Parts & Labour: Our Neighbourhood Friend

My friend Erinn’s annual pickle party was dreamlike.

I made two different sorts of crostini and topped them both with my yellow plum jam.

They were great, but paled in comparison to many of the other contributions that we feasted on.

The Beast had to work so I went solo and ended up meeting some lovely folks, uncluding Matty Matheson, who’s executive chef at both Oddfellows and the somewhat-recently opened Parts & Labour.  You can’t imagine how thrilled I was to find out that Matty enjoys reading F & B.  In fact, he took issue over the fact that the Beast and I hadn’t yet visited P & L.  So I made it my mission this week for F & B to go to P & L.

Foodie:  Guess where we’re going tonight for dinner?

Beast:  Where?

Foodie:  Parts & Labour.

Beast:  Not a chance.

Foodie:  Are you kidding me?  We have to go!  Matty is expecting us!

Beast:  “Matty”? (Shaking his head at me.)  I’ll give you three reasons why we’re not going.  Number one:  I don’t have the money.  I have to save up for a new hard drive because I have a terrible feeling that mine is going to die any day. And two, you can’t blog about it because you’ll ruin all your journalistic integrity.

Foodie: What’s that supposed to mean?

Beast: It means that you won’t be able to honestly review the place because now you’re “friends” with “Matty”.

Foodie:  That’s nuts!  This isn’t even a real blog!  And I can’t help it that people in the industry know me.  When you’ve worked in the biz for as long as I have–

Beast:  YOU WORKED IN ONE RESTAURANT!

Foodie:  Two restaurants, but that’s beside the point: If we were going to play by the rule that I won’t write about any restaurants where I know people, this blog would be boring!  It’d just be hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches and Dr. Oetker’s.

Beast:  (silence)

Foodie:  Okay, that’s not exactly true.  But come on!  (Pause)  What’s the third reason?

Beast:  I forget.

Foodie:  Well listen, dinner is on me, and aren’t you starving?  Wouldn’t you just love a delicious burger right now?  Let’s just go for burgers!  The place is practically around the corner from us and it would be absurd if we didn’t visit.

I think the burger talk did it because before I knew it, the Beast had his shoes on and we were walking down Sorauren to Queen Street.  On the way I filled the Beast in on the astounding mixed restaurant reviews that P & L has received.  Chris Johns from the Globe and Mail had mostly good things to say about it: despite not being thrilled with the desserts, he said P & L was “one of the most exciting dining rooms in the city”.  Chris Nuttall-Smith’s review in Toronto Life was mixed, but he did say that Matty Matheson’s cooking held the place together, and he loved the desserts. But the Toronto Star’s Amy Pataki skewered the place and its “gonzo cooking” although she too liked the desserts and admitted that Matheson shows “finess”.   What I found so confusing was that three reputable food writers had such different opinions.  It really starts making you think about the usefulness of food criticism at the end of the day.

We were delightfully greeted by two very attractive and very young hostesses who seemed genuinely happy to seat us.

Foodie:  You see that?  You see how friendly they were?  They even said, “Enjoy your dinner”.  That’s what gets me.  I think every review I’ve read makes some sort of snide comment about the too-cool-for-school staff here.  You know what I think?  I think that  a lot of reviewers walk in to restaurants with scowls on their faces and maybe even give off an entitled air.  If you walk into a restaurant without a frown–maybe even a smile–and politely ask for a table, more times than not you’ll be treated really nicely in return.

Beast:  You probably know them.

Foodie:  No I don’t.  I’ve never seen them before in my life.  And you know what else gets me?  And Joanne Kates does this all the time:  she write about how shocking it was that nobody offered to take her coat at a whole-in-the-wall Chinatown joint, or how shockingly loud the music was at a night club/restaurant, like, say, Ultra.  Really?  That’s shocking?  See, I don’t find that shocking.

And then our server came over to offer us drinks and tell us about that evening’s special, which was choucroute garnie served with mustard, pickles and two pints of Duggins beer–enough food to feed at least two people and it was only $40. (Mom, I had no idea what choucroute garnie was either but it’s a very typical rustic Alsatian stew of pork shoulder and hocks and sauerkraut and sausages.  It sounds like it was made for you, and for the Beast.)

Beast:  There’s really no need to look at the menu is there–we’re getting that.

Foodie: It sounds amazing but I’m afraid I just don’t feel like all that meat tonight. I’m really craving a burger.  And look at all these lovely appetizers!  I want to try each one.  Why don’t we choose two and each get a burger?

