rick mcginnis/metro toronto
Address: 730 Queen St. E. (at Broadview)
Hours: Mon.-Sun., 12 a.m.-close
Capacity: 90 w/ patio
Dinner for 2 w/tax & tip:$60
**** (out of five)
When chef Rod Bowers decided to open a sequel of sorts to his successful but tiny Queen West restaurant Rosebud, he ended up setting on a strip of street with more unrealized potential than almost any other four or five blocks in the city – the bit of Queen that intersects with Broadview, huddling in the shadow of Jilly’s peeler bar, the emblem of the neighbourhood’s budding but stilfed possibilities.
The chef dubbed his new eatery The Citizen – a nod to the Orson Welles film that gave Rosebud its name, and a homage to his favorite design aesthetic. “When you're opening a restaurant and you're looking for a name, where to you start?” Bowers recalls. “Rosebud was in the movie, and it's got a lot of meaning, right? And Orson Welles was young and ambitious, and I wasn't even 30 when I opened Rosebud, so I was kind of young and we drew a few comparisons and it started with that. Then when I opened this one, it was ‘are we going to call it Rosebud on the East Side?’ No, that's lame. I said, no, I'm going to call it The Citizen, because I love that deco style, and that era, so we just stuck with it and it came into being.”
And so, thanks to a new partner and a bit of an intervention from the Food Network’s Restaurant Makeover people, the Newfoundland-born chef opened his grotto-like black-and-white eatery with its stark, to-the-point menu of comfort food and a daily special with the self-explanatory name “meat and potatoes.”
“I really strive, with Klaus (Rohrich, The Citizen’s chef) and Matthew at the Rosebud, I strive for true flavours, there's not a lot of muddling. You don't see 7 or 8 or 9 or 12 components on the plate. You see three. We try to make those flavours the best that we can.”
That’s abundantly clear with the meat and potatoes special I order at a weekday lunch service – a thick, tasty pork chop crusted with grainy mustard and served on a bed of lightly-broken up, perfectly cooked fingerling potatoes. Wiener schnitzel is served with a fried egg, just like Bloor Street’s now-vanished Hungarian diners used to serve it, and halibut comes with earthy bacon and mushrooms. There’s nothing self-conscious or straining at cleverness in Bowers’ menu here, and the preparation is as straightforward and flawless.
“I come from a very haute cuisine background, Michelin-starred restaurants, Toronto's fine dining restaurants, and while there's certainly room for that style of dining, it wasn't something that I particularly wanted to do.,” Bowers says, recalling a career at places like Mistura and Augerge du Pommier. “I liquidated my RSPs, I sold my car, I liquidated everything to sink them into the restaurants. It's a gamble - 50 per cent of them fail in six months and 80 per cent fail in the first year. I maxed out credit cards and everything - you roll the dice, and it has to be a hands-on operation ... When I started Rosebud it was me on Sun, Mon and Tuesday nights cooking, coming in at 6am to prep and doing the dishes till 1 in the morning.”