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Lisa Marie Restaurant is a moderately priced casual Tapas / small plate restaurant located by Queen St and Bathurst St in the Queen West area of Downtown Toronto.
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Review: Ladies and Gentlemen, Elvis is in the Building

By Alan A. Vernon, reviewed on May 15, 2013
Queen West has been the hub for hipsters and their eateries since the 1980s. Many weren't all that memorable, which made life easy for snarky, hard to please food critics like me. But life gets really difficult when your deeply ingrained prejudices have to be revised....
Queen West has been the hub for hipsters and their eateries since the 1980s. Many weren't all that memorable, which made life easy for snarky, hard to please food critics like me. But life gets really difficult when your deeply ingrained prejudices have to be revised. Suddenly you find yourself being....kind, shudder. I mean there are only so many superlatives to describe the recent spate of gems that have opened in the area. Take Electric Mud BBQ, The Samuel J. Moore and Carmen.

Is it something in the electromagnetism of those streetcar lines? Whatever it is, this 'hood seems to have the proverbial horseshoe up its gourmet butt as yet another culinary great adds itself to this list of notable nosheries. And her name is Lisa Marie. A dumb, kitschy name, perhaps, but there ain't nothing dumb about the food. Yep, you guessed it, it's named after Elvis's daughter (and M.J.'s beard), a seeming obsession with all things Presley, including a huge mural of the King.

Lisa Marie looks your typically cookie-cutter cool Queen Street haunt with the requisite communal tables, Edison bulbs and you know, other cool stuff. But it's who owns it that makes all the difference here. Remember how the Fidel Gastro food truck (named Priscilla) had you salivating like a hound dog? Well, where few manage, in my opinion, to transition from the street to an actual bricks and mortar location, owner Matt Basile seems to have done it seamlessly. To paraphrase his blog, Lisa Marie allows him to bring the pop-up business model of the street-food experience and the mantra that food is fun all under one roof. Huzzah!

So the Rebel Without A Kitchen took one of the most iconic kitchens in town and made it his own. With a heavy heart we lose the Prague Deli that's been around since the 1960s. But thankfully in its place, we gain an equally unique and special place that pays homage and respect to what came before. If right about now you are beginning to tire of the tapas trend, you may join the lengthening queue. But the tedium of small tasting plates disappears pretty quickly once you sample Basile's snacks. You'll drool uncontrollably over a pork belly cheese thang ($5), a mozzarella and marrow sangweech ($7), and Alabama tailgaters (two for $8), seasoned smoked bacon wrapped grass-fed carpaccio with cilantro, aged cheddar and kimchi. Rich they may be but with portions so dainty you can safely over-indulge, that is, unless you order several of each, and believe me you will be sorely tempted. 

And it's not just great food. Lisa Marie is overflowing with impressive ingenuity at every turn. Take yer deep fried meatball pizza ($7; $8 with duck), for instance. Topped with a juicy, nicely pink meatball, lemon arugula and tomato braised white beans, it will blow your proverbial mind. It's the crust, that btw, looks more like a pork rind, that'll have you scratching your head and saying, "How'd they do that?" Same for a short rib polenta patty ($5). Moist, tender meat is topped on a gorgeous square of smoked tomato and parmesan-charred polenta cake that's so sophisticated you'll forget you're feasting on a starving peasant's staple foodstuff. Ground corn mush will never be the same again.

What, is chef trying to kill me? Really, a deep-fried cheeseburger ($7)? Is this an Epic Meal Time video (***Google it)?  But it's already a food phenom.  The seasoned, coarsely ground blend of brisket and chuck delicately injected with aged cheddar and coated in panko is OMG amazing. Topped with house-made pickles and a perfectly cooked quail egg this is one bun-less wonder.

But not everything comes in pretty little packages. Lisa Marie also caters to larger parties with some pretty colossal-sized meals meant to be shared by four or more. Like a 49 oz., in-house dry-aged steak for less than $100. But wanting to stick with the more rustic theme, the choice is sugo and bread ($24). Served in a family-sized casserole dish, it's basically a meat lasagna minus the noodles. More clever is a paper bag filled with torn pieces of baguette for sopping up some sweet and savoury tomato sauce filled with humongous chunks of brisket, meatball and pork fat. It's virtually impossible to dunk without getting a huge hunk o' meat in every bite. 

Is there nothing here I can mercilessly criticize? Oh yeah, an advertised free-range turkey wing ($7, two for $12) is really a drumstick, so there. But even if a bit chewy, its homemade buffalo wing sauce comes to the rescue, so we tear our way through it just the same. As we do with the accompanying carrots and celery beneath. And not just any ordinary veggies. Try home-made pickled carrots and celery that you can buy in jars out back. Another minor complaint is that the deli style surf n' turf ($6) portion size may be a trifle too petite, bordering on amuse bouche. But again the kitchen counteracts my complaint with a gorgeous house-smoked pastrami and cured sardine on a latke with pickled vegetables and sour cream. Expertly executed, greedily gobbled up.

Naming a dessert Lisa's marrow ($5) sounds a bit grizzly, but it's a delicate combo of bone marrow doughnuts that gives a gourmet spin to a Timbit. And as grotesque as the Elvis ($6) may look, it is a whoa winner. A bread pudding with a creamy peanut butter mascarpone dotted with large, crispy pieces of picante bacon pieces is literally what Elvis would have died of had the pills not got to him first. Count the calories in this and takes your chances. But it might very well be worth dying for.

It's rare to transition from a pop-up or a food truck to a restaurant so successfully. Usually it's the other way around. Case in point, Caplansky's. Matt Basile and wunderkind chef Kris Topping (formerly of Fabbrica) have struck culinary gold with Lisa Marie. Everything is well-thought out and practically perfect. And they've managed to inject new life, and calories, into a tiring tapas trend by offering up something way more inventive than other restaurants taking advantage of its popularity, not to mention being a full service operation that includes catering, take-out, a market for their pickled products and fresh meats that they'll even cook up to order. Thank you, thank you very much.
Reviews are meant to describe a dining out experience at a given period in time and are the personal opinion of the writer.
All meals are paid for, including all taxes and gratuities. All reservations are made under assumed names. Menu items, prices and individuals mentioned in this review may not be up to date. Dine.TO encourages its users to share their feedback.

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