Category: Review

PIZZERIA LIBRETTO| ***

The 5000lb handmade-in-Naples pizza oven is the star of the show at Pizzeria Libretto, serving real – nay – certified, Neopolitan Pizza. We applaud Libretto for letting the oven shine by using fresh ingredients, keeping a simple no-nonsense menu (no kale pizza here, hipsters) and executing it beautifully. Salute!

http://ossington.pizzerialibretto.com/
Pizza | Ossington & Dundas
Dinner and drinks for two ~$72 incl. tax + tip.

FOOD
At first bite, this was instantly our favourite wood-fired, Neapolitan style (that’s “thin crust” for you you Pizza Hut eating schmoes) pizza in town.  We started with a simple Margherita D.O.P. pizza to see how well Libretto can execute on the basics.  It was flawless.  A simple, well seasoned tomato sauce.  Just enough basil leaves.  The cheese had melted, the crust had been delicately browned, and the slice didn’t fall apart in a watery mess when we picked it up.  This pizza men and women of Napoli would be proud of Libretto’s Margherita. Next, we had the House-Made Sausage white pizza (i.e. no sauce), with caramelized onions, mozzarella, and chili oil (take a note, Hey Meatball). Again, cooked to perfection, and great flavour was achieved via the fresh ingredients.

This pizzeria is no one-trick pony though.  The Flank Steak Spiducci – skewers with alternating cubes of olive oil -soaked croutons and meat, was delicious and cooked just right. Spoony stuck with the keep it simple theme and got a Peroni, while Knifey was recommended the Quattro – a citrusy, bourbon based cocktail. This was the most refreshing bourbon cocktail we’ve ever had.

SERVICE
Efficient and courteous. Just the way we like it at our Pizzerias.

ATMOSPHERE
There was a great buzz to the restaurant and the music thankfully accompanied and didn’t detract from the dinner conversation.  Libretto has also smartly maximized it’s seating capacity, without making you feel as if you’re out on a date with that weird guy at table 2.

VALUE
Not a deal by any slice; however, on par with most other hip sit down eateries in Toronto. Plus, you won’t find many other spots in town with a giant, Italian, certified-authentic pizza oven.

HIPSTER SCALE
We came here on a Thursday evening after work.  No moustaches or arm sleeves were spotted. But it is Ossington, so diners beware.

WASHROOM
Simple, clean, and a nice little piece of artwork that allows the room to brighten up as your freshen up.

BUZZ
Anonymous, Toronto Life: 1.5/5 stars
Liora Ipsum, BlogTO: #1 Best Pizza in Toronto
Joanne Kates, Post City: #67 on Kates’ 100, 2014
Yelp: 4 stars (at time of writing)
Pizzeria Libretto on Urbanspoon

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HEY MEATBALL | *

Another great concept that fails to deliver on the food, Hey Meatball left our meatball sandwich desires unfulfilled. Or maybe we just went to the wrong location.

http://www.heymeatball.com
Sandwiches | Queen & Carlaw
Dinner for two ~$30 incl. tax + tip.

FOOD
First, the highlight of the meal was the bright and sharp side salad — bursting with flavour (pickled veggies, zesty vinaigrette) and crisp greens (arugula, kale, lettuce), and the house-made lemon and cream sodas, refreshingly hitting the spot. However, if we were Thumper’s father, this review would end right here.

Four types of meats are available: chicken, beef, pork, and vegan (oh, and the blue balls they gave us, after our fantasies of chowing down on delicious sandwiches went unsatisfied). The Rodfather included three bland pork meatballs, sized small, topped with tomato sauce (not enough) and basil pesto (too much). The ingredients were all good quality, and the meat was soft, but it lacked the intense, classic Italian red-sauce taste that the name “Rodfather” connotes. The Burger Ball came with three even more bland beef balls, with runny special sauce, lettuce, and pickles. It was flavourless and boring, and the puréed Scotch bonnets didn’t rescue it (by the way, Hey Meatball: how do you have Scotch bonnets, but no Italian peppers or chili oil? Whassamattafuhyou?).

