It’s not often that I get an opportunity to indulge in happy hour. Taking advantage of the lower prices means working earlier, having a later lunch or an earlier dinner. In fact today we were an hour too early and opted to wait for our 3-6pm window to indulge in $4 beers or $4 glasses of wine, and tapas specials at $6. The place was ultimately chosen based on what came up when I googled “happy hour” as well as its proximity to us. Working downtown you are in the hub of happy hour and have your pick of more than a few dressed up bars, each offering what I deem as crafty pub fare. My guest was sold on “Charles Bar” after hearing they had deep fried pickles and deep fried risotto balls.
The rush hour crowd was driving away from the city, thus making parking decent with meters up front and around each corner. The restaurant itself was large. Inside, the room was anchored by their island bar, right in the middle of the open space. On either ends of it was additional seating in areas flanked out. Benches, booths, and high tops in corners offered both individual and large group settings.
Hard wood floors underfoot, wood plank beams overhead, and varnished repurposed wood tables under arm. My guest of the afternoon described them as being “earthy”. They well matched the simple theme, along with the concrete pillars and florescent light bulbs squared off in cages.
The menu offers your pub classics: chicken wings, gourmet burgers and fries, calamari, nachos, pizza, and weekly specials at 1 to 2 dollar discounts. The happy hour menu offered only a smattering of the above, but in my opinion, the most interesting of them all. A pizza with cheese and figs, a braised and grilled pork belly sandwich, and of course all the deep fried, one biters.
“Beer pickles”. Beer battered pickle spears with a lemon dill yogurt for dipping. They were fresh from the fryer, each spear had a smoky hotness, the kind that burns your tongue if you go recklessly biting into it. Each pickle quarter possessed the perfect melding of a crispy crunchy texture and a juicy crunchy texture. Each bite practically snapped off. My guest found there to be too much breading, whereas I hoped for more to help cut into the naturally saltiness of the briny pickles. The tartar-like sauce was the best part, it had a refreshing tang and was what really made the appetizer. Hot and cold, hard and creamy.
“Pork croquettes” made with shredded 5 spice pork and potato graufrettes, served with a sriracha ketchup for dipping. Dip liberally, the promise of Sriracha branded hotness in the sauce sticks. I opted to enjoy each croquette without the sauce, not that any additional flavouring was needed. I was most curious about the composition of each circle. How did they fill a hollowed out potato dumpling with so many strings of pull pork? And how did they get these juicy bites so round in the first place. Potato, pork, and barbecue sauce, in one handheld bite, what’s not to love? The meat was tender and the middle toasty. The evolution of bar snacks that came on a bed of house made potato crisps. The faux chips were sliced in a criss cross pattern and used to prop up the pork croquettes at the bottom of the ornamental fry basket. They were a wonderful surprise to find mid way through the basket. I could see both these and the croquettes easily being enjoyed with ketchup. I found the former without taste, and could have use some salt.
“Fig & Boursin Pizzetta”. The pizza was topped with date paste, caramelized onions, smoked mozzarella, Boursin, mission figs, and truffled arugula. This made for a nice break from all the deep fried foods in both its light texture, fresh fragrance, and sweet taste. I failed to notice any of the truffle’s essence. But the candied figs certainly made it memorable. The figs had a sweet honey-like flavour that ran parallel with the sweetness in the caramelized onions. Both paired well with the salty cheese. And when mixed with the freshness of the arugula it’s a winning flavour combination that works well. The softened cheese had a thick and chunkier texture to it, it made each bite creamy, almost dessert like, especially keeping in mind the dates of earlier. Overall my guest said it tasted “Italian”.
“Arancini”, the Italian name for fried risotto balls. Something new I learned today. These were made with lemon zest, fresh basil, san marzano sauce, arugula oil, and shaved Parmesan. The arancini were the perfect combination of crispy and soft. Crispy from the perfectly fried batter and soft the creamy and well done risotto. Like the spicy sauce before it, this sauce too was one to singe the tongue.
“Chinatown shredded pork sliders”. Take shredded pork that has been cooked for eight hours, season it with a 5 spice BBQ sauce, and serve it with a cilantro sesame slaw, on brioche slider buns. The sweet and salty flavouring found in the meat was very similar to most Asian style sauces. The tender pull pork and the crispy cabbage slaw balanced each other, chewy and crunchy, sweet and tangy. Though I could have used even more mayo in the slaw or more sauce in the BBQ as the vegetable and bread were a touch on the dry side. And with out a patty the meat was lacking in juices that would have moisten the buns. Though the bottom brioche was soaked enough, it was the top that tasted hard and over toasted. This was an interesting twist on regular beef patty slider, definitely a more dressed up a slider.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
The bill came out to be less than $25 per person, after taxes, but before tips. This total included five different tapas sized plates, and three modestly priced and decently poured glasses of wine. At prices like these I could afford more meals in between lunch and dinner. The food was a large step above just regular bar cuisine, effort was put into crafting this menu. It had features unique to them and favourable twists that made eating familiar. It was like listening to good remix of a song you were once loved. It brought you in familiarity while giving you the excitement of trying something new. Fun. Don’t deny your cravings.