YOU GOTTA EAT WHILE YOU DRINK
THERE ARE REASONS FOR SUDS LOVERS TO CHECK OUT THESE EATERIES – EITHER THEY HAVE INTRIGUING BEER LISTS OR THE FOOD PAIRS UP NICELY
797 College, at Shaw, 416-5322222, barisabel.com, @barisabel797
After taking Hogtown by storm at Black Hoof, charcuterie king Grant van Gameren resurfaces with a taverna that looks like it stepped right out of the back streets of Barthelona, from the crazy-quilt ceramic tile on the floor to the period light fixtures casting ornate patterns on the arched ceiling overhead. Suave ex-Brockton General and Bellwoods Brewery toque Guy Rawlings fronts the house with considerable aplomb and steers first-timers through a carefully curated lineup of imported lagers and pricy bourbon-barrelled stouts. Shame the acoustics are so horrific you can’t hear a word he – or anybody! – says.
Best: to start, devilled duck eggs dressed with shredded salt cod and morcilla blood sausage; the mixed charcuterie platter – water buffalo slinzega, pork jerky, hunter’s sausage and imported Iberico ham, say – paired with sharp Beemster-like Italian Job cheese, candied apple mostardo and warm rustic sourdough sprinkled with sea salt; Hoof holdovers like roasted veal bone marrow; crisply battered southern-fried chicken over deep-fried eggplant drizzled in honey and chili flakes; grilled hanger steak with blistered shishito peppers; sides of wilted Swiss chard tossed with wine-soaked raisins in aggressive anchovy dressing; grilled spring scallions in classic Romesco sauce; to finish, chef de cuisine Brandon Olsen’s salted chocolate mousse splashed with buttery olive oil; subtle Basque almond cake finished with a sherry-bolstered cream and a lobe of grilled foie gras. Nightly 6 pm to 2 am. Closed holidays. Reservations accepted. Average tapas $11. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating:
885 Dundas W, at Claremont, 416-703-0668, cafe668.com
Call it the neighbour of the beast or the anti-Hoof. After the runaway success of their modest vegetarian hole-in-the-wall, Hon Quach and Ngoc Lam moved what’s become one of the best herbivore haunts in town into far fancier digs a few blocks west. While the name remains the same, the bordering-on-chic room – floor-to-ceiling glass, off-white banquettes – signals that 668 has upped its game considerably. An innovative Southeast Asian menu – the majority of it vegan – servers who treat first-timers as friends and regulars like family, and an all-organic beer and wine list make this a dining destination for ’vores of all persuasions.
Best: the eponymous main-sized salad, a riotous mix of crunchy English cucumber, celery and carrot dressed with cashews, crushed peanuts and barbecued tofu with Thai mint in a sweet Sriracha vinaigrette; hefty rice-paper-wrapped Summer Rolls stuffed with shredded cabbage, cellophane noodles, carrot threads, wilted napa cabbage and Thai basil; deep-fried Japanese eggplant in tempura batter with coconut curry sauce; Hawaiian fried rice with tomato, fresh pineapple and faux pork; an idiosyncratic ketchup-free take on pad thai tossed with carrot, peanuts, cabbage, sprouts ’n’ ‘shrooms; Vietnamese-style hot ’n’ sour soup; to finish, deepfried bananas with vegan coconut cream. Monday to Thursday 5 to 9 pm, Friday 5 to 10 pm and Saturday 3:30 to 10 pm, Sunday and holidays 3:30 to 9 pm. Reservations accepted. Average main $13. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating:
5 Brock, at Queen W, 416-5168286, @electricmudbbq
Black Hoof vet Colin Tooke and Ian McGrenaghan’s southern-fried beanery is to barbecue as their nearby Grand Electric is to tacos: not really, kinda sorta-ish with a post-ironic twist. That’s not to say chef Ben Denham’s flavour profiles aren’t as big as Texas or as loud as the ZZ Top on the turntable, just that purists might want to look elsewhere. The rest of us will gladly wait in line for one of 24 precious seats. Don’t queue for ’cue? The Mud now does limited takeout!
Best: to start, a round of Porch Crawlers – gin, watermelon lemonade and Thai basil – chased by bottles of kitschy Schlitz followed by what Denham calls “crack rolls,” addictive house-baked dinner rolls spread with salty whipped butter laced with pork drippings; of a slightly healthier bent, salads of Boston lettuce tossed with crispy pigs’ ears and slivered radish in cayenne-spiked buttermilk dressing; fatty pigs’ tails mopped with Kansas City-style sauce and sided with blue cheese dip à la Buffalo chicken wings; mains like lean pastrami-like smoked ’n’ glazed duck “ham” with chicken-skin crackling; pork side ribs finished with crushed peanuts and a sticky sweet ’n’ sour glaze; on the side, roasted paprika-dusted cauliflower with dehydrated lemon; for dessert, miniMason jars of soft-serve bay leaf ice cream with lemon zest; deconstructed banana cream pie with crumbled-cookie crust Wednesday to Monday 5 pm to 1 am. Bar till close. Closed Tuesday, some holidays. No reservations. Average main $12. Licensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, tight seating, washrooms upstairs. Rating: NNNNNz
Brodie Power (clockwise from top left), Abigail Bradwell and Jason Costantini tuck into lunch at Wvrst; bar manager Josh Young serves up a pint of Junction Conductor’s Ale, one of many brews on tap, at 3030; Snack on the devilled duck egg at Bar Isabel; Electric Mud BBQ’s beer taps are as beautiful as the brews.