The premise of the column is simple; work with restaurants of all kinds to explore what they have to offer and what makes them unique. In a city like Toronto, the choices are sometimes daunting and the food reviews and critics can be snotty and too complicated for their own good. So why not keep this easy?
Drinks. Appetizer. Main Course. Dessert. All along with a bit of information about what makes them my choice for Daniel’s Dish and why you should try them right away!
College Street Bar, 574 College Street (416) 521-7200
There are some names in the Toronto Restaurant world that have become icons due in part to their longevity, but also for their uniqueness in a city full of choices for the food lover searching for the latest & greatest. One of these names would have to be the west end destination of College Street Bar. In business for over 20 years, this space has evolved and transformed as it has passed from one owner to another over the years. Most recently, in the hands of bartender and mixologist extraordinare Gavin MacMillan, this local legend is becoming a hot spot all anew. This is the third embodiment of this establishment, and most people would say, the best yet.
In the neighbourhood of Little Italy you’ll be able to explore a world of its own in the city of Toronto. Fresh bakeries, cafés and the like line the street and invite you in. The seemingly small space of College Street Bar welcomes you with open arms for an experience like no other in the area. A cocktail menu designed by a bartender at heart with options for any palette and a new menu by Chef Joe Friday are all waiting for you upon your arrival. Dark and almost gloomy, the space itself in typical Toronto style in length over width. Drawing your eye to the back of the room, my favourite decor piece was the newly installed neon lighting. Neon decor can stand out and look fabulous in almost any setting, but the backdrop in this place was perfect and it looked super cool. If I ever design my own home bar, I should definitely think about creating a similar vibe with neon signage and lights that I can get from an e-store like Neon Filter (www.neonfilter.com, for those that want some peppy designs). Known for its live music and bustling crowds, let me tell you a little bit more about the menu so that next time you’re in the mood for something memorable in the west end, you know where to go.
As written on the menu, “The College Street Bar is famous in the city for its unsurpassed vitality. After twenty years, College Street Bar remains the place to see and be seen.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Now, we all know how much I do not like a lengthy cocktail menu. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, but I shouldn’t need 20 minutes to read through an encyclopedia of choices before satisfying my need for a pre dinner beverage. I will admit that the Liquids menu is too long for someone who agrees with me, but on the bright side, the choices I was able to try were perfectly executed and tantalizing. If I had to pick just one, The Destroyer would have to be my epitome of CSB cocktails. Stiff and well balanced, this cocktail combines Cutty Sark, Jim Bean, Apfelkorn (a delicious sweet apple liqueur) and ginger beer. Yup. All booze and all perfect for a slow sipping cocktail after a long day. Finished with an orange rind, this Liquids choice represents classic balance and old school charm.
On the Solids menu, the starter of choice is clear since it is one of the only options in my mind that I would consider an appetizer. The Charcuterie is a selection of house made meats, garnishes and sauces. Add home pickled vegetables to the mix, and you have a perfect dish to share with friends or start a night with your loved one. Against a stiff cocktail, the meats selected were delicate and decadent all at once. With a Chef’s choice, it’s one of my favourite things on the menu because it will never be the same way twice. Apple butter offers the sweetness you need to cut through the fattiness of the meats, and salty crostini help to carry it all to your mouth. Mini versions of different styles, tastes and textures truly represents what an appetizer at a bar should be. But like this bar, it is more elevated and interesting offering choices to satisfy the inner carnivore.
I will have to be honest with you right now and say I probably ate more in one sitting then one person should. Of the dishes that I tried, my absolute favourite of the main courses would have to be The Southern Fried Ontario Chicken. Yup. Fried chicken at a bar that literally blew me away. The three B’s of a perfect fried chicken: breaded, buttermilk and brined. The meat is perfectly cooked and alongside the house gravy, the salsa verde makes this dish. The right amount of acidity to cut through the flavours really makes it all pop. It’s almost a Latino inspired twist on a southern classic that literally (please don’t sue me) leaves you licking your fingers. I love that all the dishes came out on wood cutting boards and the rustic presentation is simple and let’s the food speak for itself.
Of the three choices offered on the Desserts menu, I’ll be honest and say none of them really blew me away. From start to finish the menu was eloquent and simple, and it kind of stopped there before the sweets arrived. The three options are quite different from one another, and the flare of table side Campfire Marshmellows is truly fun. Of the three choices, I would choose The Hazelnut Brittle Chocolate Mousse as my go to for sweet. Caramel hazelnut brittle with chocosol chocolate offer the right amount of sweet after several savoury options. Pair it with another classic cocktail, and you’ve got a great ending to a local legend experience that only College Street Bar can offer.
Secret You Should Know:
Though this is commonly known by some, a fun fact that I absolutely HAD to share is that The band ThaHookUP is the longest running live band in Toronto with performances at College Street Bar lasting for well over a decade consistently. Soul Sundays have them featured every week and I definitely recommend you make your way out to enjoy liquids, solids and sounds alike!
Make sure to tweet @CollegeStBar the next time you join to tell them what recommendations and favourites you have. Not only do they appreciate the feedback, but they encourage it. The world is a social media playground, so make sure to tag @DoTheDaniel on Twitter, Instagram & Facebook to let me know if my choices meet your standards. I look forward to hearing from you all!
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