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Introducing: The Ace, a classic Roncesvalles diner reborn

A traditional ’50s diner, reborn

For almost two decades, the Ace Chinese Restaurant on Roncesvalles has been shuttered. This spring, however, Maggie Ruhl (co-owner of the Dakota Tavern) and her partner, Greg Boggs, took possession of the space. The pair renamed it simply The Ace and have preserved the vintage 1950s aesthetic, but updated the menu with homestyle comfort food and French classics.

Ruhl and Boggs knew they wanted to keep as much of the original diner charm as possible. Apart from updating the lighting fixtures, painting the ceiling, fixing the floors (there was some serious water damage to deal with) and reupholstering the booths, this time warp hasn’t changed much. They’ve even kept the original soda fountain and milkshake mixer (although the latter has been converted into a beer draught).

Executive chef Peter McKnight (Wish, Smith) serves elevated takes on blue-collar standards, like deep-fried chicken and collard greens ($17) and pork chops with russet mashed potatoes and red-eye gravy ($17). There are also more straightforward French dishes, like steak frites ($21) and a tarragon-tomato-fennel based bouillabaisse ($18), which is made with Lake Huron whitefish, shrimp and mussels. A kids’ menu offers standards like mac-and-cheese and house-made pogo sticks (all under $8), and a weekend brunch includes comfort classics like cheddar biscuits with scrambled eggs and ham gravy ($10). The drinks, meanwhile, veer toward the brown spirits, with an emphasis on bourbon and Canadian whisky. The Ace Manhattan is made with Crown Royal Black, sweet vermouth and a dash of bitters and is garnished with an apricot that’s stewed in cinnamon-spiced red wine ($10). After 11 p.m., the space is transformed into a bar, but for those still peckish there is a small menu of snacks like the Chef Plate (Mennonite and summer sausage, olives and cheeses), a cheese plate and oysters, as soon as the bar and wait staff learn to shuck.

The Ace, 231A Roncesvalles Ave., 416-792-7729, theacetoronto.com

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  • parkdaleeater

    if you actually look at the first picture of booze, there is plenty more white or clear liquor and sweet liquors than there is brown booze. this trend to want to be everything brown or to seem to jump on this bandwagon is akin to skinny jeans, plaid shirts and not shaving.

  • danielle

    We went for brunch a couple of weeks ago and the food was basic and just okay (pretty much the quality you’d get at any old-school diner). However judging by the photos, their dinner options look pretty terrific. What I really appreciated was how the owners kept true to the original vibe of the place. I expected more of an update, but happily except for the kitchen, it feels like it’s been left near-untouched (save for a good scrubbing!). Well done.

  • Jessica

    Parkdaleeater, your comment doesn’t fully make sense to me (are you for or against brown booze? it’s unclear), however I’m a big bourbon/whiskey drinker and a huge fan of Manhattans and I have to say The Ace Manhattan is fantastic. Potent and topped with an awesome spiced dried apricot. Skinny jeans/plaid shirt/facial hair or not, it’s tasty. End of story…

    danielle, I’ve had the fried chicken, the burger and the caesar salad, and they were all stellar. Perhaps their dinner is far better than their brunch? (disappointing if so)

  • parkdaleeater

    i should correct to its akin to a 40 year old in skinnies, plaid etc…

    brown booze is fine, all booze is fine…but this fascination with terming trends…is all bandwagon stuff that makes bloggers/interns like this writer such a suck up…you know she just wants to be like….that girl in school who just tries to hard…

  • dannyboy

    parkdaleeater perhaps before you start making offhanded remarks you may want to visit the restaurant? or are you the one that is too cool?
    i was there on the weekend for brunch and enjoyed the food – i plan on popping in on the evening to have a few drinks and i do like the fact they’ve got bouillabaisse on the menu as well as the fried chicken. Admittedly the chef needs to do a proper hollendaise if he wants to do a rendition of the benny though

  • Jessica

    parkdaleeater, I see what you’re saying, but I don’t see what’s so bad about focusing on a specific type of alcohol (it’s certainly nothing new). Nothing about saying they focus on brown booze has anything to do with sucking up. I think you might be looking at this with the lens of a high schooler, to be honest.

