Hadley's, nestled between Little Portugal and Dufferin Grove on College Street, is a restaurant with a simple vision: providing "honest, homemade food." For the past six months, owners Eric Hadley and Lex Taman have been building their business in the prime corner spot formerly occupied by cheap Portuguese eatery Verde Minho Tapas & Lounge. "We're big on simple, but done really well," says Hadley.
The restaurant's beautiful yet simple typeset logo is an instant draw. We walk in to soft lights and a Neil Young melody - a promising combination - and settle into a comfortable booth beside the kitchen. We discover the logo's simplicity is a good match for the restaurant's menu. Most dishes are straightforward and classic, prepared from scratch with seasonal, local ingredients.
The decor is uncomplicated, with striking Toronto-themed photographs hanging over a handful of booths and a few window-side tables. The heart of the restaurant is its bustling open kitchen, which also serves as a bar and offers additional seating.
As we study the menu to make our selection, our server brings us a plate of tiny cornbread muffins with a small dish of salted butter. Famished, we eat the warm bread in a matter of seconds. Our server returns quickly with a promise to refill our plate as soon as the next batch is out of the oven. We can hardly wait!
Our palates pleased, we are excited to taste more of Hadley's offerings. We start with drinks, choosing from a selection of local brews that includes Mill Street Brewery's Stock Ale, Wit, Tankhouse and Coffee Porter, along with Calgary's Rock Creek Cider, all at $5.50 per pint. A creative and reasonably priced selection of cocktails and martinis is also available, and house wine is $9 for a generous 9 ounces.
We order our mains and choose to share the Sweet Pea Whitefish Pancakes ($8) as an appetizer. The spectacularly presented dish draws envious glances from neighbouring diners, and its looks do not disappoint. The zesty pea pancakes have a creamy, starchy consistency well suited to the firm smoked fish. A drizzle of balsamic glaze adds a necessary tartness while fresh greens and slivers of sweet red onions add texture. The only downside is the number of portions, which leave our table with one orphaned pancake to fight over.
All of our main dishes are served simultaneously, a thoughtful gesture but one that leaves some of our food slightly cooler than ideal.
I choose the Smoked Roasted Chicken Quarter ($11 - top photo), which comes with two choices of sides - my picks are the baked beans and the roasted veggies. The chicken is succulent and moist, with fatty, crispy skin and dark meat falling from the bone. The sides prove to be excellent complements: the beans are sweet with a slow-building heat and the vegetables are juicy with tender seared edges. However, I suspect my meal was ready first - the veggies are almost cold and my baked beans have formed a crust.
Ordered in tandem, the soup and salad are the next main. The Soup of the Day ($5) is a lentil and smoked bacon concoction. The presentation is unpretentious, and the taste is reminiscent of my grandmother's cooking. Hearty bits of carrot and celery float among lentils in a strong, smoky broth, but we do not manage to find any bacon. Disappointingly, this is also lukewarm.
The Roasted Beet Salad ($6) is fabulous, with fresh greens, crunchy walnuts and a generous sprinkling of goat cheese. The beets are truly the pièce de résistance, slow-roasted into sweet, fruit-like morsels.
The ultimate homage to classic comfort food, the Mac 'n Cheese ($12) is the only dish that is served piping hot. This version is prepared with a smooth blend of smoked cheddar, emmental and mozzarella, the creamy sauce mixed with a generous portion of al dente fusilli. The dish comes with a side of green salad, a perfect counterpoint to the rich pasta.
Suckers for the dessert menu, we are easily swayed into trying the Chocolate Coconut Tower Cake ($7.50). An intimidatingly large piece of cake arrives with three spoons, and we dig in without hesitation. The dessert consists of thick slabs of dense chocolate cake fused together with creamy coconut frosting and is an altogether luscious treat we fight each other to finish.
Hadley's also offers a brunch menu. The restaurant is open from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday and from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.