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Small Town Food Co., focuses on small sharing plates, created by Executive Chef Tallis Voakes. This team from Erin, Ontario, are long-time friends and have created a small-town feel in the big city.
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Review: Smalltown boys

By Alan A. Vernon, reviewed on March 20, 2014

While Parkdale's decrepit chic grows ever more hipper with hipsters it's still nice to see old stalwarts like the bodegas hanging on, peddling their bruised, overripe fruits. But it's precisely this dichotomy that gives the nabe its post-millennial charm, attracting all those big-time condo developers and young restaurateurs aiming to stake out their claim and compete with can-do-no-wrong eateries like Electric Mud et al.

The latest to enter the area's fickle foodie fray is Small Town Food Co., yet another charming hole-in-the-wall bistro with the requisite barn board cladding, industrial lighting and a small open kitchen so that you can hear every clang and sizzle. And like most places its size, the menu is minute, but in this case mostly filled with on-trend items like beef tataki ($7), oysters Rockefeller ($12), deer tartare ($15) and a "raw and cooked" salad that includes falafel ($11).

What I haven't seen in eons, though, is a scallop ceviche ($14) hidden beneath a hefty hillock of crispy shallots and watermelon radish that steals the show from this beautifully citrus-infused seafood. After six slices there is no detection of the charred lime, and the addition of truffle oil to a citrus showcase is an odd, almost musty choice. Yet the dish works. Go figure.

Beer battered cauliflower ($6) is becoming ever more ubiquitous on today's trendy's menu offerings–the snob's answer to mozzarella sticks. But most, like these humungous florets, served with a truffle aioli, are grease-laden in a pretty tasteless batter that causes an oil slick on practically every finger. Kangaroo meatballs ($14)–yes, dear, kangaroo–fare far better. Fetched from White House Meat at the St. Lawrence Market, the delicately ground joey, blended with egg, panko and herbs, is neither gamey nor as densely packed as expected, and an a la minute tomato sauce with shallots and parsley, and served with shredded parmesan and bread from Mabel's Bakery completes a pretty nice picture. As does a scotch egg ($7) with a seven-minute yolk and a fantastically-flavoured breaded pork mixture elevated by a combo of smoked paprika, cumin and garlic, then finished with a layer of panko and a wonderful homemade hot sauce made with, of all things, ketchup. I know what you're thinking, you latte-sipping, bicycle-riding downtown elitist. But it's flawless.

But the most surprising success on this mini-menu is the fish and chips ($17). Though technically, it is fish and chips, it really isn't, and that's a good thing. Between gossamer thin wafers of watermelon radish and homemade potato chips over a clever edamame puree are gently seared albacore tuna that's rightfully raw in the middle. The delicate, time-consuming plating makes for pure eye candy. In fact this dish is so well-executed, it is deserving of a less rustic presentation. Ox cheek ($21) from Ontario, served with mash, is a definitive seasonal selection, perfect for this endless winter. And while the large hunk of meat is soft and tender, there is such a thing as too soft. It's rare enough to find meat that gives way with such ease, yes!, but with the accompanying overly whipped potatoes, it becomes a teeth-optional kind of dish. And it's a trifle bland, easily remedied with a dash of salt. Which, of course, I shouldn't have to do.

At first bite, a homemade tagliatelle with a rabbit Bolognese ($16) has just the right toothsome quality. But a few bites in, and it becomes clear that this pasta is unevenly cooked with some strands al dente and others practically explode into a mountain of mushiness. And what appears to be a rose sauce rather than a true Bolognese is filled with the most finely ground, granulated rabbit ever proffered that barely registers on the tongue. While on the subject, class, I think it's important to point out that an authentic Bolognese is not in fact a sauce; this one is, and it's a common mistake made by many restaurants and it drives me up a wall.

But sometimes a clever reinterpretation of a classic does work. Such is the case with a dense walnut and raisin cheesecake ($6) served with a carrot cake ice cream. Just think about that for a second. How sickly sweet can this be? Enough to make my teeth hurt just reading it, but again, it's an inspired shot at creativity that does deliver.

Small Town's Food Co.'s motto is "Small Town. Big City." A pretty accurate tagline when you consider the roots of owners Stephen McKeon, Cameron Hutton and chef Tallis Voakes. McKeon and Cameron have been friends since childhood; they even trusted an old high school friend to do the wine list, naming a cocktail after a teacher they had a crush on (Dibbs!).

Their camaraderie is something to be cherished. You want to root for guys like this. And there is absolutely nothing small town about Small Town Food Co. The chef did a stint at Nobu in the UK for goodness sake. But his British fare with a modern twist, although it impresses at times, is not quite where it needs to be for it to be the smashing success it should be.

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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