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Starfish’s Shucker Paddy brings some more Irish to the east end

Patrik McMurray stands before yet-to-be-completed Ceili Cottage in Leslieville (Photo by Signe Langford).

Patrick McMurray stands before yet-to-be-completed Ceili Cottage in Leslieville (Photo by Signe Langford)

Leslieville must have the luck of the Irish. The east-end neighbourhood will be home to two new Irish pubs this spring: The Roy, at 894 Queen Street East, and the Ceili Cottage, at 1301 Queen Street East. The latter doesn’t look like much right now, but the bones are there. And according to proprietor Patrick McMurray, champion oyster shucker and owner of Starfish, they are good bones. The space was last an unremarkable auto body shop, but the building itself dates back to the 1850s. McMurray is now peeling back the layers of paint, paper, motor grease, plywood and cement in order to create the Irish cottage of his dreams. “My wife and I often came down to Sweet Bliss Baking Company, across the road, and when she ran in for cupcakes, I’d sit in the car and stare at the place. I could see the outline of my Irish cottage under those bricks. One day, I was sitting and staring and there it was, the ‘For Rent’ sign.”
“I’ve always wanted an Irish bar, and I can see this place in my head. It’s got whitewashed walls and a slate roof. In the window boxes, geraniums, and all around, a white picket fence with hops climbing up. And there will be a black bike permanently leaning against the wall.” In the summer, gentle Celtic music will wash over a planned 70-seat patio, but for now, there are no fiddles—just the constant rumble of the backhoe digging out concrete.

For a Toronto boy, Shucker Paddy is about as Irish as they come. There’s even a slight brogue in his voice from time to time. Though the original plan was to open the Ceili Cottage for St. Patrick’s Day, the dream now is to open in late April. Here’s hoping McMurray, like Leslieville, has the luck of the Irish.

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  • Chris G

    I have died and gone to heaven…welcome to the neighbourhood. Hurry up and open, I am thirsty!

  • Randy

    Let me begin by saying I genuinely wanted to like The Ceili Cottage. As a longtime Leslieville resident, I have seen restaurants come and go, and was thrilled when I read an “authentic” Irish pub was coming to Queen Street East, yippee! Our party of four was there on the evening of July 10, 2009. The patio was bustling, and our friends, who arrived early, already secured us a place. So far, so good.

    The beer selection was good, and all beers are served on tap, not in bottles, to reduce the impact on the environment – a bit of contradictory logic, since beer bottles are reused man times before they are recycled.

    Problems with the Ceili – and there are many, from inconsistent service to the menu – were immediately apparent. Some menu items are just plain absurd, like a $5 peanut butter and jam sandwich. Other items initially looked appetizing, but on closer inspection were quite revolting, such as a roast dinner made on Sunday eventually making its way into a broth the next Friday. That’s what I want to pay big bucks for, bone soup!

    As an appetizer, we ordered a couple of (small) bowls of kettle chips with thyme. The first batch were fine, but subsequent orders were over-salted, bordering on inedible. Other munchies included a pickled egg and a pickled sausage. Not bad, not great. I can get better picked eggs from No Frills.

    The entrees leave much to be desired. We ordered two of the so-called “buried treasure,” Macaroni and cheese with sausage ($12), Ontario mutton stew with champ ($18), and Bangers and mash with onion gravy ($16). The bangers and mutton stew were decent, dinner-size items, but the buried treasure was just plain embarrassing. It came in a very small oval dish, and the portion would barely feed an indifferent five-year-old. There was no cheese to speak of, the macaroni was leathery, dry, and overcooked (how does one screw up elbow macaroni?). The alleged “treasure” consisted of nothing more than a few measly pieces of dried-out sausage. We overheard other patrons complain about the macaroni and cheese, with one woman asking loudly, “Where’s the cheese?” and sending it back.

    For dessert, we ordered sticky toffee pudding. At $6, it was very good.

    My fear for the owners of The Ceili Cottage is that they will believe the place is a hit because of the patio crowds. Don’t be fooled by this. The Queen East area of Leslieville has few patios, including Stratenger’s, where the food is appalling but the beer is cheap. This is the only reason to go to this place, and come winter and the end of patio season, I doubt this place will last. For the Ceili to survive, they have to improve their food quality and selection dramatically – the place simply isn’t good enough to merit a lousy and overpriced $12 macaroni and cheese that isn’t as good as a $1.49 frozen version by Michelina’s at No Frills.

    A final, and important, note: one of the worst things about the Ceili is the wife of the owner, a mouthy, rude, and thoroughly unpleasant raven-haired shrew. She made loud comments to us, and other patrons, about the need to “clear the patio” for other people, and how people “were staying too long, and didn’t know when to leave.” Guess what, dearie? Next time we’ll take the $200 we spent at your place, and go somewhere else where our business is appreciated!

    Instead of pronouncing it “kay-lee,” it should be pronounced “Crap-ee.” I would have given the place five out of ten. The owner’s horrible, rude wife makes me knock off a full point for her surly attitude alone: four out of ten.

  • Pingback: Just Opened: Ceili Cottage | Opening | torontolife.com/daily

  • PubLuvr

    I spotted the infamous “Raven-haired Shrew of the Ceili Cottage” at a local farmers market yesterday. She appeared to be sourcing produce for the farmers produce table they’ll be hosting at the Cottage. Disappointed to report that she wasn’t breathing fire or bursting into tantrums. Seemed rather pleasant in fact. Maybe she just dealt badly with stress of opening a new bar on the occasion(s) in question.

    I like the place.

  • bisc

    We’ve been to the Ceili Cottage many times since it opened. Aside from some early-on bumpy spots (when municipal bureaucracy, a strike, and unexpected volumes of eager customers probably stretched resources and patience) we’ve found it delightful.

    The McMurrays are friendly, knowledgeable and accommodating, and clearly work hard: customers always look happy. The waitstaff’s skills have improved vastly since opening. Food service has improved, too (although I’d love to see a sandwich or two on the regular menu, and I do get a bit wistful about their lack of a deep-fryer).

    We’re so happy to have a great pub in the neighbourhood, and the consistently-busy Cottage (both outdoors and in) shows every indication it’s been welcomed by all.

 

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