Mill Street Brew Pub
The Distillery District
You've seen it if you go to the movies. It's the backdrop for most of Chicago and parts of Cinderella Man. Walking the cobblestoned laneways of Toronto's Historic Distillery District is like a journey back in time.
Established in 1832, the Gooderham and Worts distillery grew to become the largest in the British Empire. Known as the most well-preserved collection of Victorian Industrial Architecture in North America, the Distillery District covers 13 acres and is made up of over 40 buildings.
The factory had been in use until 1990, after which the space sat empty until 2001 when the entire site was purchased with the intention of turning it into a pedestrian-only village with a focus on arts and entertainment.
A lot of work was required to turn Victorian-era factories into spaces that were to accommodate cafes, shops and galleries, not to mention artist living space. To draw crowds and attention to the renovations, the Distillery began hosting a variety of events including art walks, farmer's markets, theatrical events and even Woofstock, a two-day street festival for dogs.
The Restaurant Problem
One of the biggest complaints about the neighbourhood was the dearth of good restaurants. Balzac's coffeehouse offered sandwiches and crepes, but the other two restaurants onsite, run by the same management company that runs the entire complex, were overpriced and more than a little pretentious. Tourists who were visiting the site often felt underdressed and snubbed when they arrived for lunch and found the entire restaurant staff in matching skintight black outfits. Then they saw the menu and headed off to Balzac's to fight for the last sandwich.
That's why everyone was delighted when Mill Street Brewery announced they were converting their brewhouse building into a pub.
The Brew Pub
One of the first tenants to move in when the district opened up, Mill Street has seen such fantastic success that their brewing operations have outgrown their original space. They moved their main brewery offsite earlier this year and began converting the old brewhouse into a pub with tanks in the middle of the space to create seasonal beers.
What was once a dirty, drafty room full of raw timber and a crumbling floor is now a sleek, sophisticated space that still feels comfortable and homey and pub-like. Using as many original fixtures and elements as possible (even the tap handles are made from wood found onsite), the pub feels like a well-preserved bit of Victoriana with modern amenities.
Brew Pub Grub
We were there on a very rainy Tuesday night only a week or so after a very "soft" opening and the place was almost full. As one would expect from a brewpub, the beers on offer are all spectacular. Mill Street has perfected their craft and has the awards to show for it. More work needs to be done in the kitchen to match that expertise, however.
The menu is a fairly standard list of favourite pub grub, but there are few vegetarian options – one pizza, one sandwich, and one pasta that can have the chicken omitted. There's not even a veggie burger. Crab cakes were unavailable, but we weren't informed until after we had ordered them. What made it to our table ranged from stellar to bland to bad. The sweet potato frites, served with a spicy mayo were perfect, and the huge portion was more than enough for three people to share. A Caesar salad came topped with so much perfectly crisp calamari that you couldn't see the greens.
The sandwiches fared worse, with both the veggie sandwich and the pulled pork sandwich eliciting only mediocre reviews. As a vegetarian, the veggie sandwich gets a bit derivative after a while, and the friend who had the pork was put off by the inclusion of cheese. Fries with both sandwiches were cold and greasy and a complete embarrassment after the sweet potato frites we had earlier. Coleslaw was underseasoned and bland.
Obviously, every new restaurant needs a few weeks to work out the kinks, both in front and back of house. Once Mill Street gets their menu and service up to speed, they are set to put their Distillery competitors to shame.