SERVICE
The service was fast, friendly and helpful, and we were asked if it was our first time there, followed by a short tour of the menu, and recommendations.

ATMOSPHERE
Cozy, well-kept, and inviting, with communal tables down the side. A decidedly Italian vibe, with jars of olives, pickled beans, and olive oil occupying the shelves on the wall. The mural of three messy kids with sauce on their faces made me wonder how they got so messy, considering the lack of sauce on our sandwiches.

VALUE
At $4 per smaller-than-a-golfball meatball…you do the math (ok fine, plus the salad; sadly, you don’t win friends with salad).

HIPSTER SCALE
Other than one guy who looked like he worked at the tattoo parlour down the street, the hipsters had taken the day off on this Tuesday evening.

WASHROOM
We didn’t bother taking a look, although we’re sure it’s small and sterile…like their meatballs.

BUZZ
One thing to note: pay attention to the comments and reviews by location. Seems as though the west side is the best side.
Anonymous, Toronto Life: 1/5 stars
Yelp: 3.5 stars (at time of writing)
Banh Mi Boys on Urbanspoon
…and for some reason, they got onto this (maybe we really should try the other location).

BANH MI BOYS | ***

Simply put, dollar for dollar, this has to be one of the best places to eat in the city. A Viet-fusion menu with something for everyone, we will be back in a heartbeat.

http://banhmiboys.com
Banh Mi | Yonge & Gerard
Dinner for three (a guest joined us, let's call her Forky) ~$33 incl. tax + tip.

FOOD
The obvious items of note here are Bahn Mi sandwiches, and they were top-notch. The duck confit was succulent and juicy, a luxurious treat fit for a king, yet priced for a pauper. We topped ours with jalapeno, which was a nice compliment to the richness of the confit and the onion chutney. The grilled chicken (ordered by Forky) was dressed with garlic soy and was, as a result, quite salty. Aside from this, it was flavourful. Each sandwich came on a soft, crispy baguette bun, and were topped with fresh and pickled vegetables, delivering a nice, crunchy touch.

On to the sides. The kimchi fries were excellent, with tangy and spicy kimchi smothered atop fresh-cut fries. The jicama papaya salad was a great coleslaw-y accompaniment to the sandwiches, and took the edge off the spice of the fries and the sandwiches.

The highlight for us, however, was the 5-spice pork belly steamed bao. The steamed bao was so perfectly soft and chewy, it could have been enjoyed alone. Throw in the pork belly, whose spice sneaks up on you and brings a smile to your face, and you’ve got the perfect snack. Oh, and it’s only tree-fiddy.

We’re looking forward to returning soon to try their kalbi beefsquid and meatball banh mi and/or taco (let’s face it…and).

SERVICE
Simply order your meal at the cash, and wait by the counter. Fast service ensures you aren’t tortured too long by the intoxicating aromas that makes you more and more hungry.

ATMOSPHERE
Banh Mi Boys is small and simple, with a bright red menu on a TV monitor above the cash (and, for some reason, there’s one above the exit). The graffiti murals of Angry Birds-esque birds on the walls are pleasant, vibrant, and painted by local graffiti artist, Uber 5000.

VALUE
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a deal like Banh Mi Boys. The bao is only $3.49, and the most expensive banh mi was the duck confit at a mere $7.49. For that, you get the freshness, quality, and tastiness that you’d expect for double the price. If they raised their prices by $1 or $2, it’d still be a bargain in this high-priced city.

HIPSTER SCALE
Other than the graffiti artwork on the wall (which wouldn’t be hipster if Banksy wasn’t famous), the hipster level was quite low, so you’re safe. That said, we were at Yonge & Gerard, not its Queen West location.

WASHROOM
Spotless and well-stocked, just like their open kitchen.

