Thursday night I hopped aboard le streetcar for an east-bound ride with Ms. Valerie Stachurski (I’m Charming You) to check out Riverside Public House on their grand opening night. Twas also the night of Diner en Blanc, where a lot of the city’s foodies and lifestyle media and all those wacky peeps would be, so my assumption was the party might be a little on the quiet side. [Insert incorrect Jeopardy answer buzzer here.] Wrong.
By 8:30pm my voice was becoming hoarse – or rather, beginning to crack, which leads me to sounding like a prepubescent wunderkind – because of the 150 or so bodies (almost all of which were damned good looking) crammed into the space.
Riverside Public House has an excellent flow: bar in the front, seating through the midsection, small live music space in the back. Very apropos for the style of joint. And seeing as how it’s part-owned by Michael Homewood (Baby Huey’s on Ossington) and Nav Sangha (Wrongbar on West Queen West), and has the kitchen pedigree of the dimply dude from Top Chef Canada Season One (aka Chef Dusty Gallagher), chances are each area of the biz will run like a tight ship manned by seasoned seamen. (Yup, had to go there.)
While I was in a li’l drunken stupor but an hour and a half in – bolstered by conversation with the other great lady of the night, Ms. Chenessa Lam (Style Empire) – I still managed to try out a few of the mini nibbles being passed around and greedily grabbed by everyone dying for a taste of Dusty’s handiwork.
The halibut was flaky and tasty, surrounded by tempura’d veggies made to look French fry-esque and served in a delightful cone; the mini porcini mushroom pot pie was two-bite funghi heaven; the chicken wings were dry-rubbed crispy bliss, a mix of spicy and salty and a bit smoky thanks to a paprika kicker; and other Top Chef Canada vet Steve Gonzalez (because it’s not a party without some Latino 5-spice) was on-hand to support his Season One co-star and serve up some scrumptious top-sliced lobster rolls.
Now, one other thing. (Deep breath.) Sliders were served. Permit me a slight moment to discuss why I was at first disappointed and underwhelmed to see such a sight: Sliders are simple. They are the cop-out of the catering world. Sure, the average Joe loves them, and two years ago I was one to proselytize their virtues. But they became ever-so-overdone. They lack originality, class, and that “oomph” factor.
But Dusty’s sliders…oh…these mini vessels of perfection…I mean, come on…
The meat was moist, slightly pink inside (read: cooked correctly), and wholly beefy – no gimmicks, no pop of spices, just beef. The bun? Airy, soft, fresh. The toppings? Classic. Iceberg lettuce, red ripe tomato, and a homemade thousand islands-like dressing. The first bite was like I was back in grade school sitting on my Dad’s deck eating the bbq’d burgers whose patties I helped pat down. Ah, the power of food. (Frig I hope that any who read this and go order the Riverside Burger during regular dinner service has as sublime an experience as I did or I’ll look like a total schmuck.)
All in, Riverside Public House is a solid and valiant effort if ever there was one. County chic atmosphere, good beer selection, a cocktail list to whet most any palate, and some down home comfort cookin’ by Chef Gallagher. It’s sophisticated casual, so the ladies won’t feel out of place in a sequined top and Italian sling-backs, and the gents will feel at home whether in Florsheims or Sperry’s. It’s a Public House, after all, and that means it’s for the good of the people…
Riverside Public House | 725 Queen Street East, Toronto