Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 725 Queen St East
Type of Meal: Dinner
Since I loved my experience at Rock Lobster, when the announcement of their new restaurant can by, I immediately rounded up some friends, crossed my fingers for no lines and braved the winter weather warnings to visit Queen East. While one focuses on the sea, Boots N Bourbon Saloon pays homage to the land in all its deep fried glory. Despite the horrible weather, at 7:15 the bar area was crowded but luckily we were still able to score a table in the dining area. Tip, we realized they do take reservations so you may want to call ahead.
If you’re a die-hard Chef Pettit fan, here is your warning – stop reading this now and go check out my Rock Lobster post instead, unfortunately it gets a little ugly. But, before we get to that, let’s start with the positive – their uniquely concocted cocktails. From left to right in the picture below is the Desert Pete, Rusty Albertan and General Lee (all $10).
Boots N Bourbon cocktails (1)
The Desert Pete resembles a margarita (made with tequila and mint) but sweeter (thanks to the pineapple juice) and has an interesting kick from the jalapeño agave syrup; the best drink of the night for me. Meanwhile, the Rusty Albertan is better for those who like to mask the taste of their alcohol; with the addition of maple syrup, ginger beer and rootbeer bitters the cocktail was fairly sweet and the rum pretty much covered. Lastly, the showcase Caesar arrives in its crowning glory - at Boots N Bourbon a pepperette and pickle in place of the lobster claw. Delicious and spicy if you like Caesars and with all the condiments certainly could be a meal in itself.
For our second round I tried Tommy’s margarita slushie ($10) which in hindsight was very similar to my first drink – strange for a person who normally doesn’t like tequila. This drink has a sour tang to it from the lime and grapefruit bitters. If you’ve ever been to Rock Lobster and have had their Tomba-grantia, this is fairly similar.
My friend opted for Grandma’s Texas lemonade ($10) which is another safe bet drink made with vodka, lemonade, vanilla and peach bitters. I did enjoy the addition of vanilla which calmed down the traditional tartness of the lemonade.
Chef Matty fans, this is your last warning because now comes my opinion on Boots N Bourbon’s food. The pickles in the deep fried McClure’s pickles ($7) were great - juicy and not overly briny with an interesting hint of spice to it. But, the beer batter was thick, doughy and soggy; a huge disappointment when you’re craving something crispy and deep fried. If only the crust was thinner and had some texture to it (perhaps a cornmeal based coating) these would have been much tastier.
On the other hand, the fried chicken ($16 for 4 pieces) was crispy and had a nice Cornflake crust. However, the meat was dry and overcooked not holding an ounce of juice that you’d expect for something soaked in buttermilk. We had to use so much of the buttermilk ranch sauce (quite good) to add some moisture to the chicken. Until the kitchen can get a hang of cooking bone in chicken properly, perhaps they should consider changing this to become chicken strips instead?
Not everything was horrible, the flank steak ($15) was better. Cooked to a lovely medium it was very tender for flank steak and tasted good on its own or with the thick bourbon BBQ sauce that accompanied it. Topped with tons of house-made hickory sticks it reminded me of the childhood treats that I could eat forever given each individual stick was so small. The fried egg topping the dish certainly added to the presentation but was a bit awkward to eat as a sharing dish and ended up making the hickory sticks soggy.
The screaming crab ($14) was my favourite dish of the night and perhaps because it resembles the jerk shrimp and crab of Rock Lobster. The sauce’s combination of jerk sauce, cilantro and lime was packed with flavours and just the right amount of heat. But, the snow crab pieces, although cut apart, were very difficult to eat without lobster crackers or forks. I certainly made a mess that night, thankfully wetnaps and extra napkins were available.
With all the protein, we thought an order of spicy coleslaw ($6) would be prudent. This was decent and is a light cream based coleslaw with sriracha mixed into it. I only wish the menu would point out how many of the dishes already come with it (fried chicken and pickles) so that we could have gotten another side to try instead, like the Cajun fries!
Not entirely content, we ordered a dessert to end. With a choice of chocolate brownie mousse or banana pie pudding ($8) both didn’t sound spectacular but we settled on the banana version. Oh boy we were pleasantly surprised as it was good. The pudding must have been made with mashed bananas as it had such an authentic flavour and natural sweetness to it. The crumbled graham crackers and light whipped cream rounded everything off quite well.
We must commend the staff there, everyone was friendly and helpful, giving you a sense that they actually liked to work there and cared about your experience. Even Matt Pettit himself mingled throughout the restaurant stopping by at tables and the bar to make conversation and ask about our experience. Alas, this is where my dilemma starts … should I be honest and tell him about the subpar pickles and chicken or just smile and say everything was fine? I went with the “fine” route, but note to chefs – unless someone answers that it’s great or amazing, it’s really not that good.
My sense is Boots N Bourbon will come more of a drinks and light eats place – Cajun poutine and sliders may soon grace the menu? On our Friday night visit we were hoping to join in on the line dancing or brave the mechanical bull. Unfortunately, the bull was safely stowed away in its stable but we were advised the dancing should start around 9pm. By 10 there was still not a yeehaw in sight and after sitting on uncomfortable metal stools for 2.5 hours we decided to cut our losses. Personally, I’d suggest starting something like line dancing earlier – maybe even doing it twice. If you can get someone hooked and having fun they are more likely to continue ordering drinks and staying for the night.
So, unfortunately I didn’t realize my cowgirl potential that night. Oh well, I’ve always preferred the ocean to a ranch and it looks like my taste buds feel the same way.
Overall mark - 6.5 out of 10
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Gastro World's Grading System
- Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
- 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
- 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
- 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
- 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
- 10 - absolute perfection!
- Special thank you to my friend for this picture!