4 Dundonald Street
Dinner for two with all taxes, tip and beer: $85
When Local 4 first opened a few years back, we tried on a number of occasions to check it out, only to find it closed each time we stopped by. As a believer in the theory that the world offers us messages at every turn, those failed visits should have been a warning to head elsewhere and stay away. Finally making it for dinner at this pub-style restaurant, we realized we should have taken fate’s warning messages to heart.
Already faced with a barrier of many stairs and little tiled hallways to get into the place, diners also encounter an odd atmosphere. The entryway makes me think too much of the kind of place first year university students would frequent until they gained some knowledge of the city and found someplace more sophisticated. The room itself is cozy enough with dark walls, candlelit tables and a long bar that seems to be the gathering spot for the locals who were there the evening of our visit. A couple of other tables had diners when we arrived but they cleared out quickly and most of the activity seemed to happen at the bar.
Our first table of choice was graced with a set of somewhat rickety, wobbly chairs, and was situated so close to a support post that the server had to squeeze past. Table number two was better situated closer to the bright, south-facing front window.
Appetizers managed to mostly please. Butternut squash cakes ($8) were sweet, creamy pucks of fragrant squash, lightly breaded in panko crumbs. The scotch bonnet sour cream was mildly warming. The Gorgonzola crostini ($8) offered up crisp baguette slices topped with flavourfully sautéed mushrooms and a pungent Gorgonzola. Sweet potato wontons ($6) were golden brown and crisp, but icy cold on the inside, likely the result of being made ahead of time and refrigerated.
The herbed crepe ($11) started us off for mains, and while the crepe was light, airy and eggy, the wasabi creme fraîche had little kick and the grilled vegetables and brie filling were heavy, clunky and really just didn’t fit with such an otherwise delicate dish. Bourbon back ribs ($16) never revealed the Blanche de Chambly beer in the sauce and mostly tasted charred, as if they had never been braised at all, but just slathered with some store-bought BBQ sauce and tossed on the grill until black. The accompanying French fries were passably decent.
The travesty of the meal had to be the pulled pork sandwich ($12). Due to the darkness of the room when it arrived, I was almost ready to send it back, thinking they had sent me a burger by mistake. Nope, that hardened, sticky mound on the charred ciabatta bun was indeed pulled pork. Doused in more sickly sweet BBQ sauce, it was too cloying to eat more than a couple of bites, and the cheddar cheese topping made for a bizarre and unpleasant combination. Accompanying coleslaw was also too sweet.
We fared no better at dessert. The pink champagne cake (all desserts $6) was layers of white cake with a raspberry filling and a gritty pink icing that was remarkably flavourless. I’d have loved it for my birthday when I was four, but as a grown up dessert coming from an accomplished pastry chef, it felt amateurish and poorly conceived. The flourless chocolate cake was oddly dry and also gritty. It felt old and slightly stale in the mouth. Only the dessert crepes stuffed with apple and pecans didn’t completely frustrate us, and even then, the designated eater still insisted there was something weird about them. None of the desserts got finished and only the crepes warranted more than a couple of tastes.
While Local 4 gets credit for its support of local craft breweries with a decent selection both on tap and in bottles, the food isn’t so Ontario-specific. With a menu that is alternately described as “sophisticated comfort food” and “international/global”, the offerings at Local 4 seem to be all over the board, with influences from various countries ranging from pizza and falafel to burritos and butter chicken. It most closely resembles a striped down menu from one of those family dining establishments that offers a little bit of something for everyone and does none of it especially well. Given the background of the trio of owners (chef Nancy Gilmour, pastry chef Victoria Worlidge, and Theo Morra who cut his teeth in the Gio’s/7 Numbers empire), it’s not unreasonable to expect better. Instead, most of the dishes we were served came across like something prepared by a not especially confident home cook.
Maybe it was just an off night in the kitchen, or maybe the folks who show up at the “relaxstation” aren’t there for the food, but despite it sounding all tinfoil-hatty, I’m going to start paying more attention to the messages the universe is sending me. My muses seem to be working full time to keep me from hitting the bottle of Pepto. Perhaps the many attempts to visit Local 4 were my cue to pay them a little more respect.