For so long, Toronto’s eastern waterfront has felt like a barren wasteland (remember when The Guvernment seemed like the edge of the world?). Lately, however, it feels as though it just keeps getting better and better. First there was the new Corus Entertainment building, followed by Sugar Beach, with its pink umbrellas and Muskoka chairs, and Sherbourne Common, the verdant park and water purification facility (no, really). The most recent addition is Against the Grain Urban Tavern, one of the very few lakeside restaurants in the city.
Against the Grain is located on prime real estate at the back of the Corus building on the edge of Lake Ontario. Behind it all is FAB Concepts Inc., the food and beverage people who run Mill Street Brewpub, The Pour House and Brazen Head Irish Pub, to name a few. Against the Grain is all about the “evolution of the pub,” says FAB Concepts co-owner Sean Bayley, careful not to peg himself into the city’s gastropub trend. Hence, “urban tavern.”
In the kitchen is chef Sera Antheunis, who has a pedigree suited to the pub’s meat-heavy fare—she’s worked in the kitchens of Beer Bistro and Cowbell and is the owner of Sausage Party Artisanal Charcuterie. Her menu hews to the seasonal and sustainable ingredient trend, with signature items including the Berkshire pulled pork sandwich, braised in dark beer and molasses ($14); the big smokey clubhouse with smoked chicken and double-smoked bacon ($14); and the smoked rainbow trout sliders on mini egg buns ($12), these last two smoked in house in the kitchen’s Cookshack SM160. They’re all served with hand-cut Yukon gold fries or onion straws.
Other staples include stone oven–baked pizzas ($15–17) and traditional pub fare like fish and chips ($16, served with a spicy beer ketchup), Baja-roasted chicken nachos ($15) and a daily chef’s poutine ($9) that included prime rib, caramelized onions, beef gravy and blue cheese on our visit. The weekend brunch menu has a cream cheese–stuffed French toast ($12) and tavern eggs benny on cheddar buttermilk biscuits with beer-marinated bacon ($12). The bar serves up classic cocktails ($8–14), a dozen draft beers and local microbrews, as well as obscure beers from Holland and Belgium, like the cult favourite Westvleteren 12.
Designed by William Cummings of WTC Designs, who also worked with FAB Concepts on Watermark, Brazen Head and the Mill Street Brewpub, the space is warmed with orange and brown accents but offers, as any modern pub should, a dozen flat-screen 55-inch LED TV screens. But the big draw is on the on the outside, where patio tables and loungey couches surround fire pits and offer views of the Toronto Islands and Sugar Beach.
Against the Grain Urban Tavern, 25 Dockside Dr., Corus Quay, 647-344-1562, atgurbantavern.ca.