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The Loose Moose Tap & Grill is a moderately priced casual American restaurant located by Front St and University Ave in the Entertainment District area of Downtown Toronto. The Loose Moose specializes in American cuisine and features big screen tv / satellite, casual dining, catering, daily specials in a casual atmosphere
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Review: An homage to mediocrity

By Alan A. Vernon, reviewed on March 13, 2013
Few independent restaurants can claim being part of any culinary landscape for almost a quarter century, let alone lasting an entire year. Where so many end up being just a flash in the pan, homage should and must be paid to establishments that manage to weather every storm...
Few independent restaurants can claim being part of any culinary landscape for almost a quarter century, let alone lasting an entire year. Where so many end up being just a flash in the pan, homage should and must be paid to establishments that manage to weather every storm for almost 25 years. Where this column's focus tends to be on recently opened restaurants, every once in a while I feel it my duty to tip my hat to places like the Loose Moose, a favourite watering hole since 1989.

The downtown mainstay has catered to all kinds in its more than two decades in business, most notably to Leafs fans. But now after a major million dollar-plus reno and total menu overhaul, the Loose Moose aims to rebrand and reposition itself as the definitive sports bar with more beers on tap (last count 54, all of which you can sample for about a buck) than any other bar in Toronto, if not the country, and more high brow pub nibbles.

Gone is the beer and tequila bottle chandelier. No great loss. Tackling the large space as long as an entire city block was probably quite the challenge for McMillan Design who gave this landmark eatery a new lease on life by ridding the space of its old rusty past and replacing it with more trendy rustic charm like vintage signage, stadium seats and old sporting gear. A clever bar redesign makes for more accessible seating during game nights, with lots of elbow room between harvest and high tables for a cozy not crowded feel when the place fills up. And it does fill up, especially on a hockey home night when they won't accept reservations.

The menu is curiously small for the size of this Moose, but it does offer what you'd expect from a sports bar. What you won't expect is a real chef, Matt Rosen (formerly exec sous chef at Reds), who aims to go beyond just wings and nachos. Rosen has carefully crafted a very sophisticated small bites menu that should satisfy even the stuffiest of food snobs, not to mention the major effort going into presentation for an eatery type where wet naps can be considered classy. His carney dogs, for example ($8.50), are beautifully arranged in a basket, teeny weenies bursting with a freshly deep fried jalapeño cornmeal batter. Not the least bit laden with grease from the deep fryer means you can pack in more than a few dipped into a zesty homemade ketchup. The definitive game-watching snack.

The fact that chef also serves ahi tuna is an exemplar of his dedication to deliver something out of the ordinary for this ilk of eatery. Four fish sliders ($11.25) topped with seaweed on a large puffed rice cracker. And though it looks more like an Asian inspired tostada, delicious is delicious no matter what you call it. As for the fish tacos, (three for $8.95) let's just say, look out La Carnita. Lightly battered haddock snuggles next to a wasabi soy cabbage salad, all tucked into a locally made soft corn shell. Nice.

Portions are plentiful, but nothing compared to the size of a nacho platter ($12.50-$13.50) that waiters clear aisles for to get through. But not everything towers on the plate: jumbo wings ($11.25) may come with a slew of mighty tasty sounding sauces (dark rum jerk, Kentucky dry, 5 chilli hot, BBQ pit), but the one-pound order barely fills a small bowl. What is jumbo-sized is the fried chicken ($14.50). Delivered on a lined baking sheet over a bed of fries, half a bird is supposedly hiding under mostly chicken skin coated in a KFC-like peppery breading. And though yummy, it's as thick as Kevlar. I don't think a bullet could get through it. Tearing it apart with your fingers reveals little to no meat, but what I do manage to scavenge are some pretty moist bite sizes of breast. As for a spiced honey-lime buttermilk slaw, suffice it to say that my dining companion daintily deposited her mouthful in a napkin.

And how is it possible that something sounding as good as a bacon and bison meatloaf ($15.50) be anything less than awesome. Alas, it is, far less. The meat is so tightly packed and dry, it could be used as the puck. And don't get me started on the onion rings. BTW onion rings usually do include onions, don't they?

Okay so mains disappoint. Perhaps an order of Antler Room donuts ($5.95) will restore my faith in this kitchen. There must be 15 in an order, maybe more, drizzled in salted caramel with bacon and hickory dust. But though the gargantuan serving may look impressive, buyer beware. They should come with a Health Canada alert. Compared to these Krispy Kremes are fat free. I've never seen a dessert so oil laden, practically dripping with grease. Tell me that someone erred, please. Nope, according to the kitchen, this is how they are done and customers like it that way. All I can say is that anyone who eats these regularly won't be a living customer for long.

I had some pretty high hopes for the rebirth of the Loose Moose. It's such a rare occasion to be able to visit an old stalwart and bestow upon it due praise for sticking around so long. But besides a great room, great service and a mind-blowing selection of beer, the Loose Moose is still nothing but your typical sports bar.

Bottom line is the Loose Moose will probably be around for another 25 years. And like a good home game night, the seats will fill and the crowds will cheer. But no matter how you dress him up, for now this Moose is just another downtown saloon with passable pub grub.
Reviews are meant to describe a dining out experience at a given period in time and are the personal opinion of the writer.
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Alisa Posesorski made a comment about The Loose Moose Tap & Grill

How can a place headlined an homage to mediocrity get four stars out of five? Far more importance should be placed on the food than the setting and service. If a place gets two stars for food, it should not end up with a four star rating no matter how great the setting or service might be, in my humble opinion.
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