Located on Gerrard Street, across from Gerrard Square, Maple Leaf Tavern has quite the history. According to their website, the building was originally built in 1910 and converted to a hotel in 1935 which was also home to a bar and dining room. In recent years, the bar, named Maple Leaf Tavern, was seedy at best and from what I heard, had an interesting clientele. The space was purchased in 2013 and after undergoing a massive renovation reopened with the same name in the spring of this year.
I had never been to the original Maple Leaf Tavern but I can only imagine how drastically different it must’ve looked in its previously life. The renovated space is stunning and while it’s a fairly large restaurant, the bar in the middle breaks it up and the dimly lit space gives it a cozy feel.
There’s also a patio that runs along the side of the restaurant. Since it was a warm evening, we opted to eat on the patio, enjoying one of the last nights we’d be able to do so. Despite being on a busy stretch of Gerrard, the patio was surprisingly quiet and private.
Owned by Todd Morgan, who also owns Port Restaurant in Pickering, Maple Leaf Tavern is run by General Manager Robin Kemp (previously at Colborne Lane and Momofuku) with Chef Jesse Vallins (previously at The Saint Tavern) in charge of the kitchen.
Maple Leaf Tavern has a very extensive menu. For those who are only here for drinks, there’s a selection of snacks including pickled eggs, shrimp cocktail and house-made sausages. For dinner, starters range in price from $12 for a soup or green salad up to $29 for the whole Ontario burrata which is prepared tableside and serves two to four. In the entrée department, you’ll also find a nice selection of dishes including comfort favourites like lasagna ($22) and a cheeseburger ($20), a couple fish options and a whole roast chicken for two ($48).
For meat-eaters with big appetites, items from their wood burning grill may pique your interest. It includes a 20oz ribeye and a 24oz Tomahawk pork chop, both priced at $48 each. Items from the grill don’t come with any sides (steakhouse-style), which will set you back $7 to $13 each.
The six of us started off with a few dishes to share. The Potato Crusted Fish Cakes – with tartar sauce ($8) which came with three small fish cakes. I enjoyed the crispiness of the crust and overall, I thought it was pretty tasty.
Up next was the Steak Tartare – grilled bread, Iceberg, hot sauce ($18). It was a solid tartare and I enjoyed the accompanying pickles and iceberg lettuce. It was like we were building out a burger but with raw beef.
The highlight from the starters would be the Sausages (one for $6, three for $18 or five for $25). Maple Leaf Tavern features a rotating selection of house-made sausages. We decided to try two – butter chicken and the reuben. I have to admit, we were all a little taken aback when the dish arrived. The portions were tiny!
To be honest, I’ve certainly paid more for less before but I just wish our server had informed us of the portion size or suggested we order more. It was awfully difficult sharing this between six people. The little taste of each sausage I had was delicious but left me wanting more… much more!
For my main, I ordered the Lasagna – veal shank, bone marrow, porcini, chopped salad ($22). I really enjoyed their take on one of my favourite comfort foods. It consisted of layers of veal, cheese and sheets of pasta topped with droplets of bone marrow and tiny porcini mushrooms, sitting in a pool of tomato sauce. The edges of the lasagna were crisped up and the droplets of bone marrow made it an even more decadent dish. Delicious!
Mike ordered the Mutton Chop – 16oz, hot mustard ($29). It was cooked rare and came pre-sliced, making it an excellent dish to share. I don’t often see mutton (adult sheep) on menus but that may have to do with it having a stronger flavour than lamb (young sheep). I enjoyed the grilled mutton, particularly when paired with the accompanying hot mustard. Mike and I went halfsies on the mutton and lasagna and I recommend doing the same with your dining companions as it can get a little boring eating a plate of the same meat.
The mutton chop, like all the other proteins from the wood burning grill, comes on its own without any sides. To supplement, we ordered the Hassleback Potato – truffle butter, chilled foie gras ($13). At first glance, the price may seem a little ridiculous for potatoes but the four dainty potatoes sit in a pool of sinfully delicious truffle butter and are topped with pieces of chilled creamy foie gras which slowly melts into the cracks of the hassleback potatoes like butter. Heavenly!
Another side we ordered was the Cauliflower – herbed bread crumbs, cheddar emulsion ($9), which was one of the highlights of the meal. The cauliflower florets were covered in herbed breadcrumbs – I have no idea what they put in those breadcrumbs but each piece was packed with so much flavour! It came with a cheddar emulsion and despite what you might think, it was surprisingly light. Everyone at the table loved this and I’d order it again in a heartbeat.
One of our friends ordered the Tomahawk Pork Chop – 24oz, rosemary apple sauce ($48) which our server suggested for two people to share or for one hungry person. He ordered it for himself and didn’t seem to have too much trouble finishing it. The presentation of the meat was quite impressive but judging by our friend’s reaction, it didn’t seem like the taste was quite as impressive. I didn’t try any of it myself but our friend didn’t seem to think it was particularly memorable.
Two of our friends ordered the vegetarian special of the evening which was the Gnocchi ($18). They don’t typically order vegetarian dishes but they were sold when our server mentioned truffles. Expecting a truffle pasta dish, they were disappointed by the noticeable lack thereof. It wasn’t topped with truffles, which was fine, but there wasn’t any essence of truffles in the sauce either unlike the truffle butter from the hassleback potato which punched you in the face with truffle.
One complaint we had about the restaurant was the service. It just felt like our server was very inexperienced. There were a couple instances where he had us scratching our heads. He also wasn’t really present when we needed him – perhaps he was also in charge of tables inside as well as the patio?
Service aside, I thought the food was pretty solid at Maple Leaf Tavern. I wouldn’t go out of my way to come here but it’s a good option if you’re in the area and is a nice addition to the neighbourhood.
At a glance:
- Located in a historic building across from Gerrard Square
- Used to be an old rundown bar; underwent significant renovations and reopened in early 2016
- Dark, cozy space which has a steakhouse feel; patio along the side of the building
- Extensive menu with something for everyone
- Wouldn’t go out of my way to come here but a good option if you’re in the area
- Highlights: lasagna, hassleback potato and cauliflower
Ratings (out of 5):
- Food: 3 stars
- Service: 2 stars
- Atmosphere: 4 stars