I found this finished post from August 2012 sitting on my computer. I must have drafted it on the plane then forgot to publish it. However, I like it, therefore here it is, better late than never.
When I arranged to meet Ben for dinner — my childhood friend who used to torment me so he might as well be a brother – all I asked was that he pick somewhere tasty. Knowing my deep-seated love of the Maritimes, he reserved a table at Hopgood’s Foodliner.
Hopgood’s Foodliner is in Roncesvalles, or Roncy, as everyone calls it. The chef is from Nova Scotia and spent time at Toronto’s Hoof Cafe.
The layout is long and narrow with the bar on the left, kitchen in the back and bathrooms down a set of stairs to the right. So yes, just like EVERY restaurant in Toronto, maybe you end up in a kitchen party in this one?
Ben and I split half a dozen Malpeque oysters ($16). The PEI beauties came with a savoury wild ginger mignonette so good that Ben’s boyfriend, Ian, ate it alone with a spoon. The sauce tasted like it had splashes of soy sauce and peanut oil.
Ian’s sweet corn soup ($12) was indeed sweet and oh-so-creamy good with a bonus punch of minced Ontario peach, jalapeno, crème fraiche.
Are they a Maritime favourite? Not sure, but I do remember eating the crackers with cheese and smoked oysters with my adoptive Maritime family on their boat. Though I doubt the Belyeas would stand for $15 for a plate of dip and Triscuits.
A pretty plate of chilled albacore tuna ($22) arrived next, artfully arranged with honey mushrooms, dashi broth jelly, bits of pork rind, charred garlic scape, and Japanese mayo. A real winner at balancing flavours and textures.
I thought the surf and turf tartare ($19) was clever but it’s not for the faint of heart. The tartare is a blend of raw beef heart and raw scallop. It’s spread with a thin layer of anchovy Tabasco mayo, then topped with crushed housemade potato chips. Again a smart balance of textures. The potato chips are crushed because if they were lying around whole, that’s all anyone would want to eat.
Hopliner’s tackles the iconic Halifax food by offering donairs ($14 for 2). I was quite nervous that this would be an attempt at reinvention. Any worries about authenticity vanished when they arrived IN A PAPER BAG.
Except for a smaller donair size, Hopliner’s sticks to the basics: a hefty pile of thinly sliced spiced beef and pork with diced tomatoes and onions on a soft homemade pita with SWEET SAUCE.
Yes, that sweet creamy white sauce that cannot be contained by any pita, napkin or hand. The sauce that has millions of people dreaming about a REAL Halifax donair. As soon as I bit into my donair, the sauce oozed between my fingers and down my wrist. Ah memories of Pizza Corner.
At this point, you may have noticed as we did, that we had basically ordered a dinner of protein. Shrug.
I was pretty full but there’s no way I could resist the braised pork cheek and tiny sausage ($26). Oh look, vegetables. A handful of Swiss chard and salsify counts, doesn’t it?
For dessert, we got crispy toffee ($8) which came wrapped in a brown paper package, tied up with string. This is surely someone’s favourite thing. (Is it stuck in your head now?)
Something else I associate with Pizza Corner emerged when I got back to my hotel. I discovered I had somehow splattered food on my shirt and shorts. But all that means is I was having too good of a time to notice.
Hopgood’s Foodliner, 325 Roncesvalles Ave., Toronto, (416) 533-2723. Open Thursday-Monday, 6-11 p.m.