Bottom Line Steakhouse
22 Front St. W.
Hours: Mon-Sun 11:30 am – 11 pm
Dinner for 2 w/tax & tip: $100
**** (out of five)
The Bottom Line Steakhouse on Front St. bills itself as the “classiest sports bar in Toronto,” and with its high, bright space, light wood paneling and lovingly displayed hockey jerseys, it might be right.
Situated right between the business district and the city’s two prime sports venues, it straddles two particularly voracious crowds – ticket holders with preemptive celebration in mind, and suits in need of a protein fix.
Steakhouses are habit-forming; despite their often formal setting – quickly disappearing in an age of perpetual casual Fridays – they offer an unpretentious and consistent menu that’s like a holiday for serious diners. The rigorous seasonality and striving to achieve the “100 mile diet” that rules fine dining establishments is blithely ignored on menus built around the simple, honest preparation of expensive cuts of meat.
Bottom Line executive chef Derek Newall agrees that the steakhouse menu is a luxury for a serious chef. “The pressure is off to change four times a year to come up with those brilliant new dishes and still have them be accepted by your clientele,” he tells me. “Because a steak's a steak, right? You do lose a little bit of the pressure that way - but I don’t know if I'd have it any other way. There's nothing like grilling steak and doing it right.”
There’s no shortage of big name steakhouses a stroll away from Newall’s kitchen, but the Bottom Line’s steakhouse menu was actually imported from further north – Yonge and Eglinton to be exact, where he worked at MEATing, an uptown steakhouse that merged with the Bottom Line when the downtown bar needed to refocus. Uptown, Newall said that they could “be under all the big guys” and offer a steakhouse menu without an obligation to duplicate every starter or side dish offered by places like Hy’s or Harbour 60, or their prices.
“The move down here came because as nice as the idea was up there, we didn't have the business to support it. We had a 60 seat dining room and I never saw it full. Down here they'd lost their nighttime business when the smoking by-laws came into effect, and so this was kind of a stab for them to get a dining crowd in. On game nights we're crazy until 7 o'clock, and then it'll cut off, or it used to - now we've got a bit of a dining crowd that comes in from 7-9, and we'll do more of a fine dining experience. It's strange, doing that kind of thing an hour after we've been serving pub food, doing nachos and wings.”
The result of the merger is a menu that retains most of the Bottom Line’s bar munchies, while MEATing’s steakhouse menu offers classic cuts of meat – sirloin, prime rib, filet minion – and exotic game (kangaroo was a special the night I visited), with side dishes that show some real thought. I have an order of basmati rice and greens to go with my sirloin, while a friend orders a sweet potato and carrot crème brulee.
The meat is perfectly cooked, after a careful explanation of what rare and well means by the server – Newall says it’s necessary nowadays, when everybody seems to have a different definition of the words; “A medium rare almost verges on a medium nowadays."
And the price is right – hardly a cheap nosh, but more than competitive compared to the competition, who’ve come to rely on tourist dollars and celebratory blow-out diners. “You've got someone who's in town for one night, or maybe once a year, and if you get their money once that's enough,” Newall says. “They don't have to come back, and if you can build your business on that - it's good for what it is, but it seems kind of dishonest.”