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Allens on the Danforth- Disgusting food, service

This is the text of an email I sent to this place today, a really awful experience:

Hello, just emailing you to give some constructive feedback on the extremely poor experience we had at your restaurant today. Soup (the cheddar) emerged after 20 minutes with a thick skin on the top, had obviously been left sitting. We were delivered butter and jam, which sat there minding its own business (more about that later). For mains we ordered an Ulster fry and “Chef Viji’s Excellent” chicken curry. Well let me tell you that Mr. Viji would be better served following a career in advertising rather than cooking, as what he served up was a drab, watery excuse for a meal. We were forewarned as to what was to come, as the server assured us that it wasn’t the worst curry in the city. He didn’t seem remotely familiar with the dishes on the menu, though, which is what I would assume is a basic for workers in that line of business.

The Ulster fry was just pitiful, I’m from Northern Ireland and its nowhere near NI standards, complete with a previously frozen sausage and what seemed like peameal bacon. Please don’t waste your customer’s time boasting on your menu about serving Mawinney’s Irish Sausages, it’s not a familiar brand in Ireland , and any mug can go buy a bag of them frozen from Summerhill Market. Why not put a bit of effort in and go make your own? The “fadge” was unrecognisable, a true travesty.

We complained about the curry, of which about two mouthfuls were eaten (and none of the pita bread passed off as chapati), the guy just grinned gormlessly and said “really?”, no effort to make things good.

And as for the butter and jam? No toast with the fry as we assumed it was destined for. Asking the server, we were told that sometimes diners were given a bun. “Sometimes a bun comes out” were his exact words. So maybe the butter and jam were to coax said bun out, just like putting a carrot in your back garden might attract out a shy bunny rabbit.

An awful experience, not to be repeated, and I will pass this on to my friends.

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  1. supposedly burgers are their specialty

    2 Replies
    1. re: duckdown

      Knocking a restaurant for not making its own sausage is a bit low...

      1. re: Blueicus

        Trying to pretend that frozen sausages from a brand pretty much unknown in Ireland are some kind of selling point is pretty low, too, don't ya think?

    2. Allen's received a favourable review on their patio last year (thought it was in The Star, but can't seem to find it). Intrigued, I went there with my fiance and have since been back twice more (once with my now wife) and another occasion with a friend. Each time, I have been underwhelmed by both the food and the service to the point where, despite the patio (which is very nice in the summer), I actively avoid this restaurant. I have a couple specific comments. The curry was bland, the burgers are nothing special. Frozen patties if I recall. When you tell the front of house guy you'd like to sit on the patio, he quickly fires back "Will you be having dinner?" If you're not, he's reluctant to sit you there, regardless of how busy it is. This leaves one with a distinctly unwelcoming flavour of the place from the minute you walk in the door. If this place was something special, you might accept this kind of attitude, but it's just not (except for the lovely patio).
      In sum, I wholeheartedly agree with the original poster's comments and am not surprised.

      1. I'm no apologist for the service there, which ranges from excellent to awful beyond belief, depending on who you get and how busy they are.

        They have many things on their menu that they don't do well, or that aren't worth the price. The curries are pitiful and anything that sounds fancy is a major risk.

        But Allen's is really just a pub, though one with an atmosphere quite different from the Toronto norm. The burgers remain, to me, the best simple burgers in Toronto. I also like the fish & chips (though these are double the going chippy price) and the capon wings. When one of these isn't up to scratch, I will send it back without any hesitation.

        5 Replies
        1. re: embee

          Exactly. Not only that, but... frozen patties? Seriously?

          1. re: tjr

            If I ever got a frozen burger patty there, they managed to fool me very effectively. I really don't think so.

            That said, they do sell frozen burgers for takeout and they have often used a separate patio menu with grilled food cooked on an outdoor gas barbecue. I can't state that foodappreciator's perception is wrong. They might cook up frozen burgers if they run out of fresh, but I don't think this has ever happened to me.

              1. re: embee

                Allen's does not serve frozen burgers. They are fresh ground and cooked to order. I have never ordered anything other than the burgers and they have been consistently excellent (the best that I have had in Toronto).

                I try to avoid going to Allen's during peak time. Both the food and service seem to suffer when they are really busy.

                I was there for lunch on Friday and their service and burgers were excellent.

            1. re: embee

              I've always found the service more hit than miss. The food is fairly adequate for what in reality is a pub. But for the most part almost everything is over-priced in relation to quality. The burger is okay. Stick to the great beer selection on a hot day and head somehwere else post-patio for decent grub.

