for a nice variation on typical nacho toppings, but they’ve been dumped unceremoniously atop the chips and sprinkled with a teaspoon of cheese, with no attempt at layering, the cornerstone of any good nacho platter.
At least there’s their most popular dish, the pizza fries – a favourite of visiting food writers and bloggers, according to our very pleasant server. He drops by again to apologize. The first batch of fries destined for our table didn’t turn out quite right, so there’ll be another few minutes to wait. Eventually, mealy McCain’s-reminiscent potato wedges show up in a mini-skillet with ACME-brand veal parmigiana sauce and unmelted cheese curds. This, too, is inedibly salty. I take a moment to consider what horrific fate might have befallen that first batch of fries.
To give the kitchen a fair shake, I return a week later – but not before reading a few online reviews, which are so similar to my own experience (over-spiced nachos, torched sliders, over-salted everything) that I momentarily wonder if the place is some kind of prank or performance art piece. This time the food gets an upgrade from abhorrent to merely disappointing. The sweet potato “wedges,” cut so big they’re more like planks, are underdone. The burger, though juicy, pink-centred and topped with a nice herbal chimichurri, comes on a too-floppy bun that gets soggy halfway through, and the patty is (sigh) over-salted.
In summary, there are some decent beers available at P.O. Box 1192. If you drink enough of them, you will be so hungry that you will fall like a hyena upon a plate of high-school-cafeteria-grade food, and regret will be your only reward. Enjoy responsibly.
1192 Queen East, at Curzon, 416-850-3650, facebook.com/pobox1192
Another addition to the burgeoning collection of cafés-by-day, bars-by-night, the Walton is a genteel little spot on College created by one of the owners of Bay Street’s Gabardine. While many of the eats, like pastries from Parkdale’s Tempered Room, target the daytime crowd, you’ll want to indulge in their house-made open-faced Scandi sandwiches (featuring bread brought in fresh from Woodlot), cheese and charcuterie boards, or Pie Commission pies after downing a few cocktails from their picture-perfect cut glassware.
607 College, at Clinton, 647-352-5520, thewalton607.com
After opening as Roll Play Cafe to capitalize on the board game craze, this Ryerson-adjacent spot has retooled itself into an evening destination featuring craft beer (including a couple envelope-pushing rare brews), happy hour specials and live music. There’s also a menu of on-trend Asian-fusion snacks – dig the Peking duck pizza, popcorn chicken and bao-like pancakes topped with pulled pork.
10A Edward, at Yonge, 416-904-8483, rollplaybar.com
Easy way to improve the clubbing experience: add food trucks. At this very, very King West spot on King West – cavernous room, booming tunes, matching uniforms for bartenders, etc) – avail yourself of eats from local food trucks, which pull right up to a specially designed window. Though the trucks were temporarily shut out after the bar opened in October (a rep says further work had to be done to the space), the bar finally rolled out the food services – Tuesday to Saturday, 5 pm to midnight – this week.
540 King West, at Brant, 416-507-0777, earlymercy.com