Everyone knows Hintonburg is gentrifying. The strip of Wellington once known for sex shops, seedy bars, and used appliances is slowly giving way to trendy knitting supplies, iPads, cupcakes, and thin-crust pizza. For now, the two ends of the spectrum seem to coexist in harmony. It’s a hungry hipster’s dream come true.
The Hintonburg Public House, the latest addition to what is quickly becoming the city’s new restaurant row might be called a gastropub — if that name wasn’t already taken. And so owner Summer Baird chose to go with another name for the neighbourhood watering hole that places an equal emphasis on locally sourced “comfort food” and creative bar snacks. While Baird, who formerly co-owned and cooked at The Urban Pear, was trained at Stratford Chefs School, she has no plans to work in the kitchen. Instead, she hired Kris Kshonze, former sous-chef at the Whalesbone, a chef she trusts to carry out her vision for food that is high quality but simple —“nothing is overdone,” she says.
The compact menu, available all day long, is priced to please with items from $2 (pickled eggs) but not more than $22 (duck confit). There are local micro brews and a mostly-Canadian wine list at a price-point designed to encourage lingering and frequent visits. On the menu there’s a mix of familiar crowd-pleasers like burgers, wings, and fish and chips, but there’s also a handful of more creative bistro-style plates (I enjoyed the stunning cured trout adorned with brussel sprout leaves and a tiny dice of pickled beets with smashed capers), including a couple of appealing vegetarian options (squash galette; mushroom and kale sandwich).
After recovering from the shocking news that the HPH (as it calls itself) stays open until 2 a.m.! 7 nights a week! I wanted to put my finger on what else makes this place feel so different from other eateries. In some ways, the new Hintonburg Public House feels like a bit of a mash-up of its newbie neighbours — the refreshingly feminine vintage French country vibe felt at Back Lane Cafe, the polished but accessible bistro feel of Burnt Butter, the artsy night-owl’s neighbourhood hangout of the Alpha Soul Café.
Then it hit me: no square plates! In this year’s blockbuster cookbook The Art of Living According to Joe Beef — the one that has topped every must-buy list, including mine — the chef-authors of the now notorious Montreal restaurant say that square plates are like a man wearing a tuxedo top with shorts. Sleek, all white geometric tableware is just one of those things to which restaurant diners become accustomed; it’s short-hand for trendy, modern, and helps to justify a certain price-point.
Baird prefers the vintage look; plates are round. Food is served on dainty floral patterned China, coffee comes in a Norman Rockwell mug, and tealights rest in country jam jars. Shabby chic cutlery and miss-matched chairs — it all creates a cozy, casual stage. And eating off of round plates, oddly enough, in itself is a revelation.
Hours: Monday to Friday, 11:30 a.m. – 2 a.m. (yep, you read that right); Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Brunch served on weekends 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Hintonburg Public House, 1020 Wellington St. W., 613-421-5087.