Toronto food venture from mediocre to great

Toronto food venture from mediocre to great

A recent trip to Toronto came with some interesting discoveries, from both chains and indies. The two-day visit wasn’t primarily for food: restaurants were secondary on the agenda but nonetheless enlightening. Here’s a run-down, from mediocre to best.

Cora’s. Hmmm. It’s an odd place and the epitome of a chain restaurant business. The food is okay — they missed the mark on properly cooked pea meal bacon and the eggs seemed flaccid — but there is something unusual about the atmosphere; it’s cartoonish. The service was very good though, even in light of short-staffing: poor guy was running around a full dining room but always professional and friendly.

On a Cora’s plate, there’s always fruit and veg — a couple of pieces of kale slotted between rind and flesh of a cantaloupe slice, or some such. That’s fine, except when I looked at the tables around me, most everyone had left theirs untouched. It’s not very good and a waste of food. If people want a fruit salad, they’ll order one.

Located on Blue Jays Way, Wahlburgers is a burger joint and the topic of a reality television show. The place, apparently, is owned by the brothers (I’ve never seen the show), but it’s really a shrine to Markie Mark with artwork and movie posters scattered about. Ted for instance: how do celebrities feel about doing talking animal movies? Maybe it helps build a small restaurant empire.

The Toronto outlet was the second of about two dozen of the restaurants now open. The feel inside is plastic and cheap with a take-away counter in the back. Smart. There are a couple of cheezy menu notes which don’t really work across the whole: things like “Wahlfaves,” (whatever that means) and the kids’ “Smahlburger.” I did like the basic burger with bacon and avocado, but the onion – rings? straw? – were as dry as sand. The service was very friendly, prompt and happy to joke around with the table.

The Rosedale Diner has history and television presence. On Yonge between Mount Pleasant and Avenue Road in Summerhill, the venerable and narrow restaurant that opened in the late-1970s found its way onto Guy Fieri’s Triple-D a while ago. The kitchen, which is the half-way point from dining room to funky urban backyard patio, does a good job with tight space. Front-of-house service was terrific.

Za’atar on one dish, duck poutine in another (Photo: WREats).

The menu is eclectic, from middle eastern fare to “Canardian” … that is duck poutine. I ate all the appetizers and each was quite good. Roasted cauliflower includes za’atar spice and the calamari has a nice heat from Scotch bonnet peppers. Kalbi short ribs are tender, moist and well seasoned — and quite delicious. Desserts are unique with hits of mousse and pomegranate juice. Nothing on the menu is over $28. Experience it if you can.

In Parkdale, Tennesse Tavern is not at all what the name might indicate. It’s not barbecue, but rather an old restaurant/ragged bar refurbished and re-imagined over years. This time round, it is Grant Van Gameren and his partners’ turn. The chef-restaurateur is of Black Hoof fame and now has Bar Isabel and a few other restaurants.

Tennessee Tavern is bizarre — a room of crucifixes? — and delicious. Massive wonderful pretzels with yellow mustard, plump pierogies, spaeztle, long meat-whip pepperettes, a pickle plate, smoked fish, eel, cevaps with avjar and kaimak and smokey cabbage rolls with the proper ratio of meat to rice are deliciously corpulent. Awesome. Eat it all.

Like the heavy food, the interior is dark and loud and intentionally laden with adornments and antiques (maybe?) of eastern European stuff: somewhere there must be a photo-etching or daguerreotype of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and other iconic leaders in Pickelhaube and sporting bushy lamb-chop moustaches. I love the sensory overload. It’s an extraordinary atmosphere, laden with kitsch, but where the food and lots of drink (rakija and Polish vodka) dominate.

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