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Dec 30, 2009 06:18 AM

Allens on Danforth - how do they draw the crowds?

After a few years of swearing it off, me and the missus decided to try Allens on the Danforth. We heard about the burger and I remember them having a nice beer selection.

We arrive and are seated in the bar area. The dining room - at 9 PM - was packed and new tables were being seating steadily up until 10 PM. The patrons seemed like they were regulars and they were joking with the manager and wishing him a happy new years. Seemed like they were happy customers.

I wasn't hungry but my lady ordered a burger - medium-well - and we split a side of potato fries.
She ordered a Trad Ale and I had a hankering for a Belgium beer. I asked our waitress about the Belgium beer and she coldly said "I don't know anything about them." But....if your restaurant is known for its beer selection, shouldn't you know something about 25% of your bottled beer? She continued, "the most popular is Leffe Brun." When you have some Chimay and St Bernadus in bottles, Leffe Brun isn't a really a specialty beer.

I stood up to walk around the corner to eye the beer list again and our waitress disappeared for 10 minutes. I finally asked her if she could find out what the Witakerke is like and she silently went to the bar. I saw her ask the bartender, heard him say "I don't know!", then saw him read the bottle to her. She came back and said "its a wheat beer." Fine. So I ordered it.

Burger came 15-20 minutes later. The waiter who brought it put it down silently. Fries were ordered a la carte. My missus didn't enjoy them because they weren't crispy at all.

We had to wait and wait and wait to flag our waitress down for the bill. Seemed like she was unhappy with us even though we were very polite and our only crime MAY have been to ask politely about a recommendation for a Belgium beer. A burger, an order of fries and two beer came to $35. It was a good burger, but it was not worth that whatsoever. Horrible service, just like I remember. And the rest of the menu seemed very overpriced....yet it was a packed house.

what gives?

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  1. Your experience is very similar to the ones we have had at Allens. I guess there are enough people that don't care about proper service or how good the food is, and this place is for them.

    1. 'Tis a mystery ain't it? I too have wondered about it's appeal. My thoughts are that it's an institution and as you noted, most patrons seem to be regulars. I suspect that it attracts beer and scotch afficianados and that the food is secondary so most people are forgiving or not really "chowish". It has a great patio and the grilling in summer has appeal, until you try the very overpriced selections that are mediocre at best. The rest of the menu is way overpriced as well. Not sure why the sweet potato frites have such appeal; mine have always been soggy. The burger is good but not worthy of it's demigod status (or special trip or price...) It has a rep for very bad service and you certainly got that. The last time I gave it another try was last summer. My dining companion got into a very heated argument with the hostess (owner); I was shocked at her lack of people skills, arrogance, and her confrontational approach to our problem (we are NOT high maintenance folks!). I am very shocked that the bartender knew so little and was of no help to you but it fits with the poor service track record. They do a nice brunch but again pricey. Not worth it. I've reactivated my boycott. Better choices in the hood for that price point or less.

      8 Replies
      1. re: tuttebene

        I understand the service problems and the overpriced menu, but what I never understand is the griping about the burger. It's not expensive at all, and for the price you pay, it's the best bang for buck burger in the city imo. Meat ground in house and cooked to level of desired doneness. Very simple, but very effective.

        I have never ordered anything in there other than the burger, I don't see that changing anytime soon.

        1. re: aser

          Unseasoned meatball on a bun. No wonder they can serve it medium rare. The shape makes it easy for the cook, difficult for the diner. I find that inconsiderate. To each their own

          1. re: aser

            I don't think it's fair to dismiss opinions and experiences not consistent with your own as griping. Taste and value re: burgers are very subjective - just check the number of threads and postings about the Best Burgers in TO. My opinion referenced that given the taste, the price wasn't worth it, for me, regardless of the quality of ingredients. Unfortunately, at this price point, polite service is optional. There are many ways to measure value....

            1. re: tuttebene

              Right but you did question it's "price", I really don't understand that part. It's not an expensive burger, that was my main point.

              Googs - Perhaps my taste buds are off, but it's been well seasoned each time I've had it. We will agree to disagree.

