Earls Kitchen and Bar: King Street
Earls is nestled amongst the business giants at King and University and was teeming with suits and loosened ties on the Thursday night I paid a visit. The place was packed, and I soon realized that this was not only attributed to its convenient location. Earl’s serves up some seriously good food.
I’ll be totally honest right out of the gate and say that I rarely frequent chain restaurants. If I do, it’s because it’s for a birthday or office party where the show of hands wins. Chain restaurants don’t usually sell me on coming back for more. Earls did.
Prior to going, I previewed their menu online and was looking forward to trying some of their new items that promised “West coast flair” and seasonal flavours. To stick with the seasonal theme (and just because it’s a deadly beer) I ordered a pint of Muskoka Brewery’s Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout to chase everything down. It turned out to be a fine choice if I do say so myself, especially where dessert was concerned.
We started with the Tuna Poke Nachos ($11.50). Served on crispy wontons, and loaded with cubed raw tuna, cucumber, avocado and tomato, they looked like they would be a task to eat. I envisioned myself taking a bite and (if the toppings made it as far as my mouth without falling off) having it crumble, leaving me with half of a naked nacho, or in this case, wonton. They surprised me though by maintaining their structure (and toppings). The spicy mango coulis they were drizzled in leant a nice kick with some crushed macadamia nuts paying tribute to the Hawaiian roots of the dish. I’m not normally a big fan of sushi, but in this case the texture of the tuna and avocado married nicely with the crispiness of the wontons.
Next was the Gnocchi with Italian Rose Sauce ($10.50). I love gnocchi, but it is associated with being too heavy and too filling often because, well, it usually is. Not in this case. Earl’s handmade potato gnocchi was the perfect consistency throughout. Consistent consistency if you will. And true we shared it, but it was a generous portion and neither of us felt weighted down afterwards. That wasn’t the best part though. The title of the dish doesn’t do it justice. This gnocchi isn’t served in just any ordinary rose sauce… it’s served in a rose sauce made of San Marzana tomatoes, burrata cheese and fresh basil. This, my friends, is the Margharita pizza of gnocchi. Enough said.
Being ambitious (see: gluttonous), we welcomed the Pulled Pork Sandwich ($13.50) and Potato & Leek Soup ($7) to our table. I’ll start with the soup…although in reality that wasn’t the sequence of events. The soup was creamy and filled with chunks of potato (skin still on…because that’s where all the vitamins are!). It was good, but let’s face it, it didn’t compare to the main event of this course. Even halved, our plates were dwarfed. This is one behemoth of a sandwich. Piled with tender BBQ braised pork and coleslaw then dressed with a fiery chipotle mayo, this sandwich was a nice balance of spicy and sweet. It was messy like it should be so keep the napkins close at hand. I had almost reached my limit but I knew dessert was on the way, so I exercised some will power (says the girl on her third course) and left a few bites on my plate. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t sad to see it go.
You might think that by this point we were too full to even consider the possibility of dessert, and by daily caloric standards, we probably should have been. But we laughed in the face of those standards and pushed onward…onward to Warm Gingerbread Cake ($8). Rarely do I find myself at a loss for words, but this cake found me there. It might have had something to do with the fact that my mouth was full of the aforementioned cake, but also because it was really, really good. I could use a plethora of colourful adjectives to describe this cake (see: heavenly, divine, decadent) but it all feels so cliché, and none of them would do it justice anyway, so I’m sticking with good. Damn good. It was served warm (as promised), drizzled with salted caramel sauce and with sides of brown sugar apple slices and vanilla bean gelato. Now on any given day, I’ll take a cookie over a slice of cake, but not on this day (or any day going forward where I’m given the choice between a cookie and this particular cake). It was impossibly moist and as we ate it we debated about what made it so. We came to the conclusion that… well, we didn’t really come to any conclusion, except that it was killer, and we would be back for more. Whoever is slicing the cake at Earl’s isn’t stingy (bless their soul) but that was one plate that went back to the kitchen devoid of crumbs.
Now Earls isn’t the place to go for a quiet date. The people are loud (because there are a lot of them), and the music is loud (because it fights to be heard over the people), but the food is excellent and the service, equally so. It’s a hike from my house in High Park to the Financial District, but one I’m willing to make again. Three words folks… warm, gingerbread, cake. Do yourself a favour.
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