Beast:  I wish your mom were here.  She’d split it with me.  (Pause)  Give me your phone.

Foodie:  You want to call my mom?  And more importantly, you want to make a phone call at the table?

Beast:  You’re right.  But I need to call Nick Edwards.

Foodie:  You want to call Nick Edwards to see if he’ll share that pot of meat with you?

Beast:  Is that okay?  I just think that if your friend “Matty” went to all the trouble of making it, then I should try it.

Foodie:  Okay, call him, but don’t do it the table–go over there and call him.

Turns out Nick was on the other side of town and couldn’t make it.  While the Beast and I came to an agreement about ordering, our server brought over a sea bass carpaccio flavoured with some chilies, radishes, little onions and chives.

I looked at the Beast half-expecting him to be rolling his eyes because “Matty” sent out a dish for us to try.  Of course, he did nothing of the sort:  he was too busy swooning over this perfect plate.

The Beast gave up on convincing me to share the choucroute garnie with him.  He gave me the warm potato salad with bacon and a poached egg and in return I gave him the fried pig’s face.  We both ended up ordering burgers.

While we waited for our appetizers and sipped on our drinks, the Beast eyes widened.

Beast:  Do not look now but you are going to be more excited, more happy than you can possibly imagine.

Foodie: Ohmygod ohmygod what is it!!???

Beast:  Just wait for my mark.  I guarantee you’re going to flip.

Foodie:  Holy shit is it a celebrity?  Is it Drew and Justin?  Julia and Danny?  TIFF is over, right?  Who?

Beast:  Slowly now, just look to your left.

And there, seated beside us were two of the three ladies that sat at the bar beside us at the Harbord Room several posts ago and ordered pint-size glasses of ice to top off their pinot grigio.  And once again, they’d requested ice for their white wine, which a waiter had just brought over to them.

Foodie:  Wow! What are the chances?

We had little time to consider the cosmic significance because our appetizers arrived.

Foodie:  Okay you have got to try this potato salad.  Why doesn’t my potato salad taste this good?  When I add grainy mustard it just tastes so…so mustardy.  This is the best potato salad I’ve ever had.

Beast: Maybe it’s the poached egg and bacon.  You should add those two things to every salad.

The Beast didn’t even care about the “salad” though: he was too busy eating the crochette filled with pig’s face and trotter.

Foodie:  Will I like that?

Beast:  We might have to end our relationship if you don’t.  And you will–it reminds me of the fried trotter thing we had a Casa Mono in New York, and you liked that, didn’t you?

I did like that, and I liked this, quite a bit.  There’s no way I could have indulged in the whole thing though.  A few tastes–enormously rich in flavour–were all I needed.

And then the unexpected happened: Mr. Matty Matheson himself came over to say hi. The Beast told him how he’d wanted to order the special and Matty then proceeded to show him photos on his BlackBerry of the preparatory stages of the choucroute garnie.  Before he left to go back to the kitchen he asked us if we wanted to try the flat-iron tartare.  The Beast, like a child who’d been offered a warm chocolate chip cookie, nodded yes.

Foodie: Isn’t Matty lovely!?  He looks like he could be really intimidating with all those tattoos but he’s not!  You know, my mom always used to say that the scruffy looking Hell’s Angels guys who’d come into K-Mart (where she worked when I was growing up) were always the sweetest, most polite of the bunch.

Beast:  Just because Matty has tattoos doesn’t make him a Hell’s Angel.

Foodie:  That’s not what I meant–I just mean that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, sort of like Han Solo, who was also scruffy-looking.

Beast: He’s very nice, and he’s very sincere.

Foodie:  I like that he said somewhere that the food here is “fucking food for people who like to eat.”  And did you know he’s only 28 years old?  Can you imagine?

Beast:  Yeah, but can he tell the difference between an Edwardian and a Victorian-era chair?

Foodie:  Are you jealous?

Beast:  I’m just saying that at 27 years old I’m the manager of one of the most successful furniture and antique consignment shops in the city so it’s not exactly like I’m sweating it.

Foodie:  I don’t know how much of this tartare I can eat.  (The Beast had already consumed about half.)

Beast:  I can’t eat it all!

Foodie: Don’t you like it?

Beast:  It’s f–king amazing but you’ve had one bite and we still have burgers coming.

Foodie:  It’s just so rich!  It’s raw egg and raw meat.  You know I’m fragile with certain things.

