If you have lived in Toronto for a long time you may have heard of the 100 plus year old Maple Leaf Tavern. It had a bit of a reputation in the city and had rooming houses above the street level restaurant/tavern. Yes you can say it was a dump for sketchy regulars. But things have changed. The Maple Leaf Tavern is located across the street from Gerrard Square. It's not in the fanciest part of town and more notably in a bit of a neglected area that is close to areas that have been changing so there is hope for the future when there is no space to do anything but renovate what's long overdue, like the Maple Leaf Tavern.
I spoke to one of the partners who said his family was in the construction business and he said it was quite the project with everything from plumbing to rework and to uncover original brick and redo the floors. They basically stripped it back and kept some of the original while bringing it into the future. I have never been there before but it was probably not a place I would have gone to in the past but I can honestly say it's the kind of place that I would be happy to go to now. Too bad it's way out of the way from where I live.
It was 3 local well known chefs, Jesse Vallins, Binh An Nguyen and Jonny O’Callaghan that got this project off the ground. Nguyen and O'Callaghan were formerly at the Beverly Hotel were they produced some beautiful food. I know this because I tasted it when they were there. Jesse Vallins is formerly from the Saint he is now the Executive Chef at Maple Leaf Tavern.
I attended the media preview although the official opening date is Tuesday, May 3 at 5pm.
I had to do a little of chasing food around the room to finally sample the sliders that immediately disappeared as soon as they left the kitchen and after finally trying one I can see why. They were juicy and had a great sauce on it that was packed with flavour and served on a nice brioche bun.
The first thing out of the kitchen was their fantastic fries with ketchup and a housemade aoli. They really put a lot of attention into the burger and fries. I think people expect to get a burger and fries at a tavern but these were really great. They also put a spin on fish and chips with a potato flake crusted ground fish cake.
They had marinated olives and also some spicy I would bet housemade or local sausages that were fantastic served with a pineapple glaze mayo. Not what you would expect.
They had a couple of bartenders that had quite the workout shaking up all kinds of interesting drinks including a Stealth Margarita with cucumber, lime and jalapeno, the Nacional a pineapple flavoured cocktail that was my favourite drink of the night. Also pictured was an orange foam drink.
The set up is a little different. The kitchen is at the back and it's open and I am sure the chefs will quickly get tired of people staring at them while they are prepping foods. The centre of the room is the bar which splits the space into 2 rooms. It's a fairly large wrap around bar that is the first thing you see when you walk in. On one side of the bar is more of a sit down formal restaurant while the other side is the bar with intimate booths along the wall. It was a heck of a lot more crowded on that side and it's also the darker side of the space while the restaurant side has huge windows. There is also a private room downstairs but we didn't get a chance to see it. I think they said it would hold 30 people.
I hope I get a chance to be in the area again to sample some stuff off the menu and see what else they have in store. The quality of the food is great and I hope this is the start of a new destination area for future restaurants to open.
Good luck to the Maple Leaf Tavern Team. You have done a great job of turning this place around.
The Tavern will be open 7 days a week, from .
*Please note for the first week of opening (), hours begin at .
Maple Leaf Tavern
955 Gerrard St. East, Toronto, ON
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and of course some Maple Leaf cookies for dessert.