On my final night in Toronto for this Christmas break I was able to meet up with three university buddies for dinner and drinks, the second time in as many years I'd visited Toronto. The first time we did this was at a pub just north of the University of Toronto, but this time we opted for a place located closer to where one of my buddies lived, was less of a detour from a commute home for another, and was still easily accessible by subway for the remaining two of us. Of course, with the three others wanting to enjoy some good beers in an atmosphere comfortable for conversation, they suggested a little pub called Victory Café.
Located on the southwest corner of the block where the famed Honest Ed's store stands, and a block away from the hustle and bustle of Bloor St. W., the selection of alcohol here includes about a dozen microbrewery/craft beers on tap. Though I didn't indulge myself on any drinks, during our post-dinner chat I did sample a Scotch whiskey, something I never tried beforehand; I figured at the time, "You only live once." (Mike, you'll have to remind me which one I tried.) At Mike's suggestion I only took just a few drops, but not before taking a whiff of it first. I found it curious that something that smelled like turpentine would instead leave a subtle sweetness on the tongue, if not also tingly. It was a neat experience, and I can now say I tried something else, but unlike many foods, you most likely won't see me running back to alcoholic drinks enthusiastically anytime soon. No worries, food or booze, I'll still be getting my calories somewhere, right?
It was a good thing my curiosity got the best of me and I ordered some mac 'n cheese as a side. Perceived (rightly or wrongly) in North America as the food of kids, university students, people on very tight budgets or people who can't cook thanks to the proliferation of boxed versions, homemade mac 'n cheese can be a pleasant comfort food, and Victory Café certainly kicks up its version a notch or two. OK, so the use of three cheeses (Cheddar, Colby and Gruyère) wasn't necessarily out of the ordinary, and neither was topping it with something zingy like paprika (I love to add Tabasco sauce at home), but how often has one seen sundried tomatoes and caramelized onions in this dish? Their presence was subtle, but they were there and added a surprising dimension to the dish. I also appreciated how the kitchen went easy on the salt with its version of mac n' cheese.
Tucked away from the heavily trafficked Bloor W. near Bathurst, Victory Café felt like a hidden gem for me. It had a relaxed if, like almost all popular pubs, cacophonous atmosphere as a gathering place for thirsty friends, and if you need to grab a bite to eat as well, I highly recommend that you have the pub's mac 'n cheese at least as a side.
Name: Victory Café
Address: 581 Markham St., Toronto, ON
Price Range: $10-$30