BUZZ
Anonymous, Toronto Life: 1/5 stars
Ryan Spencer, BlogTO: 4/5 stars
Joanne Kates, Post City: #58 on Kates’ 100, 2014
Yelp: 4 stars (at time of writing)
Banh Mi Boys on Urbanspoon

BIG CROW | ***

Skip the 4+ hour trek to your campsite and mosey on down to Big Crow instead. You’re guaranteed to return home with fond memories and smells of some solid wood-fired camp BBQ…without having to deal with bug bites, annoying neighbours, and a sore back.

http://roseandsonsbigcrow.com/
BBQ | Dupont & Davenport
Dinner for two ~$118 incl. tax + tip.

FOOD
We kicked off the evening with a root beer & bourbon and a coke & box red wine. We will definitely be recreating these simple and delicious cocktails at our next cookout.

Tymek’s new pickle and sour pickle appetizer hit the spot, and would come in handy later to clear our palate throughout the meal (and we discovered while writing this review that the pickle is made by these guys). A unique touch to this appetizer were the pickled sunchokes.

The jw bird arrived first, straight off the grill.  The chicken was crispy on the outside, juicy as fuck on the inside, booming with flavour, and topped with a tangy salsa verde. You could tell this bird had been brined long and proper. As we finished the last few pieces of chicken and soaked up all the juices with a slice of thuet French bread, the rest of our feast arrived, as if on cue. Our 1lb bbq flank steak, served pre-sliced, medium rare, with a nice coating of ancho-mezcal sauce, a heap of fresh guacamole and sautéed chilli peppers, was unfortunately on the room-temperature side (still better than anything we tried at another BBQ joint). Let’s just say we weren’t fighting over who got to eat the last slice of steak.

The sides stole the second half of the show:  perfectly charred and salted grilled potato with house blue cheese dressing and green onion, ezells sweet coleslaw with loads of runny-mayo goodness (and more green onion), a bag of “covered bridge” ketchup chips (we were a little surprised that “covered bridge” was a reference to these guys and not some old-school cooking technique, but you can chalk that up to our fobby upbringing, eating No Name chips; tasty nonetheless)…and then there were the pork and beans. This dirty hobo staple was rich and deep with layers of gorgeous flavour. Beans are fickle and often hard to cook, but these were tender and perfect. The meaty, saline chunks of kabanosy (smoked Polish sausage) took it over the top.

By this point, we were both quite full.  It wasn’t wise, but what camping trip is complete without some cowboy coffee and Nanaimo bar?  They were both excellent.

SERVICE 
Big Crow staff were courteous, hospitable and beamed with that Northern Ontario warmth. Not much to say, as the best service is often the service you don’t notice.

ATMOSPHERE
As you walk down the gray-birch-logs-inserted-in-cinder-blocks-covered-in-a sting-of-lights lined path leading you to the Big Crow log cabin behind the Rose and Son’s restaurant, you are instantly transported to a happy place.  Opening the door to a dimly lit, cozy Canadiana cabin , memories of campfires past absorb you.  The wooden benches are lined with army blankets that are surprisingly comfortable. The open kitchen at the back is dusted with soot from the flaring wood-fueled BBQ. The music was at a respectable volume, playing everything from synthpop to Frank Ocean.

Special note: as we left, an intoxicating scent of warm chocolate immersed us, billowing out of a vent from the adjacent Rose and Son’s. We didn’t know whether it was from baking brownies (also on the menu) or melted chocolate for the Nanaimo bars. My lord, what an exit.

VALUE
Our bill was up there, but we could have done without the bag of chips, coffee and dessert. Even still, we’ll be saving up some skrill before we return for our next meal. Return, we definitely shall.

HIPSTER SCALE
Wide mix represented.  A couple of university kids sat next to us.  Two suits in the corner, a young family just finishing up dinner. An after-work table was celebrating a 40th birthday behind us. Yes, Big Crow brought out the sparklers.

