AND BEER AT THE ESPLANADE BIER MARKT, TORONTO
a scrim of frosted glass, etched with the shape of a swirling hops
vine, hangs a wonderful painterly riff on the artwork found on the
original label of De Verboden Vrucht (The Forbidden Fruit) ale brewed
by Hoegaarden Breweries.
an oversized rendition of the Garden of Eden, replete with hops leaves
instead of fig leaves, and the beery, earthly delights it depicts
set the stage for dinner at the Bier Markt.
Bier Markt, one of Toronto's stalwart members of the Esplanade bar
scene since August 1999, offers more than 100 brands of beer from
25 countries, from the mildest of Canadian cream ales to black stouts.
The brasserie-style menu takes its inspiration from Belgian cafes,
or estaminets. Befittingly, the sprawling space that fills several
storefronts along the Esplanade of downtown Toronto, was originally
financed in part by the folks at Interbrew, as gleaned from the prominent
Stella Artois sign outside.
the kitchen gets its panache from Canadian adaptations of Belgian
bar cuisine, such as Prince Edward Island mussels steamed in ale,
cream and garlic (one of five flavor combinations available), and
flammekuche, the wood-fired oven-baked thin bread, which is typically
topped with caramelized onions, bits of fatty bacon back and soft-ripened
Restaurants, a chain that operates across Canada, tapped the talents
of several food and beverage consulants, including Shawn Dore, pictured
here with the executive chef Patrick MacKinnon, to create a comprehensive
wanted to make the wine menu as accessible as possible," explains
Dore. That means offering lots of notes and the chance to sample wines
by the glass, as well as by the bottle.
selection of Australian and California wines augmented the classic
European vintages. The list seemed a bit pricey, but that may reflect
the Bier Markt's location near the Toronto financial district. It's
a good place to bring a group of people for a large business gathering.
said, the food menu is compact and mostly composed of casual fare,
such as steaks and Belgian specialties.
frites, to go along with every steak, are part of the Bier Markt repetoire.
But the most fantastic selection was the seafood and mussels in particular.
PEI mussels, bathed in a variety of sauces, could be had by the pound.
A luscious smoked salmon, dotted with capers and nuggets of coarse
ground pepper, filled the crispy crust of the flammekuche I sampled.
Fabulous fresh oysters were presented shucked inside a Chinese soup
spoon, the easier to slurp down with a minced onion topping.
bouillabaise fish stew was tender and delicately perfumed with saffron,
with chunks of salmon, sea bass and shellfish swimming in the creamy
were served with a garlicky mayonnaise dipping sauce, as well as ketchup.
Presentation was classically European - the potato fries served swaddled
in parchment paper to catch any grease. They were crispy and salty.
But the real attraction for me is the huge beer list with literally
dozens of draft brews.
selection is both comprehensive and well-annotated in a 28-page spiral
bound notebook (with tasting notes written by Stephen Beaumont).
caddies hold both tasting lists for beer orders and a selection of
8 oz. tasting glasses, making it extremely convenient to sample!
natives of Toronto admire the Bier Markt's ambitious list - with bottled
exotics such as Rochefort 8, Choulette Ambree and Marston's Pedigree
available, right alongside mainstream brands such as Michelob, Stella
Artois, and Sleeman's Cream Ale.
beer aficianados have complained that service can be slow at the Bier
Markt. I found that even on a Saturday night, when it was very, very
busy, service was good - but not speedy. This is a destination spot
all on its own, often with live music, bands and entertainment - and
so not necessarily the place to go for a quick bite to eat before
Mon.Tues. 11 a.m.1 a.m.;
Wed.Sat. 11 a.m.2 a.m.;
Sun. 2 p.m.2 .m.
ahead, as the Markt often hosts special events and live music, sometimes
with cover charges.