It’s hardly tucked away, with its great glass walls on the ground floor of the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre, the new home of the GCTC that towers over the corner of Wellington West and Holland Avenue. But based on my rather lonely visits here, few people seem to know it.
The Local Bar is a joint venture with Thyme and Again “Encore” and the GCTC. It’s named in honour of all those drama-loving lawyers who supported the campaign for a bigger, better home for the Great Canadian Theatre Company. (Get it: bar, as in “called to the bar”.)
Not so much a bar as it is a café, The Local Bar has eight or so tables and twenty-six seats, available for breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner, every day but Monday. All said, you should heed the call to this bar. There are yummy reasons to drop in.
Though for now it works better for lunch or a quick pre-theatre snack than it does for dinner. It lacks the mood for a leisurely evening meal. They’ve done their best with what they’ve got: the space is attractive, the colours are smart and fun, the upholstery charming. But the fluorescent lights of the lobby are on full blast (I’ve asked – their hands are apparently tied) and the short divider of potted tree trunks, while handsome enough, doesn’t begin to block them. Nor does it provide much protection from the hungry, thirsty hordes at intermission who surround you for fifteen minutes, grabbing a quick something, or else looking enviously at your plate, until the call comes to return to their pews, the lobby empties and all is once again quiet. If you are with someone with whom conversation is lagging, the distraction might be welcome. Otherwise, it’s a factor to be contended with.
Thyme and Again Creative Catering owner Sheila Whyte is no dummy when it comes to assembling a smart menu. With this one, she gives us a manageable selection of informal dishes at fair prices. (Small-ish main fare ranges from $11 to $15, sharing plates are $10, dessert tasting plates are $7.50, and she’ll satisfy a sweets craving for a buck and a bit, with a square or a big, fat ginger cookie to go with one of her fancy teas. The menu also caters to the obvious needs of a neighbourhood theatre restaurant, with quick nibbles, sharing plates, a $5 kid’s menu, plus options for those who want a normal three course progression.
Most things are prepared in the kitchen of Thyme and Again catering just down the street, and finished at Thyme and Again encore, on the two burner range. Steaks get sizzled in a cast iron pan. Pies get warmed in a little oven. Cookies multiply in glass jars on the counter. There’s tasty soup, and fat, satisfying sandwiches (roast beef with profoundly caramelized onions, gruyere and Dijon mustard on Art-is-In pumpernickel) and oversized salads (roasted vegetables with aged gouda and smoked garlic) and desserts worth saving space for.
The chicken and wild mushroom phyllo pie is yummy, served with their roasted vegetable salad topped with shavings of good parmesan cheese. The salmon arrives nicely wet, crusted with seedy mustard and scented with orange, and served with a vibrant lentil salad. The steak has good flavour, gets sizzled to order and shares a plate with a spinach, apple, blue cheese and walnut salad.
There have been less successful bites. The lemongrass shrimp and pickled pineapple are the best part of the Asian salad. The noodles I find starchy beneath their red curry dressing. And I’ve had one top notch duck confit one visit, and one utterly dessicated one at another.
I might also suggest the menu needs to change more often to keep up interest. I’ve been three times and I’ve pretty much eaten it all.
Desserts are distinguished: from a crème brulée served with chocolate truffles (why ever not?) to a standout multi fruit crisp with crème anglaise.
There’s lots of option for coffee and teas and a short selection of wines, all served by the glass.