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Feeding Forty Undergrads - A Challenge

In a few weeks the SO has the challenge of taking forty newly arrived residence students for dinner on their first night away from home. She needs to pick a place that is accomodating of unadventuresome eaters with a variety of tastes, where a number of the mains run from $10 to $17, which can accomodate forty people, and which is within about twenty minutes walking distance from St. George and Harbord.

In the past groups have gone to some, shall we say, uninspired places: Pickle Barrel, Mr. Green Jeans, etc. One suggestion was Hemingway's, which can also be a bit spotty. Any ideas folks? I trust that if there exists a place that meets these criterias, you guys will know it...

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  1. The Madison Pub. Might as well introduce them to the place early! It's just pub food and not really inspired, but it's appropriate and fun for undergrads.

    1. If they are just entering university, they're all underage so perhaps a delay in pub introductions! If you make a reservation, you can probably get the upstairs area at Spring Rolls on Yonge St (S. of Bloor). I think they can fit 40.. It's not bad for people with a variety of tastes, and on the cheaper end of the scale. Unfortunately most larger places in the area are going to be chains.

      1. What about organizing a BBQ in the courtyard at Hart House? We had one during Frosh Week (granted this was *several* years ago) - food was pretty good from what I remember and there was also space to eat indoors. It was nice because everyone could mingle around and you weren't restricted to conversation with the 3 people you happened to be sitting closest to.

        Alternatively, and I really hate to suggest this, there's always Springrolls. I also think the Maddy is a good idea.

        3 Replies
        1. re: caddie

          I had forgot to mention Springrolls, which is where we went when I was in first year... I guess because I haven't been there much since. They have two other BBQs during the week (and those are definitely the most fun). It is sort of a tradition to go out for dinner. I haven't been there in a long time, but can anyone comment on the Red Room? As I remember, it was dirt cheap and surprisingly competent - is that true?

          1. re: markdsgraham

            What about Supermarket? Big space, so they could probably accommodate the numbers, interesting-ish menu, inexpensive, and a not-bad vibe.

            Although jinxed is absolutely correct on pointing out that many/most undergrads are now 17-18 and under the legal drinking age... so I dunno if Supermarket is too much of a bar?

            I do like the Maddy. I detest the Red Room.... I can't actually remember why people in my department stopped going there, but it has a reputation for being pretty icky.

            1. re: markdsgraham

              Red Room is indeed dirt cheap, though I would classify the food as "merely edible".

              The service is best described as zen apathy, and might work best if you're an aimless college student with no set schedule and plenty of time to meditate upon the meaning of life and the existence of god through the vessels of slow-as-molasses servers.

              Good for lazy Sunday afternoons that have no set schedule, but definitely not the place to take 40 hungry undergrads - they just can't cope with that.

          2. How about Obie's on Bloor? I think the food is decent there, and it will definitely accomodate a large group.

            1. we're talking first year undergrads right? these kids are usually 17 and 18 these days.. there is no way they're getting into the maddy unless they're already flashing fake ids and i doubt markdsgraham is supposed to be supporting that.

              my one and only experience at the redroom has sworn me off it forever, but perhaps ordering the chinese noodles and having a chinese background was the mistake. it is, however, notably still a pretty common UofT hangout that they could be introduced to.

              spring rolls isn't a bad idea, although i'd probably opt for east! on queen west instead. along the walk south they can pass by baldwin street and your SO can point out this little fun area. i can't think of a single restaurant that would be able to easily accommodate such a large group, but in the long run they might be thankful for knowing about. they can always walk back up on spadina ave to check out chinatown.

              2 Replies
                1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                  if spring rolls is an option then you might as well consider east... especially since they're the SAME thing.

              1. Since your not looking for culinary excellence, how about Margarita's Fiesta Room on Balwin?

                1. I assume the SO is a residence don at UC or Innis? :)

                  My first night in res, we were taken over to Mr. Greek over on Bay St. (and the second night up to the now defunct J.J. Muggs).

                  One thing though: don't assume they are unadventuresome. For this small town girl, that was the whole point of going to school in Toronto, and I've never looked back.

                  1. Linda's, above Salad King. You could reserve the whole place.

                    1. I spent a few years as a Don at U of T, so I had similar challenges. Some of our 'group meal' locations that were well-loved by students:

                      Eating Garden (Baldwin)
                      - you could possibly negotiate a bunch of family-style dishes with them

                      Spring Rolls (Yonge & Bloor)
                      - Not my personal favourite, but it is a crowd-pleaser

                      Asian Legend (Dundas & Beverley)
                      - They have some private rooms downstairs, which can be fun

                      Pho Hung (Spadina & Baldwin)
                      - May as well introduce everyone to this place in Frosh week, they'll end up finding it sooner or later...

                      Hair of the Dog (Church & Wellesley)
                      - I'm a HUGE fan of this place, and the food is great

                      I hope this helps. I've tended toward more East Asian choices I suppose, but those have worked well in the past for me. Good luck, and make sure your partner gets some sleep before the students arrive!

                      1. Butler's Pantry on Markham Street with a side trip to Honest Ed's so that they know where to get stuff cheap to get by the next few years.

                        It's honest food and delicious.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Zengarden

                          i 2nd Butlers - i've never seen more than 12 or so people there on a weeknight, so you might be able to get the space you need. also, there are more "courageous" choices on the menu for thosed who roll that way.

                          or, further down the street and more pub-style, is the Victory Cafe.

                        2. Thanks everyone - I haven't been to the Butler's Pantry in a few years, but I thought the Markham St. location was incredible value the last time I was there. If they can ram everyone in, I think I'll suggest that. I'll report back when she decides and the group goes.

                          And yes, as some of you guessed, she's a Don at UofT.

                          1. So they did go to Butler's, and it got great reviews. Some who had the tandoori chicken penne were enthusiastic, as was the SO about her curried chickpea pie. No complaints were heard and, importantly, everyone seemed to find something they liked for a price they could afford.

                            The group only ended up being about twenty five or thirty and they rearranged the furniture to put them all in big rows on the patio. The service was apparently excellent: very friendly and attentive (for example, they continually filled people's water glasses in spite of the fact that the students were clearly not spending much money, and they split the bills up to make it easier for everyone to pay their share). Students were also happy to get to see what is, IMO, one of the city's coolest neighbourhoods along on the way.

                            Thanks, hounds, for all the recs!

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: markdsgraham

                              That is fantastic. I am so glad that it worked out and everyone had a great time. It really is a terrific spot for those who want a nice meal but are on a tight budget. Prefer the Markham location to the Queen one which can be quite slow or indifferent.

                              Is this going to be a regular thing for your SO or is it just the orientation meal?

                              1. re: Zengarden

                                Probably not again until next year, although if you have recs I'd be happy for them - it's good to have places like this in your back pocket for the various group outings that tend to come up.

                              2. re: markdsgraham

                                The Butler triumphs again. Some may knock the quality (and do here, everytime I suggest it), but, just like Green/Red Room, there is something to be said for plentiful, cheapy, homey, good food with a variety of options and decent patio. Once we stop being students, we forget what students are looking for and will pay for (I hesitate to say settle for, since I don't see it as settling). Twas a good thing to take them off the Spring Rolls/East beaten track, and expose them to the whole other-neighbourhood thing, too.

                                1. re: LemonLauren

                                  Forgot to link...

                                  Butler's Pantry
                                  591 Markham St, Toronto, ON M6G2L7, CA

                                2. re: markdsgraham

                                  Thanks for the report. I'll definitely have to visit this Butler's location soon.