            2. anyone know how much a burger+fries cost at Allens? just curious

              1 Reply
              1. re: sleepy

                You wouldn't get your answer from looking at the menu -- although they mention having the best burgers, there is no burger menu, hence no listing of available options, and no prices, either, which I find extremely irritating. If memory serves me correctly (we had burgers and fries there a couple of weeks ago), it's $10 (burger only; fries are extra). The burgers were excellent, cooked medium rare as ordered. We preferred the sweet potato fries to the Yukon golds.

              2. the service is just horrible

                1. I'm glad to read that at least some people are not happy with Allen's. I gave it at least 5 tries and each was a waste of money. Unless you order a burger and fries you are almost guaranteed to be disappointed. Who cares if they have what some say is a great patio, I don't go out to eat for a patio, it's more about the food and good service, of which Allen's has neither. If you want to enjoy a nice patio and great service just walk across the street and try the rooftop deck at GLOBE.
                  edit: the food is very good also. They serve a much netter burger than Allen's and there are no duds on the menu at all.

                  12 Replies
                  1. re: foodyDudey

                    I second that, excellent service at the Globe. Good food too.

                    1. re: JamieK

                      I went there as part of a Bocce tournament in November of last year and we had a set dinner beforehand.

                      I can distinctly remember that the braised lamb shank was delicious.

                      1. re: JamieK

                        Yes, but you are comparing 2 very different dining experiences. I have enjoyed both, but still, they are different. When I go to Allen's, it's usually because the Mister and I have a craving for their fantastic burger and a couple of beers. We don't have to worry about what we're wearing, or make reservations, or even if we have the AMEX card. And, just my opinion of course, but I think that in general, you're asking for trouble if you go to a pub and order anything BUT the basics. Even if it is on the Specials board or on the regular menu. You can order it, and you should expect it to be of the same quality as their "famous" dishes, but you'd be silly to think they can be excellent in everything they cook. They are famous for certain dishes for a reason, and for Allen's that's not curry.

                        As for their service, it just isn't good. If it weren't for the comfortable patio and great burger, I wouldn't keep going back. They are mostly ditzy, unorganized, and 'out-to-lunch'....as is usually the older hostess that sometimes takes you to your table. Last time we were there, she made us feel like she was doing us a big favour by getting us a table outside. Perhaps they need to go back to hospitality school....

                        1. re: Raquel

                          That 'older hostess' that you refer to is none other than Dora herself. The other half to John Maxwell, and Dora Keogh's next door.

                          1. re: millygirl

                            Actually, I don't think so. I know what she looks like. I think maybe her mother? Could that be? When I say older, I mean maybe 50s - 70s? (I wouldn't be good at the CNE....). Nonetheless, you bring up a good point; and that is, it's even MORE shocking to have crappy service when the owners are "in the house".

                            1. re: Raquel

                              I doubt it would be her mother. Dora would be in her mid to late 50's. The only people I've seen seating customers is either Dora or Randall. Randall does a good job of it. I think ditzy is good description for Dora.

                          2. re: Raquel

                            I understand what you're saying about the difference between a pub an bistro experience. But I don't think Globe is a place where you have to worry about what you're wearing. And, these days, even reservations aren't an issue except perhaps on the busy nights. (I made reservations for a weekday lunch a while ago and we were one of three tables in the front section.
                            (can't comment on the AMEX thing because I don't know what that's about).

                            1. re: Raquel

                              They are famous for their burgers only, and they aren't even on the menu. So how is a random person off the street supposed to know not to order any of the other items so highly priced and lauded on the menu?

                              1. re: julesrules

                                Some places are just like that.

                                In-n-Out burger in California (a popular chain) has a whole secret menu/way of ordering that spreads by word of mouth.

                                1. re: grandgourmand

                                  Coincidentally, I was at In n Out last week. The "not-so" secret menu is on their website. My point was that perhaps Allen's could sell their strengths a little better, and customers would be happier. Instead they try to sell their $30 steaks, etc. I don't think it's fair to blame the customer for not knowing they "should" be ordering an item that is not even on the menu!

                                  1. re: julesrules

                                    The "not-so-secret" menu on their site doesn't include everything.

                          3. re: foodyDudey

                            I went once and ordered the bruschetta that was listed as coming on focaccia. What I got served was some watery tomatoes on the bottom half of a cheap hamburger bun. Complete with one or two tell-tale sesame seeds. I questioned the waiter, and was told "that's what our focaccia always looks like".

                            Crazy! I haven't been back.

