Vv Magazine’s food writer, Ama Scriver, gets an up close first look at the long awaited restaurant, Maple Leaf Tavern, where she finds new takes on classic comforts. This new spot is sure to become an East end favourite.
The new Maple Leaf Tavern is finally ready to open its doors to the public, after a well-documented and much publicized renovation. The historic tavern has seen its share of better days, changing hands numerous times over the years. Restaurateur Todd Morgan (owner of Port Restaurant in Pickering) found the shuttered historic tavern across from Gerrard Square and saw a vision. Inside the Maple Leaf Tavern, he wanted to create a gastropub than would become the new found home for all those in the community looking for a local drop-in.
The restaurant is modern and chic, with much thought given to the look and feel. Rich burgundy leather banquette seating, hunter green painted walls, stained glass, beautifully finished wood floors and exposed brick reclaimed from the former tavern are reminiscent of upscale taverns in New York City. Huge windows surrounding the front of house let tons of natural light shine through, breathing a bit of life into the space. The windows also show off a brand new patio (not yet opened), that will be facing Gerrard Street East and become a spot for after work drinks.
In the kitchen, executive chef Jesse Vallins (formerly of The Saint Tavern) is joined alongside co-chefs du cuisine Binhan Nguyen and Jonny O’Callaghan (both formerly of the Beverley Hotel). Together they have put together a menu of simple and approachable food that many will appreciate. “The concept of a tavern will mean different things to different people,” Jesse explains to me that here in Toronto our version of tavern includes bars and steakhouses, but what Maple Leaf Tavern will be trying to do is “at our most basic principle, serve food that is familiar and that people will enjoy.”
Case in point, the Maple Leaf Cheeseburger ($20) made with top sirloin, in-house with a coarse grind. Served medium-rare on a house-made bun, the burger is something that may prove to be a top-seller. Upon first bites, I’m getting a very Big Mac-esque taste, thanks in large part to the processed cheese slice (made in-house with Gruyère cheese), finely shredded lettuce on the bottom and a dollop of housemade relish, served with fries. Jesse tells me, “I cook what I like to eat and I cook with the flavours that I like and that’s pretty much it.”
But if you’re looking for something more on the creative side and reminisce to Jesse’s work at The Saint, you’ll want to order the Hassleback Potato ($13) as your side of choice. Served up in a pool of truffle butter with chunks of chilled foie gras – the potato is rich and delightful. This Parisian-feeling dish creates a wonderful aromatic feel, where the foie gras melts in your mouth with each and every single bite. “I put good food on the plate,” explains Jesse of his menu choices and indeed, it shows.
Behind the bar, New York City mixologist and drinks writer Naren Young consulted on the bar program, stripping it down to simple, great cocktails. To begin, they will have two cocktails on tap including the rye & ginger highball ($11) and the manhattan ($11). The cocktails are easy-to-make with a focus on good ingredients. For example, my favourite from our visit was the Stealth Margarita ($13) which had a jalapeno tincture that gave it that extra kick. All cocktails are priced between $9-13, with some beers on menu including East end favourite, Left Field Brewery.
The Tavern will be open 7 days a week, from 3pm – 12am. For the first week, hours begin at 5pm. Opening day is Tuesday, May 3, 2016.
Will you be visiting Maple Leaf Tavern? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below, or tweet us @ViewtheVibe.