Beast:  Fine, I’ll finish it by myself.

Foodie:  You’re going to make yourself sick!

Beast:  I can’t leave it!

Like an animal, the Beast mounded up the tartare on the homemade flatbread, and polished it off, save for my few samplings.

And then our server came over and asked if we’d like to split one burger instead of each having our own, considering we’d consumed more than we’d planned on. We looked at each other and I  responded confidently knowing that I was speaking fairly on behalf of us both.

Foodie:  No, I think we’ll still get a burger each.  We’re not very good at sharing.

When they arrived, however, we realized that perhaps we should have taken heed to our server’s thoughtful suggestion.

Foodie:  Wow.  This is what I’ve been waiting for all my life.  I think this is a perfect burger.  Every bite has everything I want in it.  This is…this is…

And then I looked up to see the Beast’s beard covered with specks of lettuce and bits of mayonnaise.

Foodie:  And this is a french fry.  I mean, that’s how it’s done!  This might be the best burger and fries in the city.

Beast:  I’d agree with that.

Foodie: And it’s around the corner from us!  We just struck gold!  Although I don’t think I could eat it every day.  Just think though, now when I won’t be home for dinner you could just come here and have a burger.  It’ll be like my new babysitter.

Beast:  Don’t make jokes about my age or me being a baby.

Foodie:  I’m just saying that you can’t keep eating Dr. Oetker’s pizza whenever I’m not home.

Beast:  Then stop abandoning me at dinner time!

Foodie:  You know I’ve been working like crazy, and it’s just going to get busier in the next few weeks.  Do you want my bacon?

Beast:  Why don’t you want your bacon?

Foodie:  I really liked the first few bites of it in the burger, but now I don’t like how it feels tearing it with my teeth.  It’s too primal or something.  I think I prefer crispy, cheap bacon on my burger, not real, thick bacon.

The Beast looked at me like I was a stranger as he polished off the last bite of his burger.

Foodie:  I don’t think I can finish mine.  I’m in pain.  Would it be weird to stretch right now?  Aren’t you full?

Beast:  Excruciatingly full.

Foodie:  I don’t think I’ve ever left french fries on my plate.  (Slowly putting french fries, one by one, into my mouth)  But I can’t leave these.  They’re perfect french fries.

Our server, who, for the record, was flawless throughout the night–before and after Matty had come to our table–came to the rescue.  He removed our plates and asked us about dessert.  We couldn’t do it.  We’ll have to wait for next time to see which restaurant reviewer was on the money concerning P & L’s sweets.

We waddled home well past our bed time.

Foodie:  That was great.  What a nice night.  Aren’t you glad we went?

Beast:  I’m very glad.  Thank you so much for dinner.

Foodie:  You’re welcome. (pause)  I think we had amazing service there, don’t you?  Our water glasses were never empty, our napkins were neatly folded whenever we went outside for a cigarette (I just kept the Beast company), and we never sat for a second with a dirty plate in front of us.

Beast:  I agree.  It was perfect service, but how can you be sure that wasn’t because Matty came over to say hello to us?

Foodie:  But everyone was so nice before that happened.  And they were being that way with all the guests–I was watching.  Anyway, how many stars are you going to give P & L?

Beast:  No comment.

Foodie:  What?!?

Beast:  I refuse to rate it.

Foodie: But we’re not real restaurant reviewers!  F & B is more about relationships and…and life than it is about food.  I just use food as the starting point!

Beast:  It’s not ethical.  And if you respect Matty you won’t rate it.

Foodie:  I’d give it three stars.

And I respect any man who’s 28 and has accomplished so much through passionate, hard work.  And I respect 27 year-olds who can tell the difference between Art Deco and Art Nouveau pieces of jewelry.  I just wish they’d bring more home, of either type.

2 responses to “Parts & Labour: Our Neighbourhood Friend

  1. There are a number of classic, unlikely dishes I have long been curious about, and choucroute garnie (hot dogs and a pile of sauerkraut? How could that be any good? And yet…) ranks high amongst them. (Bollito misto is another.) It looks like destiny and my unflagging attention to FATB is finally going to bring us together. All I need is a willing dining partner and IT IS ON! I suppose I could bring one of the selection of blow-up dolls I use to take advantage of the reduced traffic in the multi-occupant commuter lane (ya, that’s what they are for) but, to be honest, they are not that realistic close up.

  2. foodie! I’m soo glad you reviewed P & L even without the stars! I can’t wait to go!

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