by Lorette C. Luzajic
It may be the last pub-crawl for a while, seeing as my New Year’s Resolution revolves once again, around ye ol’ carbs and vice.
So I toast a very good year in 2009, and revisit a few of my favourite haunts.
It is Sneaky Dee’s for better or for worse that wins the top spot for “my bar.” It’s been on the list to varying intensities for nearly 20 years. Now, I’m almost too old for the rowdy clatter and certainly too wide for the “no pants dance” event sometimes going on upstairs. I’m no longer the pierced teenager passing out into the ketchup, however, and that’s a relief. Still, I’ll never lose my love of this rat-hole. Beyond cheap pitchers and cheap shots, there are the bathrooms where everyone swears or scrawls some poetry on the stall walls. Bring your own Sharpie!
And of course, the food is fantastic and wholly affordable. It comes in soul portions that don’t take into account any modifications or restrictions. But the food is real food, so you can order appropriately around your dietary style- plenty of vegetarian options and wheat-free options. Just not many low calorie or low carb ones…this is Tex Mex after all. Go big, or go home.
For example, they basically use the entire bag of potatoes to make your order of French fries. And yes, some people still serve real fries. The breakfasts are massive, too. The wings, the burgers, the black bean soup- I could go on. But Sneaky Dee’s has some kind of secret of the gods, and their claim to fame is the world’s best nachos. The nachos are the international gold standard in nachos to anyone who is sane. They are the standard to which any other nacho is compared, and seldom favourably. IF a nacho is really good, it will be “approaching” the Sneaky Dee’s model. None have yet made it to lateral, and certainly there have been no surpassers.
I’ll say no more about the gooey, ooey, chewy, heavy-laden, cheesy jalapeño heaven, which comes with pretty much unlimited sour cream, not in those little pillbox sized plastic cups that serve one corn chip. Enjoy!
The award-winning grub at The Fill Station is a nice surprise for a sports bar. You won’t miss the game- any of them- in this friendly hot spot. Several screens loom strategically in sight of any angle at which you might tilt your head.
If, like me, you’re here for the jerk wings, and not the game, just lie low by groaning “ohhhhhhh!” every once in a while. Hint: even if you don’t have a clue what’s going on in football/hockey/racing/MMA, no one will notice if you just clap and cheer when they do.) The slow burn of the jerk wings is yours on Monday nights for five bucks. The black and blue burger adds a gourmet twist to complement your pint of Big Rock. The rich blue cheese flavour on a nice hunk of meat makes the sweet Calgary brew go down super smooth.
For all that, the pizza is something to write home about, too, but the aforementioned awards are for the ribs and the- crème brulee? Don’t argue that acres of football fans can’t possibly pronounce this French delicacy. The sweet stuff is for us girlfriends.
Now, don’t go to The Linsmore if you’re hungry. But if you’re thirsty, and looking for the kind of dive they just don’t make anymore, The Linsmore Hotel is as seedy as it gets, and has those little tiny beers for a handful of quarters. (I’m extremely fond of destinations with “arms” or “hotel” in their names. Hey, Hemingway LIVED here in Toronto at the Hotel Selby!)
DO NOT ask for wine- the man might have to go across the street to the LCBO to get some. I’m not recommending this particular pub to most of you- this is just for that particular bohemian or proletariat populace who has a penchant for grubby glasses and warm peanuts. The very dusty animal heads adorning The Linsmore’s wall are hopefully the last of their kind- but the Santa hat on one’s antlers was a nice Rudolph touch over the holidays.
Thankfully, Ten Feet Tall is nearby, another east end secret, an appropriate place to show off your new elegant-casual cowl neck and sleek silver earrings. White wine and gourmet pizza fit beautifully with some literary or foodie chatter, and they have amazing art shows and jazz brunches.
I’ll just close a list that actually has no ending with a quick mention of the legendary Victory Café, where I spent some time earlier this year with my book club. Victory supports a thriving literary, music and arts community. Host to various creative events and stocked in microbrewery draft, this bustling Markham St. hideaway has a few standout noshes. I hope they still make the Victory Grilled Cheese- fancy licking a little melting Gruyere off your fingers? Dessert is simple- as Canadian as apple pie.
Should I give the impression that all of my time is spent in merriment, weaving in and out of pubs citywide, laughing, meeting and greeting, and stuffing my face with ribs and pie, let me set the record straight. Too often I’m just here at home alone writing my heart out with nary a microbrew or tipple of gin in sight. Just a nice pot of Earl Grey and Mother Hubbard’s empty cupboards (Mother Hubbard was a writer!)
And I’ll be doing more of both this new year- writing, and drinking tea, that is. We’ve all tried to live on beer and chicken wings, and maybe that’s how it will be in heaven, but for now I’ve got arterial issues to attend to.
Since I’m slashing my inconspicuous consumption for the foreseeable future, I wanted to toast my favourite locals farewell. I’m looking forward nonetheless to the year ahead- no doubt it will be the best year, and best food, of my life.
Happy New Year everyone!
Victory Café 581 Markham St.
The Fill Station 2282 Queen Street East
The Linsmore Hotel 1298 Danforth Ave
Ten Feet Tall 1381 Danforth Ave
Sneaky Dee’s 431 College St.