H Bar just opened on West Queen West in the space formerly occupied by Sweet Lulu . The eatery is a joint project by Kate Hancock and Phil Hubbard, two food-industry vets and former co-workers, who wanted to create a spot that fulfilled all their requirements for the ultimate restaurant: Locally-focused ingredients, a homey atmosphere, good customer service, and recipes with plenty of heart.
The new owners kept the noodle bar's modern interior, but did away with the wall-lining benches and added cozy tables to the small downstairs dining area. Upstairs, in the "sportsbar" area, there's a large TV and a long bar where you can enjoy a cocktail and a chat.
The menu is Hubbard's baby; he explains the great care put into the subtleties of each dish, from mixing coleslaw to order to marinading and smoking their goat cheddar. They use hormone-free meats, and nearly everything is made in-house.
That handmade ethos even extends to the buns on the sliders ($12.39), which come in chicken, beef, bison and veggie iterations; you can order three of the same type or mix and match.
The beef (made from a mix of brisket, chuck and sirloin for extra flavour and moisture) is a standout, as are the accompanying gaufrette fries, which come with a sweet maple aioli for dipping. The buns, however, trip me up - they're tooth-stickingly dense, and I don't love the pastelike texture of the walnut, bean and mushroom veggie patty.
Homemade jalapeno poppers are definitely not the kind you're used to seeing in the frozen aisle. Served three to an order, they're massive and come crusted in a thick batter; inside, there's a mix of chevre, aged cheddar, and that maple-marinaded goat cheddar. (They're also seriously hotter than the frozen version - after all, they're buying and de-seeding those peppers themselves.)
Bean salad ($7.08) is a lighter lunchtime option; White, black and garbanzo beans come accented by olive oil, pickled onions, fresh herbs, salt and pepper. It's the kind of thing you'd make at home: simple, light and satisfying, though I would have liked to see a heavier hand with the salt and vinegar.
If you stop by on weekends, they'll have the brunch menu on. Hubbard's pick is their French toast ($7.96), made from leftover buns ("we don't like to waste anything," he explains).
Even after being dredged in vanilla custard, the bread is still pretty heavy - only this time, you can give each piece a twirl through Hubbard's glorious bourbon maple syrup (you can really taste the bourbon) and a healthy amount of whipped cream.
Their all-handmade-everything approach even extends to the cocktails menu, where they make the bitters, cure the cherries, and mix up the vanilla sugar in their Old Fashioned ($9.73).
They try to keep the beer offerings local as well, with a long bottles list that shows some impressive scope (there's Amsterdam Blood Orange Radler, Junction Conductor's Ale, and Brickworks 1904 Cider, among a couple dozen others).
Though the kitchen may still be carving a niche for itself, it's great to see pub classics done with great care and a clear creative drive, pushing homey recipes to interesting new places. I'll be back to see how the menu evolves (and figure out how many dishes I can smother in bourbon syrup).
Photos by Jesse Milns.