              I understand the service issues and such, those are legitimate gripes. You have to admit these issues have soured your opinion on the food, not entirely, but you can't say it hasn't been affected. We're only human....

              1. re: aser

                I actually have never had truly bad service there - although I've seen the attitude. I like the burger, and the one time I did ask for a beer rec, the bartender understood what I was looking for (something local & unusual on tap) in two tries. I love the vibe on the patio and have good memories from many visits with friends.
                It is most definitely all the other the overpriced, crappy food that *I* have an issue with. Were the food great, both price & attitude would be more tolerable.

                1. re: julesrules

                  I have also never had bad service, and certainly never rude. My first time there the gentleman who seated us also attended to our table (as well as a waiter and two other servers who brought out our food all at the same time). He was positively charming and delightful, and greatly added to the enjoyment of our experience.

                  I had the burger and loved it, though I would order medium rare next time -- rare was a bit too raw in the middle. My DC ordered the steak special and couldn't stop raving about how good it was. Unfortunately, she didn't ask the price when the specials were listed, and was shocked to find out it was $45 (way above anything else on the menu). Mind you, it was Royal Beef Filet Mignon. But still.... Admittedly, she should have asked the price. But considering how much out of the range of their normal pricing it was, I think they should have given the price when listing the specials.

                  We always go early and sit in the dining room. It's usually very busy by the time we leave, so I can understand if the service would get a bit slower by then. Rudeness from a server is never okay, though. It strikes me that most of the complaints about attitude from servers come from people sitting in the bar area. Or does it happen in the dining room as well?

                  My other two visits were fine. It was very busy with a St Patrick's Day special one time, and the service was slower but still acceptable. The other time was also a special menu, but the service was very quick and friendly.

                  Maybe it's mainly because we go early (5:30 pm) before it gets really busy.

                  1. re: CeeQueue

                    I've stayed out of this one because I've said it all before, but this thread continues to grow, so:

                    The service at Allen's can range from super competent to bad beyond belief. Rudeness can happen anywhere and any time, but it definitely isn't "house policy".

                    When the place is busy, the service is always very slow, whether good or bad otherwise.

                    Some servers have an attitude problem; others don't. We've never gotten any attitude at the door EXCEPT when it's very slow and one of the servers is also hosting.

                    The Canadian wine and overall beer lists are both extremely good, but there doesn't seem to be any staff training. Some servers can help; most can't. Alcohol prices are generally high.

                    The good food is the basic pub food, and it is leagues better than the food at most Toronto pubs. I still consider their burger Toronto's best (ignoring those that cost ridiculous prices). I wish I could say it was merely average, but Toronto isn't much of a burger town. It is priced reasonably, tastes good without fancy toppings, and is cooked to order and to taste. If it arrives cold, or incorrectly cooked, I send it back.

                    The soups are usually good, but they arrive cold much too often. The fish & chips, lamb shank, and similar items are usually good, though more costly than the Toronto norm. The curries are predictably terrible.

                    The wings (not Buffalo style) are very big and very good, but they used to be better. The fries, once excellent, are now never crisp enough and the sweet potato fries are especially soggy. If it's not busy, I order them well done. If it's busy, I don't bother.

                    Menu prices rise great heights, with some "specials" topping $50. I don't order them.

                    1. re: embee

                      Very helpful post, embee. I will use it for reference next time I go.

        2. Agree with the others, all sizzle and no steak. But, places can last forever if they manage that well.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Pincus

            atomeyes, this is no laughing matter :)

            I think that for many in the 'hood it's pretty much the only place that doesn't serve rice and potatoes on the same plate hence the attraction. We've had the same experience at one time or another, and yes, Dora can be quite testy at times. Randall, on the other hand is a breath of fresh air. Having said all of this, we only go when friends convince us to meet up there.

            Back to new year's resolution - be very selective as to where I spend my dining $$ in 2010.

            1. re: millygirl

              location and inertia keep a lot of truly mediocre places far busier than the food or ambience deserve. randall is a gem but the food et. al. are nothing more than barely ok.

