Beer has been enchanting numerous cultures around the world since it was first brewed in ancient Iran some 7000 years ago. One of the best places to try some of these storied and fermented wonders is at the Beer Bistro, located at 18 King Street East (between Yonge and Victoria Streets). It has been open since 2003, and they offer more than 120 varieties of bottled craft beers and 20 taps dispensing draught beer from 15 countries. One of these is a distinctive and delicious brew called Sass on the Side Brown Ale originating from one of its own employees, Jamie Shillow and her husband Ben's Shillow Beer Company. It is exclusively sold at the Beer Bistro. They also have rare and unusual beers from around the world stored for over a decade in their cold cellar, available upon request.
A bright and airy space, aided by the huge picture windows looking out onto King Street and the ample interior lighting, including an absolutely enormous globular chandelier hanging above the bar. Entering the premises, you're enthusiastically greeted by the staff standing at a dark wooden kiosk, and escorted to your table. A coat and parcel storage area is a nice touch while you dine. Beyond the front area lies an enormous dark wood bar with ample evidence of the multitude of beers that are served here. Plenty of bottles are lined up on shelves on the back wall, and 20 chrome plated taps that dispense the draught beer gleam magnificently from across the room.
The Beer Bistro has the feel of a comfortable yet not ostentatious living room, with dark wood tables, and chairs with foliage inspired cushion coverings. There are a number of old fashioned posters with beer themes hanging around the premises. According to the server Natalia, they'll be undergoing an extensive interior renovation which will have them closing up over holiday season, so the interior will be all new to go with a new year in 2017.
The food offerings at the Beer Bistro are extensive and mouth watering. From their famous Belgian Frites to their wide selection of mussels, to their sandwiches, salads, main courses and desserts they prepare their wares using the plethora of beers at their disposal. Based in Belgian tradition, this use of beer for cooking applies to everything from brining their own bacon in ale before smoking it to cure their salmon in one of their citrusy wheat beers. Even their potent habanero sauce is tempered with a plummy Abbey Dubbel.
The prices range from a few dollars for a non-alcoholic drink like coke or coffee to over $30 for one of their main courses, the braised Lamb Shank. Overall, my bill came to $43 for my drinks, appetizer, main course and dessert (minus the gratuity).
In addition to the awesome array of beers they offer its patrons, the Beer Bistro also has non-alcoholic drinks (soda pop, coffee, tea, etc.) and has a good wine, cocktail and spirit list to satiate the palate of any of their customers. I chose the Shillow Beer Company's Sass on the Side Brown Ale, a beer that is both nutty and chocolatey with a smooth and satisfying aftertaste. I also ordered a Coca Cola to pace myself with this fine brew. Drink prices range from a few dollars for a non alcoholic beverage to $60 for one of the large bottles of Belgian ale from their well-stocked cellar.
I sampled their famous and oft-talked about Belgian Frites, which were a steal for $6. They describe the process by which they prepare them on their site;
We take a batch of russet potatoes and store it for one week in our warm room to best balance starch removal while slowing its conversion to sugar. Every morning, a minimum of 100 lbs. of these are manually chipped by whoever shows up last to work. The chips are washed under cold running water to remove surface starches, and then refrigerated under water for 24 hours to stiffen the potato cell walls for a crispier result. For service, the frites are first blanched in a blend of beef and duck fat and then cooled to room temperature. They're then fried up at high temperature in peanut oil until the outside is crispy and golden, the inside fluffy and flavourful. A generous helping is seasoned with kosher salt.
They were brought to the table in a conical holder, along with their homemade mayonnaise and smoked tomato ketchup. They certainly lived up to their reputation, and were absolutely delicious! Prices for their appetizers range from $6 to $18.
The Bistro Burger called out to me from the menu. Seasoned with oregano, on a buttermilk beer bun, I added on the Willowgrove Beer Bacon for $2, and the homemade American cheese for $3. You can also opt for caramelized onions for another $2. It was exquisite, and I must call out special attention for the coleslaw on the side, which included red and yellow pepper slices within its crunchy goodness. With each menu offering they suggest a beer pairing. For the burger, it was the aforementioned Shillow Beer Company Sass on the Side. Definitely a reason in and of itself to come back to the Beer Bistro soon.
A bit of a quandary here, as all of their desserts looked amazing. Should I go for their homemade ice creams made with their in house beers? The Cinnamon Doughnuts? Perhaps the Pear and Walnut bread pudding? In the end, I went with the Lemon Cheesecake, made with Blanche de Chambly beer, with a graham cracker crust and topped with meringue. A refreshing treat and satisfying end to a great meal. Prices on the desert menu range from $7 to $16.
Greeted with a smile and served by the very friendly and knowledgeable Natalia, the service at the Beer Bistro was excellent. Natalia and her colleagues provided outstanding recommendations about the beer and the food offerings. Everything was brought and cleared from the table in a timely manner and they asked if everything was to my satisfaction enough times without being annoying. Overall, they provided amazing service.
The Beer Bistro staff
The food and beer that I had at the Beer Bistro were delectable and well worth the good word of mouth they've attained over the past 13 years. I left feeling full and satisfied but not heavy or bloated by any stretch of the imagination. I will most certainly be back to the Beer Bistro with family and friends and would highly recommend it.
The Beer Bistro is open Monday to Wednesday from 11:30am to 1am, Thursday and Friday from 11;30am to 2am, Saturday from 11am to 2am and Sunday and Holidays from 11am to midnight. Reservations are recommended for this hopping establishment, and can be made online or by calling them directly at 416-861-9251. For larger parties you may want to book their private dining room, which can also be done online or by phone. So do yourself a favour and check out the Beer Bistro, following this good advice from a 19th century beer toast;
Let’s drink the liquid of amber so bright;
Let’s drink the liquid with foam snowy white;
Let’s drink the liquid that brings all good cheer;
Oh, where is the drink like old-fashioned beer?