  • parkdaleeater

    danny, i plan to visit the resto as it is in my hood and looked forward to it… my problem is with the blogger who wrote the article (and other articles) that show her twit/blog style of sycophantic and moranic questions and ‘writing’.

    brown is a color and not a style….more than bourbon and whisky or whiskey…rum, cognac, brandy…if you are anti-vodka and anti-gin—-just f’ing say so…but to go to automatic brown is better because its bourbon is absolutely ridiculous…and anyone who supports that view is equally as douchy as the blogger (former intern) that wrote this article….

    why doesn’t she ask what kind of tattoos these people have…and then get retro (like the nice looking resto that it is) and ask what is on their ipod or even better-what cassette tape is in their walkman….

  • Gregory

    Well thanks for clearing up everyone’s confusion about your crazy comments, parkdaleeater. We all thought you had a problem with the restaurant, but it turns out you’re merely stalking the writer and having some sort of mental episode over the word ‘brown’.

    Anyway, I’ve been here and had the fried chicken, which is something I never order when I go out. It was really great, people should check the place out! Hopefully the brunch issue someone mentioned was a one-off thing, I’m thinking of checking it out soon!

  • David Machen

    A fine breakaway from the (fearsome) trend of so many sushi joints – in volume Roncesvalles loses only to the Annex – and very distinct from other omnivorous dining choices. My companion and I were very impressed and sustained with our choices – simple lamb and pork mains that teased out the best textures and taste of the cuts and showed a confidence with seasoning that elevated them both above my expectations. Clearly the Ace is keen to make a good impression and I have to say it works well for me. A good choice of drafts and sensible wines – and that vintage shelving is full of harder stuff the staff seems to handle well – definitely will consider later visits. As it was I think we stayed three hours from starters to after dinner drinks, with no regrets.

  • P. Caira

    My wife and I had dinner on Friday – we were eagerly anticipating trying this great-looking new spot. After reading this article/review our expectations were quite high but, undaunted by this, the food met and exceeded such expectations quite exuberantly!

    I had one of the three specials for the night: Braised Oxtail with okra and black beans served in a sort of creole style. Everything was perfectly cooked – the oxtail fell off the bone and every bite was perfect, accompanied by an amazing reduction from pan drippings (I could see the chef drizzle it into my dish from our bar seats) and the tender and not slimy okra, rice and black beans.

    My wife had the pork chop, served with garlic mash, perfectly cooked green string beans and red-eye gravy. From what I was able to taste off her plate, everything was just so delicately flavoured – the gravy was really essential in tying all these flavours together and when it did, it was spectacular!

    Being total beer-heads (home-brewing beer-snobs, that is) our only “complaint” would be that the beer selection could be better, but as it is, non-beer-heads will have lots to pick from in bottles, cans and on the unique Hamilton-Beech malt shop beer taps!

    We couldn’t stop talking about how great this meal, the service and the surroundings (complete with old-school, working rotary phone from the ’40s that startles when it rings) are at the Ace – so happy to have such high quality dining in our neighbourhood at such reasonable prices. Our dinners with two pints each came in under $80 with and extra-generous tip.

    Bon apetit!

  • sugarsugar

    go for dinner, go for drinks, but skip brunch. the home fries are great, but aren’t included with most brunch options ($2.50 extra), and the portions are pretty miniscule! definitely not enough to blanket your hangover headache. better bang for your buck come dinner.

  • phil

    The Ace was a sad experience in so many ways. Our to cool for school server was more interested in flipping the table and getting us out rather than proper service. We ordered 2 bottles of wine and had to ask for water more than 3 times. CAN SERVERS BE SERVERS AND NOT ASSHOLES?? you want a tip….work for it. On to the food, it was lacking everything. A salad which sounded great was nothing more than julienned Kale with minimal goat cheese and beets. The caesar salad was better when I added more lemon, salt and pepper, if I had some bacon, croutons, parm and maybe crushed capers it would have kicked ass!
    The perch was so so, cauliflower puree needed more attention. The fried chicken was like nuggets and the gravy was really bland and actually not even necessary.The worst part of the meal, dessert. Chocolate/hazelnut perogies, please do not attempt to make them if you do not have a clue. Google a friggin recipe for perogie dough. They were $8 for 3 sad limp, chewy, nasty pieces of water filled wonton wrappers with the worst candy nuts I have ever tasted, whats even worse is that this restaurants demographic is 50% polish and Ukrainian residents, you would think that they would try harder or not even bother to attempt them.
    Overall not coming back. For the price and quality I would go elsewhere or buy a bag of frozen perogies and stay home.

