By Anne DesBrisay
The captain’s chairs have the gnarly look you want from a place that calls itself a tavern. So do the checkered linoleum floors and the beat-up table bases.
But where did the white linen napkins come from? The reclaimed wooden table tops? What about the luscious beurre noisette in the butter pot? That same noon hour at the Elmdale Oyster House & Tavern, sitting in front of me was a stainless steel bowl with a pound of the best mussels I’ve had all year. If this is the tavern for the modern age — with a kitchen and a bar that shucks oysters — I’m for it.
It was big news when the team behind The Whalesbone Oyster House took over the historic Elmdale Tavern. There was the usual groaning about gentrification of Hintonburg. But there was also a real sense of loss amongst live music fans. The new management has scaled back the Tavern’s six night-a-week schedule with an eye to beefing up the weekend musical lineup. Time, as they say, will tell. The principals behind The Whalesbone — Joshua Bishop, Peter McCallum, and executive chef Chloe Berlanga — run restaurants, after all, as well as a catering and seafood supply business. This is their first musical tavern. We shall have to see how it all shakes out.
For now, piped in Springsteen gets me through lunch. Glory Days. And lunch is very good. The kitchen is in the hands of Phil Denny, formerly of the tiny Jak’s Kitchen on Bronson. His style always struck me as honest and forthright. Which ought to suit the Whalesbone team to a tee.
No separate lunch menu for the moment; I’m told one is being considered. For now, there’s just the regular one pager on offer and what’s offered is pretty straightforward: Oysters on the half shell, mussels and lobster by the pound, four small plates, six bigger plates, and a few sides. Among them, the former Elmdale Tavern’s anchors: pickled eggs and brined cheese.
Two big plates to crow about. A pound of beautiful mussels bathed in a rich and righteous coconut cream sauce. Paddling in there, onions, capers, cilantro, and chopped kale crisped up with lots of garlic. These treats (which photograph very badly – my apologies) were finished with crispy fried shallots. Full marks. We also liked the ‘Clamghetti’ – al dente spaghetti wrapped around a generous number of fresh clams, their shells mined for the roasted garlic, good oil and tendrils of crisped kale trapped within. And every so often, a sweet and chewy lardon. Further flavouring the pasta were capers, roasted red peppers and lemon zest. Some salty Pecorino Romano at the finish. A simple, immensely likeable dish.
I’ll be back for more of those mussels. And if there’s a side of music, all the merrier.
Cost: mussels, $12; pasta, $20
Open: Monday and Tuesday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Wednesday and Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Thursday, Friday, Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m.
The Elmdale Oyster House & Tavern, 1084 Wellington St. W., 613-728-2848.