One of these things is not like the others: sandwiches, pasta, pizza and pljeskavica at the city’s hottest new restaurants
The County General
936 Queen St. W., 416-531-4447
The owners of Splendido, Toronto’s long-standing fine dining institution, know exactly what sells right now: cheap sandwiches and pricy cocktails. In their minuscule new bar at the corner of Queen and Shaw, they’re working those trends so effectively there’s a lineup out the door at 10 p.m. on a Tuesday night, and the beleaguered servers greet newcomers with exasperated sighs. The crowd is typically Bellwoods, with women in ushankas and neon lipstick, men in girlfriend-repelling overgrown beards. The short menu is part South Carolina, part South Korea. Sides include mustardy devilled eggs, bland apple-cabbage slaw and good kimchee. The steamed pork buns, made with perfectly charred belly, are tender and toothsome. For every good sandwich, though, there’s a gaffe, like an excessively fatty Reuben that’s abandoned after three bites, and a desiccated cupcake that could have emerged from a day-old bake sale. Ignore the desserts and stick to what the place does best—knee-weakening bourbon cocktails like the Figgy Dew, made with Bulleit, fig syrup, cucumber, lemon and ginger beer. After one of those, you’ll be chair dancing to “Da Doo Ron Ron” with abandon.
145 King St. W., 416-861-9977
Owner Sam Genkov and executive chef Bruce Woods follow the Financial District restaurant blueprint impeccably: polished servers, a protein-heavy menu, a lengthy wine list that will push—but not burst—the expense account, and an elegant interior of inoffensive neutrals. Woods, who made his name at Centro, creates high Italian dishes with modern flair. The first dish, seared tuna ringed with sweet pepper caponata, is under-seasoned, but the food improves with each course. Homemade duck and truffle squash agnolotti mixes sweet with gamey. Crunchy roasted celery elevates fork-tender lamb shank to the sublime. To finish, warm banana cream–filled fritters are simple and wonderful. Several bottles of wine under $40. Mains $21–$36.
12 Amelia St., 416-323-0666
Cabbagetown newcomer F’Amelia could easily be dismissed as yet another pizza and pasta joint. It shouldn’t be. The food is worthy of starched linens and far higher prices. The pizza is built around the city’s finest crust. That’s right, Neapolitan pizza purists, the city’s finest. Blasted in a brick oven until it’s blistered, crispy and chewy, it’s a superb platform for wilted spinach and citrus zest–zinged sausage. The pastas are equally impressive, like delectable al dente tagliatelle coiled around nuggets of juicy rabbit. A perfect meal, however, requires better sweets than a pasty Nutella pizza. Helpful one-sentence descriptions of each wine on the affordable list are a nice touch. Closed Monday. Mains $16–$22.
690 Euclid Ave., 647-350-4227
You know you’re in Toronto when a miniature Croatian beer hall hangs its shingle in the heart of Koreatown. Fast, fun and affordable, Hrvati is the quintessential Annex hangout, though it draws more 30-somethings than students. The room has a cramped layout with a long communal picnic table running down the middle and high-top bar stools against the wood-panelled walls. The menu is short and decidedly meat-heavy, with just six mains and one dessert. Charred, juicy and gloriously messy, the pljeskavica is a Balkan burger worthy of a return visit. It’s layered with gooey smoked mozzarella, sweet caramelized onions and tart pickles on a giant buttered bun. The schnitzel, unfortunately, is tough, and the beurre blanc is oily. Sweet, fluffy crêpes with homemade jam complete the homey meal.