Mill Street Beer Hall
The Mill Street Beer Hall is now open around the corner from the original Brew Pub in the Distillery District. It's welcome news for anyone who's ever tried to get a table in the historic quarter. The new space will add a whopping 565 seats to the area once the patio is complete.
Inside feels a little more upscale than the origina Brew Pub, but echos the handsome aesthetics in an even more polished fashion. There's plenty of exposed brick, concrete and copper beer lines, as well as industrial furnishings warmed up with long wood tables and punctuated by vibrant red flourishes.
In the open kitchen, I recognize Chef Elisabeth Rivasplata of Top Chef Canada fame and former Executive Chef at the AGO's Frank. Here she oversees the kitchen and works in conjunction with Head Brew Master, Joel Manning to offer a menu designed to pair with exclusive Mill Street offerings. The focus here (as evidenced by stacks of side plates on each table) is communal dining. While in many new restaurants this translates to eating alongside strangers, here, it means that big parties can be easily accommodated and passing plates around the table is encouraged.
The Charcuterie Board ($23) is possibly the menu's show stopper. It's rustic and hearty and demands unrestrained cooperation from multiple willing parties to finish. It features plump smoked Bratwurst and a glistening Frenched pork shank that literally falls of the bone into a pile of supple flaky meat and best of all, glazed slabs of pork belly rendered down to a caramel-meets-meat kind of finish. With the accompanying soft warm pretzel, candied apples, turnip sauerkraut and seedy mustard it's an impressive spread that generates soft coos from my company as it's picked through.
For those who don't do pork, I'd say try the Braised Short Ribs ($29) instead. They come painted with a house-brewed root beer glaze that's sticky and sweet, and, brightened up by a side of kale and apple salad dressed in buttermilk ranch.
On the lighter side there is a Roasted Beet Carpaccio ($15), a finely sliced salad composed of a varied beets, fresh burrata cheese, sugar snap peas, basil sprouts, pine nuts and a beer reduction. It's seriously good, too.
Behind the bar is the full Mill St. lineup, as well as bottled brews, cans and root beer. The coming weeks will also see the introduction of something new to Toronto; Beer Schnapps, a clear spirit grade liquor (with an alcohol content of 45%-55%) that retains the floral notes and flavours of hops and will be served in tiny, chilled frosted steins. I ask if it will lend itself to being blended cocktails and am told that in Germany it's traditionally served as a shot with an accompanying beer chaser. Sake aside, this marks the first time that the Distillery District has actually distilled spirits in over two decades. It should be available by the end of May at the pub and in the store to take home.
I can hardly think of dessert by the time the spread at my table is obliterated but manage to sample today's Beer Ice Cream Sandwich ($7) featuring thin vanilla wafers delicately sandwiching mini scoops of strawberry rhubarb Frambozen ice cream. On other days the flavour combinations vary, with maple bacon Coffee Porter ice cream and a peanut butter Frambozen ice cream also in rotation.
Having only been open a month, there are still some finishing touches to look forward to. I've already vowed to come back to try the Schnapps and am looking forward to the completion of the massive patio with multiple fireplaces and an outdoor bar. Brunch might happen too sometime this summer and residents and neighbouring businesses should take note that they're entitled to a 10% discount to share with friends and family.
Photos by Morris Lum