1189 King Street West (and other locations)
Dinner for two with drinks, dessert, taxes and tip: $60
Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one… two vegetarians walk into a sports bar, what do they end up eating?
Yup, salad. Hold the bacon bits.
I’m not quite sure what came over me, but I’d been craving a meal at one of those family-type chain restaurants. Some place inoffensive, with the 20-page menu, and massive cocktails where you get to take home the glass. Yes, I know, I’m a food writer; I should be craving tiny little bits of exotic tasting menus or expensive wines. But the belly wants what the belly wants, and in this case the belly wanted a really good Caesar salad.
The belly also didn’t want to venture too far, which is how we ended up around the corner at Shoeless Joe’s on a Saturday afternoon.
This Toronto-area chain is made up of sports-themed restaurants throughout the city, all decorated with big screen TVs, sports paraphernalia and a roadhouse type of décor conducive to hanging out with the guys for a few brewskies. No, beer geeks, I’m sorry, at sports bars, it’s a rule that you call them “brewskies”.
We had remembered having some really great fried clams at our neighbourhood Shoeless Joe’s a few years back, and we figured that given its location on the edge of Liberty Village, where there exists a large population of artsy and creative types, at least during the week, that we’d be able to get a good pizza or a veggie burger.
I’m very sorry to say that there is not one single vegetarian main on the menu. Pescetarians fare a bit better with the options of fish and chips, grilled salmon and a shrimp pasta dish, but there’s no grilled veggie sandwich and no veggie burger. Of the salads only the house salad is meat-free. When we asked our server why this was the case, she mentioned that the menu is designed by head office and changes every year or so. Someone somewhere made the executive decision to completely cut out the veggie burger they used to carry, and to remove a number of fish dishes from the menu as well. What’s left is meat – ribs, wings, steaks and burgers.
As the husband has recently fallen off the veggie wagon, he happily ordered a peppercorn burger ($9.98). I eat fish and so ordered the fish and chips ($10.84) along with a small Caesar salad ($4.68). The husband had a Guinness, the only beer on the menu of mainstream ales and lagers that appealed to him, and I had a very watery ginger ale.
Equally watery was the Caesar salad. You know how there are some places that are just generally awful restaurants like Marché (or Richtree or whatever they’re calling it now), but you end up there once a year anyway because they make an absolutely incredible Caesar salad? Shoeless Joe’s is not one of those places. The dressing was obviously prefab, and minus the bacon bits, it completely lacked any flavour. Not even a whiff of garlic.
When the fish and chips arrived, however, my tune began to change. The fries were hand-cut, golden and very crisp. The fish at first looked like it would be mostly batter, but inside were two huge pieces of sweet, flaky halibut surrounded by a thin, crisply herbed batter. Delicious! Coleslaw and tartar sauce were fine; not outstanding but not terrible.
The burger sitting across the table fared less well. The prefab patty was overcooked and tough, and the accompanying slices of tomato looked like they had been picked off another plate, so smooshed and floppy were they. The mushrooms were obviously canned, but were okay – sometimes canned mushrooms just fit the bill. The “lattice fries” tasted chemically and pre-fab, like a less evil version of those happy face potato things people buy for their kids.
We were ready to head out when the waitress dropped off a dessert menu, suggesting the funnel cake with ice cream and strawberry sauce. Welcome to Canada’s Wonderland! Like most of these chain restaurants, the desserts were pretty predictable; chocolate cake, cheesecake and hello, what is this? Dessert nachos. Bingo.
A few minutes later a heaping pile of cooked-to-order, hot, sweet nachos arrived at our table, doused with chocolate and caramel sauces, dusted with cinnamon and chocolate chips, all surrounding a scoop of cinnamon-y vanilla ice cream. Too big for both of us to finish, this made up for any inconsistencies in the meal, for the lack of a vegetarian option, for the missing clove of garlic in the salad.
So here’s my final take on Shoeless Joe’s – it’s not going to become my regular hangout, even though it’s right around the corner, although I’d reconsider that if they were to bring back the veggie burger and added a few more veggie options to the menu. The husband says he’d go there more if they got better beer. I will definitely come back for the fish and chips, though, and on those drowsy afternoons when I’m craving a serious sugar fix, I might just wander over and attempt to tackle a plate of dessert nachos all by myself.