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Johnny Jackson

Posted by Alexandra Grigorescu / Listed on September 17, 2012 / review policy

johnny jackson torontoJohnny Jackson is a new, and rather unusual, entry onto Little Italy's bar and restaurant scene. Open only on Fridays and Saturdays, they've clocked in just under a week of actual service over the last few weekends. Owner Rick Cowan has a long history of bar and nightclub management, but Johnny Jackson is a spot that better reflects his personal tastes.

johnny jackson torontoSleek wood high-tables and stools make up the front of house, while lower, dimly-lit tables and built-in leather couches take up the middle. The back is the designated food area, with wooden tables and chairs, a secondary bar, and a slot machine--chips are free and available at the bar, and while there's no cash payout, you could win a burger.

johnny jackson torontoCowan tells me that the place is in flux, with signage and seating still being added--the pinball in the men's washroom and the Ms. PacMan machine in the women's are just a few of his ingenious ideas, as are the garbage cans made out of hollowed-out drum sets.

johnny jackson torontoIt's a bit of a slow start on Friday night, but when the place starts filling up, it's an eclectic mix of clientele--part high-heeled and tipsy, part plaid-shirted and bearded, and part black-leather-jacketed. The DJ struggles a bit with equalizing the volume, and our table ends up almost cheek to cheek in order to hear each other.

johnny jackson torontoThe price structure is simple--$10 for all food items, $6 for beer (among which Mill St. Organic is the only draught) and shots, and bar rails averaging around $6. The 10 dishes (including the pulled pork, which we didn't sample) arrive in cardboard take-out containers. Be forewarned: you won't find a single, legitimately healthy option among them.

johnny jackson torontoThe menu is a stroke of genius, if hard to decipher at first. One side is all wit--dubbing the dishes Abe Frohman (Ferris Bueller, anyone?) or Bourdain (Anthony, that is)--while the other puts things plainly under the header of "point if you are having trouble speaking (we've all been there)."

johnny jackson torontoThe deep-fried pickles are self-explanatory, arriving on a bed of fries and coleslaw, and with a dill dip. Not my favorite dish of the bunch, but the pickles are lip-puckering (although the batter is laid on a bit too thick).

johnny jackson torontoThe poutine can be ordered either regular or vegetarian (with bacon and vegetarian gravy being the differentiating factors), and comes with copious amounts of cheese. What can I say about the dish, other than to advise that you spring for the bacon (if you're morally able to)? The centre-cut bacon, which can be found generously sprinkled atop many of Johnny's dishes, is so beautifully smoked that I wondered if it was done in-house (it's not, but I forgive them).

johnny jackson torontoNext are the burgers, again available in either vegetarian or meat options. The 6 oz. Grade A patty is a solid one, topped with tomato, lettuce and an onion ring, and paired with fries. They're not skimping on the meat, and I'd happily crown any foodstuff with their onion rings. The vegetarian burger is something of a feat, in that I actually preferred it. It, too, is accompanied by fries and comes topped with the requisite veggies, but also with avocado slices and a surprisingly decadent brie.

johnny jackson torontoThe mac and cheese, in my opinion, is one of the counterintuitively stand-out dishes. I'm a devoted disciple of the PC white cheddar, and have rarely found a restaurant mac 'n cheese to top it--until Johnny's. The green onions were too much for me, but the Texas garlic bread triangles made up for it.

johnny jackson torontoThe pulled pork sundae is much as it sounds: mashed potatoes and pulled pork in a cup, with a cherry tomato filling in nicely for a cherry. It's a balanced dish, with the pulled pork kept moist by a sweet and smoky sauce, and the onion rings arriving with a honey sauce.

johnny jackson torontoThe grilled cheese is, among the plethora of waistband-busting foods, a bit underwhelming. I can imagine it being a comforting snack in the dead of winter, but for now, it's 3 halves of thick-cut Texas white bread and American cheddar. Worth $10? Probably not. Should it follow form with Toronto trends and pile on unusual cheeses and strangely-matched toppings? Probably.

