rick mcGinnis/metro toronto
Address: 2197 Bloor St. W.
Mon to Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Sat, 10 a.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Sun, 10 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Dinner for 2 w/tax & tip $60
**** (out of five)
The buzz about Cary and Julia Mausner’s restaurant started building in the west end not long after they opened, and it’s only increased, especially among those of us saddled with the most poorly mannered dining companions you can imagine after just-released galley-slaves and packs of wild dogs. Parents quickly learn to regard dining out with young children to be an even invitation to mortification, either at the hands of their young charges, or due to the hairy eyeball they too-often get from servers and managers who set you with a smile that barely conceals anything from reasonable trepidation to outright hostility.
It’s why the words “family restaurant” strike fear into the heart of discerning diners, who quickly —and more often than not, accurately — conjure up visions of lurid, plasticized interior design, chicken fingers, and meals accompanied by more crying and wailing than a mass funeral. Dr. Generosity — the Mausners’ eatery — couldn’t be farther from this nightmare vision.
The stately little storefront on the eastern edge of Bloor West Village opened decades ago as a funeral parlour. Subsequent tenants included a banquet hall, an antique store, and Mad Apples, a restaurant fondly remembered for being one of the first to bring decent dining to the formerly sleepy retail strip just after the neighbourhood voted to allow liquor licenses for the first time in a century. Cary Mausner came to the city 25 years ago from New York City to help the Mr. Greenjeans chain expand, before setting out with a colleague to found the Lime Rickey’s chain. His wife was a fourth-generation west ender whose grandfather managed the nearby Runnymede theatre — now a Chapter’s — for 25 years, and they wanted to open a place that drew on their experiences, both as people in the restaurant business and as the parents of four.
“My wife’s known for grabbing babies and kids — with the parents’ permission — and walking around the restaurant holding them,” Cary tells me. “She loves babies — all my kids do — and we’ve always believed in the importance of family. Not only for ourselves but for the business to thrive. When we opened we knew that no one in the neighbourhood was family friendly, and it was important to be so, whether it’s having four high chairs and the booster seats for little ones, having a menu that’s family friendly.”
“And the adults get a great meal,” Cary adds, empathically. “You’re not at Chuck E. Cheese.”
Showing up for an early dinner with two pre-schoolers, we’re welcomed, sat at a table up front, given place mats and crayons for the kids to colour, and menus notably lacking in chicken fingers. The room, with its high, dark wood wainscoting —still original to the place after all the previous tenants — feels dignified and airy, and the staff treat us like adults with guests, not potential threats.
“We try to go with a kids’ menu that’s quality and healthy,” Cary explains later, “where the grilled cheese is whole wheat bread and aged cheddar, and there’s no chicken fingers so that parents don’t have to fight it. Instead there’s the fresh chicken breast with fresh vegetables and potato.”
Our meals live up to the restaurant’s name — big portions, fresh and well-presented — and draw from a menu full of comfort food staples like steak and Caesar salads, burgers and mac and cheese, made with obvious care and excellent ingredients. For a moment, it’s possible to imagine that family dining can be an upmarket experience, an impression reinforced by a solo visit for lunch a few days later, where several families with babies and toddlers settle in as happily as we did, co-existing amiably with the local business lunch crowd. The Mausner’s have, it seems to me, pulled off something almost miraculous.