rick mcginnis/Metro Toronto
Daddy-O’s Milk Bar
Address: 221 Roncesvalles Ave.
Winter Hours: 9a.m. - 6p.m.
Summer Hours: 9a.m. - 10 p.m
Dinner: for 2 w/tax & tip $20
***1/2 (out of five)
THE Décor evokes the stage set for some ’60s TV beat show like Hullaballoo, but the clientele at Daddy-O’s Milk Bar on Roncesvalles is strictly Romper Room. When Cristian DiRocco signed the lease on the storefront that used to house a Polish sweets shop nearly four years ago, he had something very different in mind from the family friendly hangout that’s a hub for Toronto’s most fecund incubator neighbourhood.
“The joke,” DiRocco recalls, “is that I was originally going to open on Queen Street. It was going to have a liquor licence and we were going to have bands playing in the back — it was going to be a bar. I just couldn’t secure a location anywhere I wanted, and I was getting desperate and needed to get something fast. So I went up Roncesvalles, and I hadn’t been up this way in years, but I saw Timothy’s and I saw Second Cup so I knew something was going on. I did a little bit of research, and it just happened that one day I was down here and this place was available.”
It was during the renovation when the other shoe dropped for DiRocco. “We had the window covered up as we were doing construction, and we constantly heard kids going by going ‘Daddy-Os! Daddy-Os!’ And that’s when it started clicking that that’s what the market could be for this neighbourhood instead of just doing another bar. We quickly changed things around — when we opened we didn’t have what we wanted to have ready, but over the next six months we adapted the menu for more kids, and we started adding healthier foods. Originally, it was coffee, ice cream and waffles, and slowly over the time we added the panini, soups, salads, crepes.”
There’s a very particular market for a menu that features a waffle dish called Caught By The Fuzz (peach slices, cinnamon and vanilla ice cream), a milk shake dubbed the Bongo Beat Classic (espresso, banana, coconut flakes and rum syrup), grilled panini named after John Wayne and Sophia Loren and fruit smoothies like the Birdie Num Num (pineapple, lime, almond syrup.) This is the same neighbourhood where the well-stocked local video rental shop down the street also has an ice cream bar; think urban parenting in full effect, where mom and dad aren’t going gently into that good night of khaki, dinner theatre and orthopedics.
Ice cream is considered among the most seasonal of menu items, but as any parent will tell you, kids don’t have a problem with milkshakes in the dim chill of February, and Daddy-O’s has started making its own ice cream to manage the demand — a constantly-changing array of flavours that are also available to take home. As someone who’s tasted almost every flavour on the menu, and even had a few dumped on my clothes, I can attest to their quality. I can also vouch for the patience of DiRocco and his staff with the unusual demands of a parent alone, trying to keep one’s offspring fed and amused. DiRocco claims there’s no set time for his rushes — he can be overwhelmed by a swim team or a convoy of mommies at any time of the day, and if he and his staff often seem frazzled, it’s a fact that most parents secretly like seeing someone else look that way.