Maple Leaf Tavern opened May 2016 after an extensive 2 1/2 year renovation. The historic 106-year-old building located at 955 Gerrard Street East was bought by Todd Morgan in the summer of 2013. It was originally a rough bar that used to be known for brawling patrons, and even stabbings. It sat empty and derelict for many years. Todd obviously saw that the place had potential and good bones. It is quite remarkable how good the restaurant now looks on the inside. It is also probably one of the only decent places to eat in the area. They kept the original signage in the building, and inside there are deep burgundy booths, brass light fixtures and custom millwork. You will even find the original cigarette machine from the last establishment when cigarettes sold for $1.50. Now the machine sits empty in the entranceway. They also kept one of the original exposed brick walls inside. The restaurant is divided into three areas: the bar, the dining room and the grill room. The restaurant holds about 120 seats with an additional 48 seats on the patio.
We met the General Manager, Robin Kemp (Momofuku Daishō, Colborne Lane (closed), The Spoke Club), who checked every dish before it went out on the floor and was there to make sure all the patrons were happy.
Everything at the restaurant is made in-house. I recommend getting the bread and butter basket. Yes, it is $5, but that is a bargain for what you are getting. The bread selections change frequently, offering some of Toronto’s finest bread served with butter from a local farm. Other restaurants take note: you can really taste the difference here. I appreciate their effort and the quality of ingredients. For our meal, the bread and butter basket consisted of a wonderful cornbread, sourdough bread and potato focaccia, which was out-of-this-world.
The food here is not trendy, or necessarily what you would consider, “Instagram-worthy”, but it is true comfort food, cooked well. We shared a lasagne to start. Though not your Nonna’s lasagne, it was still very good – made with veal shank, bone marrow, and porcini mushroom. It was accompanied by a chopped salad. The $20 cheeseburger was excellent, and was a nice thick strip loin grind, with home made relish and mayo for the fries, which were very good by the way. The burger came on a fabulous homemade sesame seed bun that, I was told, took five years to perfect. The sixteen-ounce mutton chops served with hot mustard that we tried were cooked on the wood-burning grill and then sliced before serving. We tried two sides that were both delightful. One was a chopped cauliflower done with herbed bread crumbs in a cheddar emulsion. The other side was a glorious dish of honey and cumin glazed carrots – roasted dark, on a bed of parsley yogurt.
We washed our meal down with some of their fine cocktails. There was also a nice selection of craft beers, ciders, and extensive spirit and wine lists.
The Chef is Jesse Vallins, of The Saint Tavern and Trevor Kitchen and Bar (both now closed). He showcases plenty of familiar and recognisable staples like steaks, burgers, sausages, pickled eggs, raw bar, steak tartare, roast chicken, burrata, and fish. The dishes have some interesting twists and presentations.
For dessert we tried three things, the chocolate and peanut butter mousse which was tasty but on the thin side, made with Callebaut chocolate. The pineapple carpaccio with coconut ice cream was nice if you are looking for a light dessert. My favourite was the warm crispy rice pudding, served with fresh peach preserves and vanilla cream.
Is this restaurant going to blow your socks off? Maybe not, but the food was not only solid, it was really good.