The day before the opening of 416 Snack Bar (181 Bathurst Street), I was standing on a street corner in Little Portugal, eating a fried codfish ball and thinking, “man, Toronto really needs a chain of international snack food stores, because you should be able to stand on any corner in the city and eat a Portuguese cod fish ball, or a Tibetan momo, or some taktoyaki…”
Adrian Ravinsky and David Stewart, who have worked in some of Toronto’s top restaurants, were thinking along the same lines when they created their bar at Queen West and Bathurst. “Only with beer!” enthuses Ravinsky when I share my story. Indeed, a month in, with a packed house almost every night, it seems that we’re not the only ones thinking that way. 416 Snack Bar seems to have hit on something special.
Ravinsky points out that most of the 10 items on their current menu are things that he and Stewart (and in fact, most of us in Toronto) grew up eating. The pair attended school together and would go to the local convenience store to buy Jamaican patties at lunch, or head home after school and heat up pizza pockets. “We didn’t do lots of testing,” he admits. “We wrote the menu in our minds and had snack house parties to get people to try the stuff.”
The result is a changing collection of hand food (there is no cutlery at 416 Snack Bar, just lots and lots of napkins) that represents the many corners, and flavours, of our city.
Ravinsky points out that he and Stewart have a plan to “add and subtract”. The Chinese cold roll they started out with has been rotated out for a crispy tofu handroll. He hints of tacos al pastor as something in the works. There are also plans to add one “fancy-ass” snack special each week in addition to the main roster. The pair started a blog back in 2008 where they reviewed snack food (it now details the progress of the bar), and which provides hints of snacks and flavours to come, as well as their various inspirations.
And while it may seem that the offerings are truly just snacks, meant to be eaten with a couple of drinks, it is entirely possible to make a meal, and at a reasonable price. On a recent visit, two of us ordered one of everything on the menu to share, and left fully satisfied.
In addition, the vibe of the place is welcoming to all. The night we were there the place was a mix of hip office workers, couples on dates, friends meeting for drinks, and someone even brought their mother. I wouldn’t show up in a ballgown, but anything from jeans to suits (and even Mom’s nice sweater and pearls) seems to work. The noise level is energetic, but not so loud that you can’t have a conversation.
Wanna see the snacks?
Top of post: The Momofuku-inspired pork belly bun ($5), confit and deep-fried, served with watercress, pickled celery, pickled ginger, sriracha and hoisin sauce.
The Neapolitano pizza pocket ($4) stuffed with mozzarella and San Marzano tomato sauce.
Latkes with gravlax ($5) – crisp fried potato pancakes, sweet cured salmon, pickled onions.
Saigon mini sub ($4) half the size and twice the price as the Spadina version, but full of roast pork, chicken liver pate, daikon and more.
The Jamaican beef patty ($4) that started it all. Filled with braised short ribs instead of ground beef. Served with a tongue-tingling chutney of onions and scotch bonnet peppers.
The crispy tofu handroll ($5), filled with fried tofu, enoki mushrooms, cucumber and pickled ginger.
The hot dog ($3). It wouldn’t be Toronto without it. Made in house, topped with 416 ‘kraut.
Cheese and crackers ($7), anyone? 70 grams of a cheese that changes daily (this was something good and stinky from Quebec), sliced apple, house made apple jelly and house made crackers.
And finally, the Portuguese custard tart ($3). Served hot and stands up to just about anything found along Dundas West.
416 Snack Bar is open Monday to Saturday, 5pm to 2am.
This post originally appeared on TasteTO.