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A New Favourite Place for My 2 Favourite Guys
If I told you that I — foodie & closeted romantic — spent this past Valentine’s Day at a super casual eatery whose walls were proudly decorated in big orange flames, would you believe me?
Because, believe it or not, this is exactly how I spent the most romantic day of the year: eating lots and lots of BBQ’d meat at a no-nonsense barbecue joint on St. Clair West, Earlscourt BBQ.
It might seem like an odd choice for a Valentine’s Day meal. I mean, it has 3 huge TVs that kind of take away from the romance. (It’s hard to look your dinner companion in the eye when a giant TV beckons.)
But it also has 3 huge TVs to entertain your impatient 3-year-old. (So you and your spouse can try to catch up on some quality time over wine and non-dad beer.)
When you think about it that way, it’s a perfectly acceptable place for a V-Day meal. And when it comes to my two favourite guys, it was pretty close to perfect.
So why perfect?
Let’s start with the hubby. When, on our very first date I suggested we meet at an out-of-the-way-yet-amazing-little spot at the corner of Dupont and Shaw (yes, I’m talking about Universal Grill) and he accepted, I was more than a bit surprised. It’s quite a trek from the nearest subway station, and it was a cold, wintery night. I soon learned that ribs were his favourite thing on earth, and he would apparently walk through unshovelled sidewalks to eat them. To this day, I wonder if he realized I was the one that snowy, rib-filled day… 😉
And for my three-year-old with multiple food allergies, nothing makes me feel better than eating at a restaurant that is both knowledgeable about allergies and accommodating. Earlscourt BBQ is both… but it’s also completely nut,
soy, * and sunflower-free. Yay! (Sure, my son outgrew his soy allergy over a year ago, but I rejoice for all soy-allergic individuals everywhere. I still feel your pain.)
*Unfortunately, I have since learned that their gravy contains “traces of” soy protein emulsifier.
Okay, so 2 (of our) allergens down, 2 to go. What about sesame and egg? Before making a reservation, I reached out to make sure they could accommodate all of our allergies. Luckily, I was assured that sesame* was also a non-issue and that they only use egg in two of their dishes. In short, Earlscourt BBQ could safely accommodate my son. Yay yay yay!
*Scroll down to the highlights to learn about the one item whose one ingredient that has a “may contain sesame” warning
So I excitedly booked us a table for Valentine’s Day, knowing my other half would love it. And while the eating spots I usually frequent have a slightly different sort of ambiance, the truth is, I’m both thrilled and entirely satisfied if a restaurant meets these 3 requirements: (1) the food is authentic, (2) the food is delicious, and (3) place is allergy-friendly. And Earlscourt BBQ meets all 3 with flying colours!
Even so, here’s the incredulous look the hubby gave me for a large part of the evening. (He was probably thinking of previous years when he’d go to all that trouble organizing fancy-schmancy V-Day dinners at pretentiously overpriced restaurants across the city. Are those daggers in his eyes? Nah, it’s Valentine’s Day!)
So what’s on the menu, and is it any good?
In case it wasn’t clear, this place is all about meat. Lots and lots of grilled meat. I can’t recall seeing a veggie on the menu. Unless you count potatoes as a vegetable… which my Irish husband would. But I digress.
The menu is quite extensive, and of course, we wanted everything. So the hubs suggested we order the platter that gives you a taste of, well, almost everything. For the record, my picture does NOT do this platter justice.
As if 5 types of meat weren’t enough, this dish also comes with two scrumptious sides. We opted for mashed potatoes & gravy + French fries. (Or, potatoes and… potatoes.) Did I mention my husband is Irish? 😉
One bite and it was obvious to me why Earlscourt BBQ once made BlogTO’s list of best new restaurants. I mean, I knew it would be good, but our meal surpassed expectations. Everything was fantastic. Of all the options, the beef brisket was my favourite (which surprised me as I don’t usually love this style of beef). In order to explain, I’m going to have to burst out some bad cliches: Tender, juicy and bursting with flavour… it was seriously melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The truth is, all the meat was tender and flavourful. And the Irish hubby gave the potatoes (x2) a big thumbs up!
But the icing on the cake was the corn bread my husband and I snuck home for later. Since it happens to be one of the two items on the menu that contain egg**, we decided not to eat it in front of the little guy. We may have inadvertently offended the owner who saw it untouched on our table, and said “You know that thing tastes like cake, right?”
And guess what, he wasn’t lying. Once we were sure our son was fast asleep, my husband and I poured ourselves a cup of tea and enjoyed one of the best breads I have ever eaten in my entire life. I say that mostly because this bread seriously tasted like cake. It was subtly sweet and oh-so-delicious. I WANT MORE RIGHT NOW!
I forgot to take a photo of our corn bread, but it’s the cute little rectangular guy in the top left of this photo.
Another thing I love about allergy-friendly establishments are owners who care. And Jason Rees CARES. Ask him anything about his menu and you will very quickly see that he is passionate about what he does for a living. He will proudly let you know that they make almost everything on the menu from scratch, and that there’s no mystery about what ingredients go into his dishes. Because of this, he assured me that he could accommodate all allergies even if an allergen appears in the menu. That, and the fact that they use fresh knives, pans and cutting boards when an allergy order comes in to ensure no cross contamination
That evening, we had a great (read: entertaining) conversation with him about allergies and food, so I’ve shared some of the highlights below.
Highlights from our Valentine’s Day dinner adventure (paraphrased, of course!)
“So you’re the allergy family! We’ve been wondering which one of you it was” (pointing at all the other nearby couples with young children)
3 points for remembering we were coming, alerting the staff, and being family-friendly
“Don’t tell me, you’re allergic to….” (proceeds to list different top allergens)
He didn’t get them all right, but 1 point for trying!
“We don’t use sesame in-house, but I would recommend not ordering the catfish because the all-spice has a ‘may contain sesame’ warning. Also, you’re not here for the fish.”
3 points for knowing that “may contain” warnings are a thing, for knowing — off the top of his head — which item came with that warning, and for telling it like it is when it comes to what we should (and shouldn’t) order on the menu.
“Sunflower oil? Nope, don’t use it. In fact, we don’t use any vegetable oils at all. In my opinion, they’re all poison. We use lard.”
2 points for both his transparency and humour.
“We make it a habit not to kill our patrons.”
Good. 10 points.
“Beer is food, and as such, requires to be treated with the same respect and care.”
Yes, yes it does.
I am definitely going back to Earlscourt BBQ, and next time I must try both of these beauties. While the hubby likes to double up on potato dishes, you can see I like to go overboard with cheese.
Photo Credit: Earlscourt BBQ
Plus, I must try their locally sourced non-dad beers.
Want to follow Earlscourt BBQ on Instagram? Don’t get confused that they use a different name: Pork Ninjas — it goes back to their days of catering and competitions.
**Note that the corn bread did come out on the same platter as the meal all three of us were sharing. We moved it right away, and made sure to give my son his food from the other side of the plate. While this may be outside of some people’s comfort zones, we made this decision based on the conversation we had just had with the owner. It was an error, yes, but one we felt we could live with in this case. I would not have felt the same at an establishment that didn’t show the care/concern this one did regarding allergies. Still, next time, I’ll be sure to request that the corn bread come on a separate plate or — better yet — be boxed up for later. Something you might want to remind your server of if one of your allergens happens to be in a menu item.
This post was written by AllergyBites founder, Kathleen O’Hagan. Kathleen is a writer, a foodie, and the mom of a toddler with multiple food allergies. Want to help make a difference? Contact Kathleen about volunteering for the Top 10 Challenge fundraiser.
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