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Pinkerton's Snack Bar on Gerrard St. E. between Carlaw and Jones is open for drinks and small bites.

Review: Hipsterville East

By Alan A. Vernon, reviewed on June 02, 2016

Sure, it could be easily dismissed as yet another pretentious watering hole run by two heavily inked hipsters. But the blueprint for the Pinkerton's Snack Bar (named alternately for the all-American cad in Puccini's Madame Butterfly or the storied detective agency, but most likely Weezer's classic second album) is anything but formulaic. Not only are the cooler-than-thou bearded dudes more friendly than you might expect but the pan-Asian/South American flavoured food is surprisingly pretty awesome.

With owner Marc Baglio in front and chef Andy Wilson (formerly of Czehoski) in the puny kitchen, Pinkerton's might be easily overlooked if it were in the highly competitive Queen West, but on this sleepy stretch of Gerrard, it could really explode. Equal parts good food and trendiness should make it a winner, but it's Baglio's laid-back kind of warmth that makes Pinkerton's a gem of a neighbourhood nook. And you won't believe that this scrawny dude did a lot of the reno himself, turning the former photo studio into an industrial chic roadhouse. Exposed brick walls, a long wood bar and an old traffic light that goes from green to yellow (last call) to red (closing time), further adding to the room's authentic period charm.

Alas, there is no beer on tap which is sad (crying-face emoji) and a trifle odd considering the size of the rather lengthy bar, but fear not, there are plenty of local brews (bottles $6, tall cans $7.50, featured $8.50) to imbibe. Another surprise is a menu that changes weekly, which alerts me early on that extra effort is being invested in the foodstuffs. Specializing in small plates, quel surprise, Pinkerton's is probably one of the least affected gastropubs going with some mighty fine nibbly things like a laab-style beef tartare ($10) with quail yolk. The presentation is save-to-camera-roll worthy, a puck of rare, nicely spiced meat tucked under a cloak of lotus root and cassava chips that are a trifle on the oily side. But clever hits of cilantro, mint and chilies really give this revision of the classic new and exciting flavour possibilities. It'll be hard to restrain yourself from ordering seconds, and at this price why wouldn't you, stupid dumb dumb?

Crispy Szechuan squid ($9) arrives in a long and slim wooden dish, which alas, doesn't hold all that much. But what really grabs your attention is the lightly dusted breading that remains unusually white despite it being deep-fried. Blanketed under raw cabbage, slices of jalapẽno and red chilies, and a smattering of black and white sesame seeds, this seafood is tender and not the least bit greasy, not to mention a killer sesame soy glaze that's almost good enough to drink solo.

Bulgogi baos ($11/2) arrive in a bamboo steamer piping hot with marinated sirloin, pickled vegetables and spicy mayo, all curled up inside two soft sticky steamed buns. Perhaps the use of hoisin sauce is a bit heavy handed, but outside of that it is yet another winner topped with white and black sesame seeds and cilantro. Far from heaven, however, is one of the house staples, Fausto's chicken ($11). Thanks to a sous vide preparation, the meat is as moist as it possibly can be. The disappointment comes from a rock hard coating that shatters like shards of glass with every bite. The bright orange almost armour-like breading is also flat on flavour despite the use of piri piri. Plus a chive buttermilk dressing is AWOL. And there's another oops: the drum and thigh are so small they're barely bigger than a chicken wing with even less meat. Rethink please or at least suspend judgement on my nitpicking until you have tried an order of the fried chicken at Daiko.

Another menu mainstay is the pork neck pancake ($10) with red and yellow chilies, and crushed candied peanuts. A good choice if not for the pool of sauce it drowns in. Chef Wilson, what's with all the wetness? Yet despite being smothered in sauce, this thick crispy cake manages to stay afloat to support some outstanding braised meat. A smidgen more kimchi might be nice. Just sayin'.

In the last few years, the snack bar has been re-imagined and honed in an effort to offer a dining out experience that's as casual as it is, at times, sophisticated. I speak mainly of places like Peoples Eatery on Spadina and 416 Snack Bar. And while Pinkerton's isn't quite as clever or creative as the aforementioned, with a bit more care and finesse it might just be the only snack bar to consider on the east side of town.

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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