johnny jackson torontoFor dessert, there's the deep-fried Mars bar. Despite my shameful passion for fried foods, I've gone 26 years without sampling this particular brand of artery-clogger. Open up the box, and you'll find 3 chunks of Mars bar coated in tempura batter, that resemble chicken nuggets. Typically, the dish comes with home-made cashew brittle, but on this occasion, it's a delectable blend of grated dark and white chocolate. I didn't love it, through no fault of Johnny's--there was something about the caramel and tempura that didn't sit well. However, the boxful of caramel popcorn was addictive, and I'd almost recommend the dish for that alone.

johnny jackson torontoWondering who, exactly, is Johnny Jackson? Cowan hopes it's the framed photograph of an Italian race car driver, his face obscured by a frothy burst of champagne, or perhaps the incredible photograph of his grandfather at the Playboy club--he's meant to be a discerning everyman. But who he actually is, and consequently, what the space ultimately ends up being known for--its DJ nights, its solid food, or its bar atmosphere--remains to be seen.

Photos by Jesse Milns



CLA / September 17, 2012 at 03:46 pm
What's with this city's obsession with PORK? Ugh.
Collin replying to a comment from CLA / September 17, 2012 at 03:59 pm
uh...we live in Hogtown, that's why!
Me / September 17, 2012 at 04:26 pm
Andy / September 17, 2012 at 04:37 pm
Looks like a good place,gonna check it out.But the pinball machine in the washroom? do you really want a bunch of people hanging out in the washroom?I would not even want to touch that machine!
5hit / September 17, 2012 at 05:43 pm
Nothing like eating a giant box of deep fried CNE on a Friday night. I'll pass.
The Lonely Troll replying to a comment from 5hit / September 17, 2012 at 06:21 pm
No one has ever or will ever care what you do on a Friday night.
jameson / September 17, 2012 at 06:31 pm
iphone pictures?
artem / September 18, 2012 at 07:46 am
When you call one dish "self-explanatory" and about another say "What can I say?", and complain that no Toronto restaurant's mac and cheese can compete with a generic grocery store processed brand, and extoll "a surprisingly decadent brie" (do you mean the inclusion of brie was decadent - questionable - or that the brie itself was unusually high quality?), and primarily list the food instead of assessing it...I have a hard time gaining any real insight from this review...
pork / September 18, 2012 at 12:36 pm
pork tastes good
Mike Hunt / September 18, 2012 at 03:45 pm
You had me at "$10 for all food items".
EK / September 18, 2012 at 07:32 pm
WAIT. Does all food at all times arrive in disposable shit? That's saddening. Everything looks delish, but invest in some reusable plates, yeah?
Alex / September 24, 2012 at 04:23 pm
washroom ads please.
backnforth / February 27, 2013 at 12:01 pm
One of my new fav spots in the city... Good Dj's and a killer late-nite mac'n'cheese!!!
Dave replying to a comment from CLA / March 5, 2013 at 02:28 pm
This is one of the best food places that I have been to, in a long time! This is must try!!
Dave replying to a comment from CLA / March 5, 2013 at 02:29 pm
This is one of the best restaurants that I have been to, in a long time. This is a must try!
K / April 10, 2013 at 07:34 pm
This review doesn't help me at all. Poking fun of vegetarians then saying you can't find better mac and cheese than a powdered cheese mix.
Snake / April 15, 2013 at 02:22 pm
Worst place ever
Went there Friday night place was empty DJ had the generic pop music CRANKED (he should have just had the radio playing). Seriously the music was SO loud you could barely have a conversation.
They were out of deep fried mars bars, I felt like walking to a corner store to buy one for them to fry but left instead.

Adell / May 7, 2013 at 12:52 am
Does your website have a contact page? I'm having problems locating it but, I'd like to send you an email.
I've got some creative ideas for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great blog and I look forward to seeing it develop over time.
Kaitlyn / August 20, 2013 at 03:18 pm
GREAT!! I got the grilled cheese and fries. It came with a deep fried pickle on top. Next time I will have just the deep fried pickles. Yes they were that good.

Fun place to go with friends and a very friendly staff.
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