                          4. I've been to Allen's and to Dora Keogh's a couple of times when I've been in Toronto. The food has always been below par IMHO. I just don't order food there at all anymore.
                            I've been in Dora's more often for events for the Irish community. Even then service isn't all that good anymore. But it is better that Allen's.
                            They both used to be much better years ago on their service and food. But I feel that they are now coasting on their old rep.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: bigfellow

                              I don't think they had good service even in the early to mid-90's. They don't have any reputation to coast on. One thing I can say, they are consistent. Some things never change. You'd think that since they actually charge money for sub-par food they would dispense with the attitude. Nobody should have to deal with that, it's not as if they pay the diners to eat there.
                              And I like how they seem to "reserve" so many tables that they don't want us to sit at, when I've eaten and left with those tables still empty. Obviously some people don't car about service or food, ortherwise this place should have closed years ago.

                              1. re: foodyDudey

                                And here is what puzzles me to no end about places that have reputations for poor service; how do they survive? Because we as customers continue to expect no better it would seem. Hmmmm...

                                1. re: tuttebene

                                  They really do have a few extremely good servers. However, the kitchen can be very slow and some of the servers are truly pitiful. They are regularly mobbed, especially during patio season, and they can't handle crowds.

                                  The attitude thing is interesting. I know it exists, but I've never gotten it. This is surprising, since I usually go there dressed WAY down.

                                  As to the food, it was much better overall in the distant past. The lamb shank is actually good, but I basically go there for burgers and wings. The burger toppings are of high quality, but this is one burger that doesn't NEED toppings. The fries, while fresh, tend to be soggy. This was not the case years ago.

                                  The beer selection is extraordinary. Unfortunately, the beer prices are very high.

                            2. That's the funniest restaurant review I've read in ages. Thanks for the laughs mate.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: ziggystardust

                                I agree I was laughing throughout the entire review

                                the bun part was the best

                              2. I have only been to Allen's once. It was during their "steak festival" in Jan/Feb this year. It was quite busy, but the food was well worth the wait. There were 5 of us, we all ordered steaks from this ridiculously long list. We also ordered 5 different side dishes and shared them. I remember that the sweet potato fries were awesome.


                                1. I have never had a problem here at all. I do limit myself to the burger. The service hasn't been very friendly but they're also not incompetent. I often get what I want and need in a timely manner without much chit chat. Find by me!

                                  1. Pub or not, they shouldn't be putting food on their menu that they can't deliver a pleasant customer experience from.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Pincus

                                      Agree fully. I know some great pubs food wise.

                                    2. I've been to Allen's many times, whether for brunch, dinner, or just a couple of drinks at the bar.  Overall my impression has always been positive.  I agree with posters who suggest that the hosts often have some attitude, but thats never really bothered me. Service, for me, has always been proficient. In particular I find the bartenders to be exremely professional and well versed in there extensive product (best whiskey collection in Toronto). I would recommend sitting at the bar if that suits you.  We sat in the dining room (table of 4) for the steak festival this year.  The room was packed, the food was excellent and the service was good (not excellent). The highlight of our evening was when John Maxwell himself reverently decanted our bottle of wine tableside. Say what you like about some of the servers there ( I may even agree) but Mr. Maxwell is a charming and erudite gentleman. His passion for great wine and expensive meat is obvious.

                                      I don't think I've had the poor defenseless sausage that has been derided in this thread, but the last time I had brunch at Allen's I ordered a side of sausage patties, which were like little spicy pork burgers, tasted delicious and appeared to be house made.

                                      The OP's letter was hilarious (especially the musings of how "Sometimes a bun comes out"), but my experience of Allen's doesn't match. I will go back to Allen's again and again for what they do well: burgers, steaks, brunch, beer, whiskey, an intelligent all Canadian winelist (If your not a fan of Canadian wine, talk to John Maxwell. I bet he can serve you something that will change your mind.)

                                      I will now definitely avoid Mr. Viji's curry which I have sometimes been tempted to order, against my good instincts.

                                      A well written OP. I love the word gormless. But I will continue to be one of Allen's loyal regulars.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: haggisdragon

                                        We used to go to Allan's regularly a long time ago 80's through to mid 90's. In my opinion, the owner has always had a really frosty attitude toward customers which seemed reflected in the attitude of many servers.

                                        We went less and less as the food and service deteriorated over the years. The last time was a few years ago now even though we live only a couple of blocks away. Many people we know the neighbourhood have a "what broke the camels back" experience that finally caused them to stop going there. Some of the stories are hilarious.

                                        1. re: sesame

                                          Until this recent thread, I honestly thought I was the only one who had bad experiences there. I'm glad to see that I'm not alone as I couldn't figure out why I was getting that weird treatment, I didn't realise many people got treated like that.