The Place- 416 Snack Bar (181 Bathurst st.)
The Style- Low key/purposely divey, small plate extravaganza
The Rating- 3.5/5
And so my journey into the small plate jungle rages on...
A few days ago I had a fabulous idea...There was cash in my pocket, I was feeling pretty groovy and I was determined to finally tackle the prematurely infamous Grand Electric. Now you must understand...Grand Electric has been number one on my hit list since it's mighty birth several months back. For those who are not in the loop, Grand Electric is the hottest Mexican, nay; restaurant to hit our fair city this year . Buzz has been monumental; hipsters and douchebags alike stand shoulder to shoulder on a desolate stretch of Parkdale, from 6pm onwards to rejoice in this fantastical flavour kingdom. I was hungry, I was pumped and it was time. We boarded a streetcar and journeyed into the darkest nether regions of Queen west hell. We arrived a little after 6, and much to my surprise there was no line up. We opened the door and were greeted by Michael Clarke Duncan`s brother, sitting atop his throne holding the dreaded clipboard.
"Name?" He asked...
"Uh Brennan." and then I saw the ego before I saw the man. He was garbed in plaid and stormed forward...
"Your not on the list. PRIVATE PARTY." And just like that we were on the street, alone in Parkdale with our pride slipping between our fingers. Shunned from the place by presumably the owner, that I`d dreamt of for months... Dramatics aside, I was pissed, but I vowed not to let it bring me down. I took a deep breath and went through a list in my head of alternate options, something clicked and a little grin grew on my face... And this ladies and gentleman, is how we arrived at 416 Snack Bar.
Ok...416 Snack Bar is friggin awesome!...throwing it out there folks! Extremely unassuming, purposely divey and low key, this tiny shack north of Queen on Bathurst has been delighting Toronto foodies for over a year now. It all begins with their blog. They do not have a website, they have a blog, (http://416snackbar.wordpress.com/) which was probably a cheaper alternative to creating a site, but it also seems to flow with their whole vibe. The motto appears to be snacking done right. You can read the positive and negative comments, which is an interesting concept, giving the people the power in their own backyard. I should also add the name alone is smooth and absolutely pure Torontonia. So we walked in and were cheerfully greeted (which considering my experience 20 minutes ago was a relief) by a relatively young and peppy dude. The place is small, and we were lucky enough to score a two top in the back by the giant industrial fan (no AC.) Every table has a cute, little clipboard hosting the menu and drinks. It`s dark, meager and full of character. The crowd was a solid mix of the usual Queen west crew, a few middle aged ladies pounding back shots, and a hip looking black dude seated solo at the bar with a red wine. Prices looked reasonable and we decided to destroy more than half the options. I browsed the modest but competent beer list and decided on the local hero Steamwhistle straight from the tap. Ordering commenced and the good times began rolling.
First up, Oyster town baby! (3 for $7) Oysters make me smile. Briny, salty and delicious, like sticking your tongue in the ocean; the phallic slurp produces a giggle every time consumed. These oysters came on a marble slab, chilling in ice, with the standard lemon wedge and fresh horseradish. The accompanying sauce was sweet, vinegary with a nice kick at the end. Perfecto
Next up, a lovely Reuben ($7)-traditionally a reuben consists of corned beef, thousand island dressing, swiss cheese and sauerkraut stuffed in sandwich form. This reuben did not break the mold , and was of course done snack size. Sumptuous, buttery, messy and probably better left in it's mini style, due to the artery clogging capabilities, we were impressed, best of all, a mini pickle wedge!
Korean Fried Chicken ($5) landed on our table, 'twas food court grub done right. Like Manchu Wok at it`s finest hour, these junky little chunks of chicken dotted with green onions hit all the right notes with the ever loved balance of sweet and spicy.
Scotch egg Benny`s ($5) 416`s take on eggs benedict was as it should be; hearty, creamy and oozing with love juice. Encased in a crispy sausage, the egg was perfectly cooked, yolk, gushing down the sides, while the hollandaise sauce was rich and dead on.
Lobster Roll ($7)- The big disappointment of the night, and it`s not the first time I`ve heard 416`s lobster roll aint all that good. It`s a standard notion that lobster is a celebratory delight we all get busy with from time to time. Lobster rolls should be fresh, light and chalk full of meat. Three tiny pieces, disturbingly over buttered on toasted bread did not make the cut. Banged out Bier Markt's brilliant rolls a few months back and have never been able to kick it.
Pupusa al pastor ($5)- The 416 crew has clearly ventured into Kensington market. Last summer I gobbled these Latin American street food snacks like they were going out of style at a Salvadorian supermarket in Kensington. You wander into the back of this colourful flavour dome and smile at the big Latin mamas behind the counter. The recreation of these little love machines was not as successful as I would have liked, and it left me wanting to run back to the mamas! A traditional pupusa is almost like a quesadilla-fried corn tortillas, filled with meat, cheese or refried beans. They were crispy and had a pineapple on top which was a creative touch with a subtle little after kick that felt good, but I could not get past the relative blandness as a whole...
...So the dinner was nearing it's conclusion, our bellies were full and the satisfaction level was set to high. All that stood in our way was just one final dish we longed to regale in.. 416 Snack Bar`s signature-The pork bun....
Essentially a pork bun is a McCains pizza pocket shaped dough, with pork stuffed inside. It`s cheap, (like a buck a pop, you can grab them at the Chinese bakeries) hits the savoury and sweet notes, and is a hell of a lot more satisfying than grabbing a McDouble (although McDoubles have their place.) 416 hit it out the park with their twist. We almost didn't order it, but were convinced at the last second by one of our numerous servers. It begins with fatty, juicy, sinfully delightful pork belly stuffed inside a doughy thick bun topped with cilantro, daikon, radish and hoisin sauce; it`s a greasy, dirty mess, brimming with numerous flavour notes and joy. A literal orgy enveloped in my mouth. If you do anything, come to 416 for their damned pork bun!