Beet Ice Cream, Lemon Crema, Brownie, with Whiskey Pairings

What qualities make a great pub? To me, it’s having good food, an ample selection of drinks, in a place where you’d want to hangout with your friends often. When we were invited to Habits Gastropub, I had these three criteria in mind. So did Habits meet them? Read on to find out.

Let’s start with the drinks; this is a pub after all. When you walk into Habits, the first thing you notice is the striking whisky wall, with its over 300 bottles of different whiskys. Fun fact – Habits boasts the third largest whisky collection in Toronto. There’s also a large selection of wines, infused liquors, and beer on tap. An ample selection of drinks? Check.

Whisky Wall

Whisky Wall

How about the setting? The clean lines, and the glass and steel fixtures, give a modern feel, while the quotes and drawings on blackboards, and the mason jars and cookbooks on wooden shelves, tip the scale back to the traditional side. It’s a good mix of contemporary and cozy. On different nights, you’ll find live music or comedy, or various food and drink specials. A place to hangout with your friends often? Check.

Habits-Gastropub-John-Tan-BestofToronto-2014-001

Food is perhaps where most ordinary pubs are hit and miss. But Habits is no ordinary pub – it’s a gastropub. By definition means there’s an inherent focus on food, and in Habits’ case, it’s “high quality pub fare”. You can find a lot of traditional pub items on the menu, like burgers, fries, and nachos, but with little twists to make them un-ordinary. It was the non-traditional items though that really set Habits apart.

Chefs in the kitchen

Chefs in the kitchen

We sat down and were treated to the first course of the evening – the Seabass Ceviche. It was light and fresh, with just the right amount of tartness and sweetness. Then came the Buffalo Sweetbreads with its two dipping sauces. If having sweetbreads on the menu doesn’t tell you you’re in a gastropub, I don’t know what will. Next was the Salmon Duo – a salmon mousse on a crostini, and cured slices with pickles and mustard. Finally, there was the Roasted Cauliflower Salad, which was my favourite among the appetizers. This dish tickled multiple senses – with its crunchy and soft juxtaposition of textures, and its sweet, sour and spicy flavour profiles.

Buffalo Sweetbreads

Buffalo Sweetbreads

The Bone Marrow Toast was the next course. Normally any dish with bone marrow can feel very heavy, but it was thoughtfully paired with lighter ingredients (cucumber and radish) for balance. Next came the most traditional pub item we had that night – the Habits burger. The patty was very juicy, and it was topped with a Putanesca relish, crispy onions, and pancetta, all between a toasted brioche bun. The Chicken Liver Pappardelle was served next, and while I’m generally not a fan of liver, this one worked for me. The Braised Veal Cheek was the last of the mains and was my highlight. The veal was extremely tender, and had very strong flavours.

Habits Slider, Putanesca Relish

Habits Slider, Putanesca Relish

The desserts were what I was looking forward to the most, and they didn’t disappoint. The beet ice cream (yes, beet) on a bed of walnut praline, and topped with mascarpone, was simply delicious. The brownie had a smokey flavour and unlike most brownies, not overly sweet. The lemon crema was my personal choice of the trio – I’m a fan of tartness in a dessert; not all desserts have to be just plain sweet. Each of these was paired with a specific whisky to complement them (see top image), and that’s exactly what the pairings did. What could be better than whisky and dessert to end a great meal. Great food? Check.

Habits Gastropub promised high quality pub fare, and delivered on this promise. Course after course, we were treated to food that surprised. Every dish was deliberate and thoughtful with its contrasts of tastes and textures, and interesting combination of ingredients. If you’re looking for upscale dining and drinking in a comfortable setting – an elevated pub experience – then this gem in Little Italy is surely worth a try.

Habits Gastropub is located at 928 College St, near College and Dovercourt.

Photos by John Tan

Check out this video of Habits Gastropub by ViewtheVibe.com

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John Tan

John is an avid traveller, but equally loves being a tourist in his own city. With camera in hand, he enjoys discovering the sights, sounds, tastes, and everything else that Toronto has to offer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram (@iam_johntan) to see what he's been up to lately.