John Maxwell is a restaurant pioneer in Toronto. Allen’s is a constant fixture, because Maxwell’s values and integrity are enduring and “carved in stone.” And with a keen ear to the ground, he has kept Allen’s at the forefront of the dining-out scene. It is the ultimate example of hospitality, and he has earned the respect of his peers and his loyal clientele. “Ten staff members have been working here 20 years or more. I’ve been working with the same chef since 1981. That’s very comforting to customers,” he says. “I’m proud of my contribution and hope to be around a lot longer.”
Farming is important to me. I myself raise cattle for beef and do so without the use of hormones or antibiotics. I think our food chain is very compromised. I strongly favour the natural raising of food, and serve meat at Allen’s that is generally not commercially sourced. We have a program called “Meats of Designated Origin” in which we state the breed, feed, the farmer and his location and age of the meats we serve.
I am interested in wines that are expressive of our land, and have committed myself to building a cellar that shows the diversity of styles and grape types in VQA Canadian Wines. Our list comprises about 175 different wines, with another 100 in the cellar. Allen’s provides the opportunity to experience the ageing potential of our wines. We have many bottles dating back to 1995 on our list, and many by the glass from 2002 to 2008 vintages. Ontario wines are competitive, and I want to give our winemakers a showcase in which they can be certain that their wines are cellared and served properly. In most countries around the world, restaurants take great pride in serving the wines of the region. Canada is one of the few countries—with such a deep-seated cultural insecurity— where we’ve convinced ourselves that what is produced here is not as good as that which is produced elsewhere. I fundamentally disagree, and think that in a wine-growing region, you drink your own wines.
Today I have 14 draught beers and 145 bottle options. I have always vigorously promoted the great breadth and diversity of the world’s beers, but we are making wonderful beer in Ontario, as well, and at Allen’s, we feature local craft beer while maintaining a nice core of internationally-celebrated brands.
We have a list of more than 300 whiskeys—which are a passion of mine—and among the whiskeys of the world, the Scotch whiskey is perhaps the most fascinating, but Canadian whiskey is very worthy also, and we generally keep a list of 25 to 30 Canadian whiskeys, as well as a similar number of Irish, American and 250 or so Scotches. The world of whisky certainly rewards those who wish to expand their range of tastes. There is much to learn from whiskey; it is a challenge to put into words one’s taste sensations, and therefore of great interest.
It’s an oasis of calm in a very busy urban environment. Two willow trees, which Toronto arborists say are two of the oldest trees in the city, grow in our backyard. They provide wonderful shade and are a great aid to relaxation. We present a terrific barbecue experience throughout the season, with a variety of fresh salads and 8 to 10 grilled entrées every evening.
John Maxwell in his own words...
Allen’s Bar, Restaurant and Backyard 143 Danforth Avenue, Toronto ON 416-463-3086 www.allens.to