Welcome to one of the most talked about new hot spots to open in Toronto this past year- so I've heard from my internet meanderings and chats with fellow gastronomes. Brockton General (1321 Dundas West). It's one of a few exciting new restaurants to have opened along the bleak stretch of Dundas West, occupying the former home of a Portuguese sports bar. Right now the bleak strip is as rough and tumble -that is to say, so very inviting- as ever. That isn't the fault of Brockton General. They didn't summon the river of construction whose deluge has separated them from the rest of the world this summer. Nor did they have any say in the gauntlet created between the high protective fence and their neighbor, a remaining Portuguese sports bar. Ever obliging a stereotype, I am met with perturbing catcalls as I pass the loiterers outside, though vehemently avoiding eye contacting or doing anything that might constitute encouragement. Other than walking. Despite these obstacles, the cozy interior of the restaurant that barely seats 20 is full. Brockton General really does have a hot reputation. The double four-top patio will do just fine for me in this heat (I loathe air conditioning), and there's enough wall that I can deek out of the neighbors' sight.
While waiting for my friends I peruse the menu, and jump on one of their playful home made cocktails while the server tells me that that evening's menu is meant to be a refreshing and light compliment to the hot weather.
We'll learn all too soon just how light.
We'll learn all too soon just how light.
The Rose (9$) cocktail is a lovely taste of summer. Quality gin is perfumed with a splash of rosewater, and sweetened with cardamom syrup, imparting a complex undertone (though very subtle). It reminds me of the witch hazel skin toner I use... I have these last years felt that gin is the only drink worth having in the summertime, and that this tumbler came tossed with dusky potpourri leaves left a positive impression on me. Is this what it feels like to be a classy 20's dame? One imagines.
The boys come to join me to make things more boisterous and fun. The menu is shorter than I had imagined it would be, though I know by rumor that Brockton General imagines its meals only shortly ahead of time, and keeps things simple. The menu changes daily. I was nonetheless disappointed to see that the meat options were relatively tame (where were such offal offerings as I had been led to expect?). I should watch the effect I allow hype to have on me.
While we muse over the drink menu and catch up on Asa's globe trotting adventure stories, we nibble on house-made olives (4$). The three of us are biased towards Kalamata olives, and what we're served are fat, firm, and green. I think they're a French variety of olive, but don't know for sure. They aren't salty or too savoury, and the strongest thing to taste on them is the fresh olive oil soaking them, clinging to the skin. They taste green, like they're on the cusp of ripeness, but not quite there yet.
Being so very ladylike, I seem to find myself once again having ordered the most courses of us all (the olives were my suggestion too, naturally). People need to eat more when we're out for a fancy dinner! Only then can I maintain this girlish figure...
I'm sorry, you want to hear about this cucumber gazpacho (7$), didn't you? You want to hear about the zing like lime soda water infused in the cool and refreshing slurry. How the first second seems like someone salted your tongue with acid spice, only to have it quelled in a moment with a mellow coolness, and the cream of heavy balkan yogurt. Well, I will indulge you! It was lovely. I could feel my taste buds popping- if pop rocks weren't so godawful I would make that comparison. Really, what mysterious herbs are in this soup?
My guests are difficult! Who doesn't like sweet potato? Neither of them, I guess! Thankfully the staff at Brockton General are quite kind, and allow a swap out. Josh orders the sausage (16$) with some of the creamy oat risotto as a side instead. I have to wonder how the the yam would have fared, but this will have to be one of life's mysteries. The sausage is sweet and as tender as any I've ever had. The meat has been very finely ground, and grilled to a good, even heat. The skin is soft, not crisp or tight, with a few artful burns. The spice profile honours the meat by letting it stand alone- though what kind of meat it is isn't named. My guess is pork, from the colour and the natural sour-sweetness of it. Even though this is an entree order, it comes with just two tablespoons of risotto, one fair sized sausage, and a pinch of summer greens (no dressing). It's a little flimsy as a dinner.
The same sentiment is echoed with Asa's main course of broth and meatball soup (16$). Maybe he should have been on the lookout for that. Everyone knows you list the ingredients in order of quantity, and the first thing on the menu in this case was 'broth'. Still, I'm a bit surprised that so expensive a soup, served in such a shallow bowl, didn't come with any bread. Not even a cracker! Yes, I see that those are heirloom carrots, purple and beautiful and expensive, and I have no doubt in my mind that the meat is highest quality, and I will give praise that they have the same simple savour as when my Oma makes meatballs. No, I cannot complain about the taste of this soup, which is rooty and spicy from cooked radish. It has a lovely pop from the peas, and tastes like a refreshing country appetizer.
Just not a main.
Just not a main.
Was it the hype I heeded when I came to Brockton General that set me up for so many disappointments? Or was this frequently changing, experimental menu just in a rut on the night we came to dine? Something somewhere misfired and I do hope that it's only been a fluke. Such a promising dish as this oat risotto (16$) should have been interesting, playful, delicious and creamy. It arrived later than the other entrees- some confusion because of the exchange when Josh ordered his sausage without sweet potato, and a new server. To my shock, it was drowned with saltiness. Maybe it was a salty goat cheese, maybe the chefs fought the natural sweetness of the oats too hard. Whatever happened, no matter how risotto-like the texture was, how satisfying and filling it should have been, the flavour here was saline. I couldn't taste cheese. Even the chard didn't stand a chance, it's delicately wilted leaves flavourless under a thick sauce. The texture would have been so lovely, grainy little hearts a perfect compliment to a cream sauce, if only there was a flavour to enjoy.
We skipped dessert.
Hopefully in the future I'll get to try Brockton General out again to see if they really just had a one-off bad menu.