Sugar Beach, where’s that? I ask when a friend suggests a jaunt on this pluperfect sunday, the sun blazing high in a blue sky unpicked by clouds, a zephyr driving away humidity. Why – at the foot of Jarvis in East Bayfront. Is that anything like Baywatch starring Pamela Anderson. Er, not exactly. East Bayfront is a new community aborning along the shabby industrial strip that runs from Yonge east on Lakeshore. And it’s difficult to get there. Parking is a problem. TTC? A single Bay Street bus. I walk, dodging any vagrant cement chips falling off the Gardiner Expressway and end up on something resembling a dusty checkpoint in the Middle East. - Queen’s Quay running East from Yonge. Practically twist an ankle tripping into an open culvert.
I limp onto Dockside Drive on Corus Quay and then – it’s one of those ‘I can’t believe i’m in Toronto” moments. Sugar Beach blows me away. I happily lose my bearings. I’ve stepped into L.A, Architect Claude Cormier’s exquisite pastiche of David Hockney , a tweak on those depthless pool paintings. To my right is Tufty, a huge sugar freighter, forest green with a slash of pink, and across the slip,” is a gentle serpentine swirl of pale sand dotted with pink umbrellas, white Muskoka chairs, some erratically programmed water jets and peopled with those flat, enervated Hockney figures,who hardly make a ripple on the landscape. Chillax, I cry, let’s just sit here.
But what about a drink? From the sublime perspective of Sugar Beach to Darth Varder’s docking station, aka, the glowering Corus bldg, with a patio, Against The Grain, crouched beneath it. The resto’s moniker puzzles us: is it only for Celiac sufferers? The hostess is lukewarm. When we ask for a table next to the boardwalk and lake, she’s not sure she has one.
Lady, if my restaurant on this gorgeous Sunday pm was only 50 percent occupied, I’d embrace anyone walking through the door, shower them with drinks – even coupons from Fab. Inc, whose chain, evoking the Elves, Gnomes, Leprachauns and Little Men’s Chowder and Marching Society, has sprinkled the city with Irish-inspired pubs.
We find our own table with a sheltering umbrella, and reach out to hug the view – a widescreen panorama of the harbour.We are a mere l00 feet from the lake. Cyclists lazily pedal by, some thinkers brood on a bench. We see a Jolly Roger waving from the mast of a little sloop chugging close to the sea wall. A three-masted schooner slides elegantly and soundlessly into the harbour. A charcoal behemoth of a freighter lumbers through the Eastern Gap and then with astonishing adroitness fits itself into a wharf. A tiny gnat of a sloop with a scarlet jenny billowing races through the unchallenging waves.
The drinks are good, a bitter margarita with fresh lime and salted rim, a California Chardonnay, sweet in the sun. Iced tea, latte, ok too. Service is prompt and pleasant. A band is playing growly jazz. We’re so relaxed that we never mention the C word, the fact that if we were on the Chicago lake shore we would be sitting beside a sculpture and not the George Brown School of Nursing. And we miss the warning signal buried in the menu blarney, “Chef’s Daily Poutine – Ask your server about today’s fresh creation $11.” Belatedly, we think, can this be for real?
There’s absolutely nothing fresh about the Urban Lobster Roll, described as containing Langoustine and Atlantic Lobster, Crisp Lettuce, English Cucumber, fresh herbs, lemon juice, brown butter mayo and a rustic roll,$18. OMG the little people must have ousted the chef. I get days’ old picked lobster meat: I feel like a pathologist trying to identify something recognizable after a car crash. The roll is soggy as Wonder Bread. The shreds of lettuce are far from crisp, there is no cucumber, no herbs, no lemon juice, presumably,bottled mayo.
Chuck Tenderloin Salad, $18, is a swiz! There’s no such piece of beef! Chuck is shoulder meat: sure, the two little circles of pink meat taste ok but they’re tough!
How about real food, an honest BLT, a grilled cheese sandwich?
Why oh why serve a hot fudge sundae $10 without the hot fudge?. Fudge means something. Instead there’s the far less satisfying “bourbon chocolate sauce” rainbow sprinkles, crushed cones and a carcinogenic cherry. Pretention – big time.
Oh well, we still have the view and Sugar Beach.
Against the Grain Urban Tavern, 25 Dockside Drive, Corus Quay. 647 344 1562. Snacks for Two, food plus tax: $46
Out of 4 stars: Sugar Beach and Lakeview ****Service ** Food *