Harbord House is a quaint ‘gastropub’ taking over the now defunct Rowers Grill on Harbord Street. In an area brimming with restaurants, the Harbord House is still a bit of an institution. Located in a charming Victorian house converted into a bar, the three floor (with two patios) bar/pub serves up the typical pub favourites and refreshingly only serves Canadian microbrews on tap. With its proximity to the U of T campus, mainly affordable menu, and kitschy themed meet ups (power walkers group anyone?) they are definitely appealing to a niche market.
Grabbing a table on the upstairs patio affords beautiful views of the city skyline. Every patio table is occupied upon our arrival, and when the cordial yet frenzied waitress speeds by to distribute menus, she explains that they are short staffed, so expect some delays. Being a former server myself, I can remember being in the weeds many a time, and respected her honesty (and the opportunity to bolt if we were in a rush). We perused the mighty draught menu (11 beers on tap, all from Ontario except for one Quebecois), gave our waitress a moment to catch her breath, and enjoyed the sunshine. We ordered up pints of the Great Lakes Horseshoe Blonde Lager, Steamwhistle and Neustadt (all pints are democratically $6.05) and surprisingly our pints are swiftly delivered considering the circumstance. Owner and very hands-on operator John Oakes is usually found milling about and ensuring things run smoothly, which I’m sure had a lot to do with our drinks finding us so quickly.
When eating at a restaurant that is mostly standard pub fare (club sandwiches, wings and the odd meat and potatoes plate) I take their cue and go with the popular vote. But the Fish and Chips ($14), were rather meh-inducing. A bountiful portion with all the necessary components (including proper malt vinegar) was present, but the fish batter just didn’t coat the foot long haddock in the right ways. Much like a dress should hug all the right curves, fish batter should bubble and pop in all the right dimensions after the fryer. A fluffier batter creates bubbles and pockets, important to withstand the salt and malt onslaught.
The Harbord House Burger ($11), which I had heard a lot of buzz about, was sadly left to char too long, especially considering it was ordered a juicy medium. The lack of interesting condiments either means I’ve been spoiled by Hero Burger, Burger’s Priest et al, or these guys just aren’t trying to compete. Ketchup and mustard don’t cut the, uh mustard? anymore. The slightly toasted sesame seed bun further sponged up the remaining flavours resulting in a rather boring burger.
Flatiron Steak Salad ($15) with two cherry tomatoes, a surprising blue cheese (not listed on the menu), flaccid Portobello mushrooms and charred whole red onion tossed in a maple balsamic (that was neither maple or balsamic) was an exercise in futility. Trying to cut through a steak with a butter knife is like trying to tie your shoes with a meat hook. The rigorous see-saw action required to cut the steak coupled with a rickety patio table was irritating. Either cut the meat to smallish proportions, or equip the diner accordingly!
Sticky Toffee Pudding ($6) was another much hyped menu item, and although it looked like a mud pie a child would make, it was decadent and saccharinely sweet and satisfying.
I guess if you’re coughing up the dough to be a U of T student, or live in the campus area, this cozy and familiar pub will fit your budget and lifestyle. There’s nothing wrong with having a good reliable local place with friendly service and a ‘Cheers’ like atmosphere. Just helps if everyone knows your name first.