The County General, Toronto
Located at the corner of Shaw and Queen West, this little venue is something to be reckoned with. Opened by Victor Barry and Carlo Catallo, the owners of Splendido, the County General offers a variety of greasy spoon classics with a new age twist. The food is delicious and is pretty much always available, even for take-out, since the kitchen runs until late. And to make things even better, they have a great cocktail list!
The restaurant is very small, less than 30 seats, so don’t be surprised if you have a little bit of waiting time before your meal. Grab a drink, walk the Queen West strip, do whatever you need to do in order to wait for a table and a taste of the County General’s outstanding grub. As you would expect with any restaurant of the area, the decor is certainly eclectic. The back wall is lined with a 2×1 lumber feature which extends into a drop down ceiling over the bar and a phenomenal backsplash. There are various pig skulls, wooden roosters and a giant picture of a farm decorating the very little wall space available. It’s cute, cozy and perfect for any meal of the day (they are open from 11 to 11 everyday).
So let’s talk food… The Notes on a Meal duo has had dinner there half a dozen times and have never walked away disappointed. The menu is ever changing, definitely following the seasonality of local products, so we’ll discuss some staples. The trio of steamed pork buns ($12) is a win every time. Three slider steamed buns of lightly smoked pork belly are presented with a variety of garnishes in order to showcase the versatility of this heavenly piece of meat. The first is an avocado chutney (big on the cilantro), followed by a spicy kim chi and a phenomental apple slaw; all accompanied by their homemade scotch bonnet hot sauce. The County General burger is a fierce competitor for the best in the city in my eyes. Served on a homemade milk bun, it is perfectly seasoned and certainly one of the juiciest I’ve had. The house made ketchup and fries that accompany it are also in dire need of an honourable mention. I believe the ketchup is lightly smoked which is a plus for any barbeque lover out there!
If you find yourself in the neighbourhood around brunch time, do stop in. The eggs bennedict ($15) are definitely worth a try. This item features smoked peameal bacon served on toasted sourdough bread with a perfect egg (a poached egg cooked sous vide) and delicious Hollandaise sauce. It’s a dream for a Sunday morning hangover!
I seriously couldn’t end this review without mentioning the service. Always knowledgeable, courteous and very attentive, the staff at the County General are definitely swimming in the same waters as those of the fine dining scene of Toronto. Maybe it’s the perk of having owners that are involved with one of the city’s best restaurants or it’s just a firm understanding of the importance of great service for a diner. Either way, it’s a reason we keep coming back.