  • Fermanaghisforlovers.

    Brunch went like this…My Eggs Benedict had hollandaise sauce that tasted of mushrooms. Gritty and sad. The potatoes were great, and brunch prices are very reasonable, but don’t think I’ll return for brunch. Wish the staff were a bit more relaxed, it’s a diner for gosh sakes…relax and have a bit of fun. This actually turned me off more than the bad hollandaise.

    Thought is was an off day, and a busy one which ramped up the grouch-o-meter, but on my visit a few weeks earlier on a quiet evening for pints was similar. Cheer up guys! This place would be amazing if it were a friendlier joint.

  • MJ

    I live in the neighbourhood and was pleased to see that after over 20 years, this barricaded space (used to be a Chinese restaurant) was to become a cool place to eat. Sure enough, last Sunday brunch – I shared a nice French toast sitting at the counter (not too many tables for 4, my only negative critic) with my daughter and enjoyed every bite of it – served with real maple syrup. I thought the service, the ambiance and even the music played were all enjoyable too! Felt like it was the best way to start the day, or end my winter holidays before going back to work… We will certainly go back.

  • mandatory tip?

    The article forgot to mention the mandatory 20% tip

  • argento

    Brunch here is no way worth it. Sub-standard basics with little attention to anything e.g. flavour. The best=the sliced grapefruit. The worst=the homefries, just awful. Even the coffee was disappointing. Would have loved to love this place…it’s incredible looking old diner. As mentioned, the servers need to let loose. Fake smiles do not make patrons feel welcome.

  • Dave’s gotten thick

    Went for brunch, service was great, friendly and prompt. Decor was clean and a neat throw back, window seat is the choice spot, I would go to the counter as a second.
    Brunch meal was below standard, eggs were cold, servings were sparse this may be a good thing since the food was tasteless. Corned beef hash was mostly cabbage with corned beef sparingly applied with a cheese grater.
    Ari’s next door is a better bet.

  • RoncyNative

    Finally someone bought the place! Passing by the Ace since I was kid always spooked me out. All you could see from the street were drawn browny-yellowish curtains along the window.
    The new Ace look’s as though it’s been there for years as well, just better looking now. Nice transition into the neighbourhood. It’s good to see quality establishments on Roncesvalles instead of deli’s and parcel delivery services every 20 feet! The area has really kicked it up a notch since it was destroyed by the TTC.

  • R

    For dinner ordered the angus burger, still dripping pink on the inside, the size of a small round baseball on a plain old Dempters bun. And my husband had the halibut with the smallest amount of asparagus and potatoes. For $60 and no drinks, I would like to have walked away somewhat full, not thinking what can I munch on when I get home. Expected more for all the hipe.

  • Bob

    My wife and I have been there for both dinner and brunch and the place is fantastic. The vibe is great, relaxed and fun but feels like an adult’s bar and restaurant. The staff was really nice and attentive and the food was great.

    The eggs benedict (brunch) is not hollandaise sauce but a delicious leak sauce (I think). I love eggs benedict but have been thinking about this version since I had it. No kidding, it’s one of those things you long for after you have it.

    For dinner I’ve had the friend chicken and a burger with mac and cheese on it (different visits). My wife had a seafood special that she keeps raving about.

    If you’re looking for great comfort food, great atmosphere, and great cocktails, this is the place. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/george.cheung.3597 George Cheung

    Here’s a throw from my childhood/teenage years, It was a hang out for the kids from Fern Ave Public School and also St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School. There were all kinds of colourful characters there when I was a kid in the early 70′s, people with names like Jake the Snake, Joey Yellowbird , a 7 foot tall guy we called Tiny, Man those were carefree days. Fries with gravy and toasted honey buns were a staple. This was my Aunts place from 1954 til its rebirth under new management and featured on The Food Channels Triple “D”
    ( Diners, Drive Ins & Dives )

 

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