By Riva Soucie
Hintonburgers have always prided themselves on the practicality of the group of little neighborhood(s) just East of Westboro (where, as the joke goes, you can buy a comb for your cat, but not batteries for a flashlight). Within walking distance, there is a hospital, hardware store, cobbler, two dry cleaners, a post office, drugstores, a couple computer doctors, and countless food shops.
The downside is that many drinking establishments also tend to be utilitarian, not to mention old-fashioned and a little worn. Especially lacking has been a spot to go when you want somewhere fancier and more food-forward than a plain old pub, but you don’t feel like changing out of your holey jeans. In short, somewhere between a gastropub and what the Brits call a “local.”
Enter the newly opened Hintonburg Public House, an instantly comfortable Wellington West fixture, decked out in Asian-inspired furniture, vintage signage, church pews, and a long, L-shaped wooden bar. Owner Summer Baird (formerly of Urban Pear) is a thoughtful publican, chatting warmly with patrons at their tables and proffering insights about the rotating art collections on the walls. Meanwhile, Chef Kris Kshonze’s seasonal menu is happily reminiscent of his days in The Whalesbone kitchen.
HPH has just one menu for lunch and dinner. But the options are broken down into laid-back, DIY-friendly sections: bar snacks, appies, entrees, and sides. You’d be forgiven if you don’t see the logic separating dishes in each of these categories. Easiest thing to do is just mix and match. You could, for instance, combine two apps to make a lunch. Maybe a bowl of silky puréed celeriac soup (garnished simply with peanuts and parsley). And then a plate of fat button mushrooms, sauteed in butter and served over a jiggly, soft-coddled egg on toast.
Or simply go for broke with a hearty HPH main. Among them, the beef short ribs seems the dish to beat. The meat is so tender, it falls off the bone practically at a glance, and boasts a dark molasses-like marinade that cooks down slowly in the oven. Underneath, you’ll find a pool of creamy polenta (clever swap for boring mashed potatoes). Crunchy rings of panko-crusted onion are piled on the side of the plate and served with an addictive buttermilk dipper. Big enough to share with a friend, especially if you add a side (I recommend a bowl of butter-roasted parsnips).
Be sure to chat with the barkeep. He’ll pour you a finger of beer to taste, remind you to air your wine, and open up about all things local.
Cost: Beef short ribs $24, parsnips $4.
Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner (Night owls note: HPH stays open till 2 a.m.)
Hintonburg Public House, 1020 Wellington St. W., 613-421-5087, www.hintonburgpublichouse.ca.