Browne's Bistro on Woodlawn - what's the story?
- Thatcher Jun 26, 2010 06:59 PM
So, I walk by this place daily. Have always thought it would be interesting to try, as I'm looking for a neighborhood "local" that's an alternative from the pub offerings that line the street. Likewise, Terroni's doesn't exactly make for a welcoming place where I can sit at the bar, chill out and eat a late meal at my leisure, after a long day work.
Thing is, the place smells like death. What I mean is, even though the it's always packed, it's also always full of blue-hairs, walkers and octogenarians. Seriously. The parking area is lined with Merc's, Audi's, Jag's and the rest, but the average customer age must be pushing 73. And it's slammed by 7:00 and empty by 9:00...
Either the food is so gobsmacking good that these people are eating here in the hope that it's their last meal, or the service is so hypnotically smooth that one can dine in blissful peace; unruffled by arrogant youngster waitstaff who can't wait to get home and play with that ridiculous interweb foolishness...
Anyone ever eat here? What's the inside scoop?
Bumping because I'd love to know too. It's always in the back of my mind to try, but there's very little info on the web. Anyone been here???
I've been there, and many times, but not for years and years. At one time, it was the hot, innovative place in the neighborhood - maybe 20 or 30 years ago - and it was very good. A young Australian couple ran it. Interesting menu with a slightly Australian flavor - I recall a good, zingy sausage main plate that I ordered most often - superlative service and, almost a first in that part of town, an attractively-priced and wide-ranging wine list. I distinctly remember a block of maybe 20 bottles of wine each at a flat price of $15. The joint was mobbed most nights. I think the last time I waited patiently for more than half hour for a seat in a restaurant was at Browne's. It was that enjoyable.
I'd be surprised if the Australian couple still own it. I read somewhere that they'd separated and she was carrying on in the kitchen on her own. Whether she still is, I knoweth not. But I suspect that the place still appeals to the many well-to-do old-timers who live in the nearby luxury condos, and who find the newer restos nearby too happenin' for their gentler tastes. They want what they're used to. They want quality, and familiar dishes, and proper service, and they want to dine early - and present management will accommodate them. I recall that I stopped going when I couldn't find any place to park in the neighborhood. First Woodlawn Ave. itself became impossible - all those Mercs, Jags and such - then a block away, then two, three and four blocks away, and still no parking space, till I gave up entirely. And I forgot about Browne's.
All this is making me nostalgic. Just for the hell of it, I may give it another visit. But I doubt that Woodlawn Ave. would have space for my modest vehicle. And I doubt that that group of $15 bottles is still available.
Maybe if I go after 9?
Browne’s is indeed a relic – and has survived several changes of chef and ownership, with the menu staying almost identical. It’s ‘safe and familiar’ – the spicy lamb sausage has been a fixture for decades, offered with mashed potatoes, and also on a pizza (thin crust). At one time it had the best crème brulee in Toronto, but the chef left (he was at Avant Gout but has disappeared from there too) and I followed him there for the crème brulee – which has since declined at Avant Gout too.
The wine list has suffered – used to have an excellent by-the-glass selection with a set of blackboard specials to give some novelty. The spiced oils to drizzle on the pizza were also excellent but are not automatically offered now, so the oil isn’t as fresh.
It’s not exciting – but still offers solid, reliable, relatively unexciting food. And open Mondays too – although Globe Earth has now provided an alternative on Mondays.
IIRC the original owners split up (maritally, but not certain of this). Beverley Burge used to run a cooking school – but she was rarely in the kitchen. The chef was Kamal Hani (he of the crème brulee) who opened Avant Gout later (I’m guessing he left when the management at Browne’s changed).
1108 Yonge St, Toronto, ON M4W2L6, CA
All great stuff. Thanks for the background. Interesting to hear that the menu hasn't changed in years. I see why. I've lost track of the number of times I've had to dodge multiple people folding a senior into the back of an S-Class and often see 3 generations of family members standing outside together in their matching Topsiders and tortoise shell glasses...
Guessing that the message to whoever buys this place each time is "whatever you do, don't change the menu!!!"
They'll have to re-invent themselves one of these days. Those people won't be around for much longer...
The rumour is that they are looking at the existing Terroni place at Yonge & Balmoral (about 3 mins up Yonge from the existing location). But I hadn't realized that Terroni was closing - so this may be unsubstantiated.
And this thread persuaded me to drop by this week, and indeed it is exactly as recalled. The lamb sausage pizza was the highlight - great crisp thin crust, and although they didn't offer the spiced olive oil, it was available when requested and was perfectly fresh.
I went there once about 8 or 9 years ago. As I recall, I had a braised rabbit on orzo dish that was quite nice. I remember the dessert being good too, but I can't remember what it was.