              1. re: millygirl

                True enough about the rice and taters but surely there are options in between? Let's start with Mambo Lounge and Globe, both across the street and a better way to spend cherished Dining $$ AND be treated with respect if not some appreciation for your patronage. I have often expressed that IMO, Toronto sadly puts up with really crappy service and mediocre food enough to support these venues way too much.

            2. A lot of the busyness recently has been due to the popularity of The Toxic Avenger next door at the Music Theatre. The Globe too has been catering to a pre- and after theatre crowd.

              I ended up at Allens a few weeks ago because I had planned to meet a friend in the lounge at Globe and the entire restaurant was closed for a party. The weather being unpleasant, we just ducked into Allens by default. Even though it was early, about 5:45pm -- the place was full.

              I guess it's hit and miss with the service because we ended up with a waiter (male) who was extremely pleasant, friendly, warm and helpful. He asked us if we were going to see the show, as all diners are asked, to help ensure theatre goers get there in time. We were not of course, but he advised us to try to order soon if we could as a party of 14 nearby was getting ready to order and we'd get our food quicker if we got our orders in before them. He was not rushing us, just being helpful. In fact, my friend and I yakked and drank and nibbled comfortably for about two or more hours, so it was not a case of rushing.

              I had the mussels, which is an app but turned out to be huge, I guess it's for sharing. Steamed in beer and garlic and herbs, they were good. My friend had the lamb shank braised in Guiness and loved it.

              1. Re: the beer knowledge - I don't go to Allen's that often, but I live in the neighbourhood so end up there by default sometime. Last time was the summer before last on the lovely patio. My friend and I noticed they had a beer we love called XO listed on the chalkboard. (We discovered it at the Beerbistro - a place that I think does an exemplary job of selling their great selection of beers - with a beer menu that gives some comprehensive info, as well as servers who go to monthly "beer school" and really know their stuff.) We asked the server at Allen's how long they have carried it and she told us at least as long as the 8 years she has worked there. So in all the times my friend and I had been there this highly coveted beer was right under our noses and we didn't know we wanted it! So they have a decent selection of beer but I guess you're supposed to know what you want!

                11 Replies
                1. re: bigos70

                  Speaking of inconsiderate... How hard would it be for Allen's to put together their own beer menu listing the defining characteristics and origins of each? They would have done that years ago if they cared about their clientele.

                  1. re: Googs

                    If you can serve crap and have no service but still pack them in, why bother?

                    1. re: foodyDudey

                      Sorry. I was off on that other planet where people, including business people, are kind and thoughtful.

                      1. re: Googs

                        I determined long ago that Allen's is not on that planet.

                        1. re: foodyDudey

                          Agreed. My wife and I gave it a few tries and decided to swear off it. The food is not good - though I don't think I've ever had the burger - (even if I have had, I would have to say it wasn't memorable). The bald-headed host (owner?) has an off-putting attitude. Not friendly. Anyway, there are too many great places to go in Toronto to be bothered about this place.

                          143 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON M4K1N2, CA

                          1. re: foodappreciator

                            The bald headed host is not the owner. And I have to say that your way off base criticizing his attitude. He has to be the most consistently professional and courteous person working there or any where for that matter. Maybe, you caught him on a rare off night. I don't deny that Allen's has some atrocious front of house employees, but he is not one of them.

                            1. re: haggisdragon

                              I totally agree with you haggisdragon. As I said earlier above, Randall is a great guy and the place really suffers when he's not in command.

                      2. re: foodyDudey

                        Which would also explain the Toronto Maple Leafs :-)

                      3. re: Googs

                        The irony is that they actually have tasting notes for the wines on their wine list, if I remember correctly. Too bad they can't do the same for what is a decent list of beers. All they have to do is have one menu with tasting notes available for those who ask, likewise for their scotches.

                        I continue to go in spite of the inconsistent service because I prefer the food to that of the Auld Spot. I just go with the knowledge that I may have to be happy if the server doesn't drop the food on the way to the table.

                        1. re: sloweater

                          I love the patio at Allen's in the summer. Off season it is the Globe Bistro (thanks Mark)for me. Ambiance is not all that important however it does in fact contribute
                          to the entire experience. And yes, the beer list is awesome. I wonder.... is this what you would call gastro-pub fare and leave it at that?