The Rebel House has been doing its thing for over 17 years now. Co-owner, Bruce Roberts, has seen locals come and go, shops open and close, and the neighbourhood grow since he opened up shop with partner David Logan in 1993, but still the Rebel remains strong.
Back then, the Rebel House was one of the only joints of its kind in the area, and Roberts fondly recalls the two hour-long lineups that went out the door onto Yonge Street. Today there is more competition, but this also translates into more diners checking out the area as a whole.
On my first visit for lunch, the restaurant is busy and the extensive menu offers up bistro-fare as well as an array of classic pub standbys, like meatloaf and mac and cheese. There's also a modest vegetarian selection. Daily specials -- featuring a soup, salad, mussel plate, daily bread (an appetizer with toppings baked upon toasted sesame flat bread), main entrĂŠe, pasta and dessert -- appear on a separate menu.
I order the daily soup: potato, bacon chowder ($5.75), and the spinach salad with julienned green apple, slivered almonds, and cheddar cheese dressed in a creamy maple dressing ($5.20). The side portion I opt for is plenty, and spills off the plate with the addition of flavourful and smoky blackened chicken ($4.50).
My date goes for the risotto appetizer ($7.25), which is equally generous. The barley is simmered in tomato and white wine with mushrooms and grilled vegetables and is marvellous. The earthy flavour of the mushrooms compliments the creamy grain and the sharpness of the Parmesan that is sprinkled on top, while the subtle tomato compliments the red peppers.
On another visit to the Rebel for weekend brunch, I chat with Bruce and ask him what advice he can offer to up-and-coming restaurateurs. It's pretty frank: "Get ready to work a lot. The more time you can put in at your establishment, the more it will stick to your idea of the type of place you want it to be. There were days in the early years here when we thought we might throw in the towel, but if you can ride out the tough times and continue to put out a quality product, customers will appreciate it." He also mentions how important it is that customers see their owners actively engaged in the business, and says on any given night, he can recognize a lot of the faces in the dining room.
Over the Comics section of the Saturday Star and a cup of tea, I enjoy a side of bacon and the "Franglaise Toast," made from thick slices of French loaf, dipped in a thick egg batter and served with a fruit compote and crĂ¨me anglaise ($8.75). The portion is again generous, and the batter is delicious and sweet.
When I ask Bruce about longevity and the dominating food trend focused on sourcing local, he notes that the success of the Rebel isn't about trying to follow trends. He has always been committed to serving a quality product, and good food is made from fresh ingredients that feature the best of what the surrounding area (Ontario) has to offer.
Their extensive beer menu includes draught and bottled beer mostly from local micro-breweries and they only serve VQA Ontario wines. Bruce says there is nothing trendy about that, it just what makes sense, and it's what they've always done.
As I linger over the end of my tea and chuckle at Dilbert and the gang, I catch a shot of the eggs Benedict, served with peameal bacon and a salad, and make a mental note to order that next time. I leave with the prospect of more great meals to come, and with a pining for warmer days when I can enjoy a pint on the Rebel's excellent backyard patio.