WASHROOM
It felt like walking through an old hunting cabin, down a narrow, cement lined stairwell, adorned with rustic artwork and a mounted buck’s head. Cool stand up, wooden-framed mirror, too.

BUZZ 
Mark Pupo, #7 on Toronto Life’s Best New Restaurants 2014
Liora Ipsum, BlogTO: 3.5/5 stars
Joanne Kates, Post City: #57 on Kates’ 100, 2014
Yelp: 3.5 stars (at time of writing)
Rose and Sons Big Crow on Urbanspoon

BARQUE SMOKEHOUSE | **

Barque serves up juicy, exquisitely cooked meats, delivering subtle and harmonious flavours with a bias towards the sweet.  A decidedly safe combination for a BBQ joint, but when’s the last time you craved safe BBQ?

www.barque.ca
BBQ | Roncesvalles
Dinner for two ~$90 incl. tax + tip.

FOOD
We were greeted with a small pail of (somewhat stale) spiced popcorn once seated.  Our smoked Maker’s Mark bourbon arrived in individual carafes nestled inside our respective ice-filled glasses — Barque had our attention. Unfortunately, a general sense of “meh-ness” would turn out to be the theme of the night.

We were very pleased with our 2-bite Beef Cheek Tacos. Tender and tasty with delicate, contrasting notes, it was appropriately good…but not great. Our beautiful Sampler for Two arrived, with an adequately-sized pile of three separate meats of our choosing. Everything was cooked almost perfectly (the ribs were on the dry side; and yes, we realize competition ribs are not supposed to fall off the bone) but nothing really blew us away.  The Brisket was soft, moist, and delicious, but a little too sweet where we would have preferred bold (and the brush-on BBQ sauces only added to the sugar content). The in-house smoked Italian Sausage consisted of an evenly crisp layer of skin, encasing a lovely fennel and spice blend. We wouldn’t have been surprised to find such quality hanging in Nonno’s cantina; and yet, we doubt Nonna would brag to her friends about it. The Sweet-Heat Ribs briefly shifted the flavour game to a more intense and spicy venue, but the slight dryness required us to paint on those signature sauces, which quickly took away its bite.

The sides complimented the mains nicely, with a crunchy Root Vegetable Slaw, encircled by a moat of pureed parsley root and cream sauce, being the highlight. The Penne Rigate was savory and creamy, and the Fries were simple and spiced to our liking.

SERVICE 
After waiting an hour for a table on a Tuesday evening (we did not have a reservation), we were reminded by our punctually cognizant hostess that we had returned 5 minutes early (oops).  Apart from this, the servers made us feel right at home, lending to the laid back environment that Barque strives for.  One of the servers even offered to replace our entire heaped plate of meats because his pinky accidentally brushed up on the ribs.  Of course, we kept the food, but any germaphobes keeping score can add a brownie point to his or her scorecard.

ATMOSPHERE
An inviting, smokey smell greets you as you enter into a nice, warm, good ol’ laid back BBQ joint. Unlike some popular try-too-hard-to-be-hip Toronto spots, this place didn’t blast loud music and made it easy to hold a conversation. For a Tuesday evening, the place was packed.

VALUE
Good value, as we definitely did not feel gypped (but we also didn’t feel like we got a fabulous deal, either).

HIPSTER SCALE
Although there was a slight waft of that “hipster-vibe” billowing in the atmosphere, the situation is under control; in fact, we didn’t spot any old tyme moustaches (but plenty of plaid).

WASHROOM
Spacious and personal his/hers washrooms are secured with large, wooden, make-you-smile sliding barn doors, sealed by large, black bolt-locks that make a satisfying latch-y sound when fastened. As well, an added communal hand wash station is clean and smart, especially after the ribs.

BUZZ 
Anonymous, Toronto Life: 2/5 Stars
Ryan Spencer, BlogTO: 4.3/5 Stars
Joanne Kates, Post City: #49 on Kates’ 100, 2013
Yelp: 4 Stars (at time of writing)
Barque Smokehouse on Urbanspoon