Ossington strip’s Rock Lobster has become a quick go-to for in-the-know Toronto young professionals (YPs) with a soft spot for authentic and sustainable seafood – if they can score a table. Well, the odds of doing so may have gotten higher (then again, maybe not) with a second Rock Lobster location set to transform the Queen West space that until recently housed longtime Sunday brunch favourite Shanghai Cowgirl.
Many of Rock Lobster’s traditional dishes will transfer over, but more signature items that are reflective of the neighbourhood will also be introduced, as Queen West is what owner Matt Dean Pettit calls “about having fun” and “a finger bowl type of place.” Similarly, the cocktails are designed to reflect both the neighbourhood and the essence of the original Shanghai Cowgirl location. Most excitingly, the location will be open for lunch and is open on Sunday (unlike the other location). It also has, of course, that amazing bright, open patio that we already know will make for a few Sunday Fundays this summer.
Rock Lobster Food CO. was started by Matt Dean Pettit and began as a popular pop-up shop in Kensington Market before opening its Ossington location in December. Now, just six months later, a second location will serve the city’s growing demand for fresh, affordable and very sharable seafood. Pettit admits that a second location so soon is “crazy,” but that “passion and attitude determine everything.” He says they key is to “surround yourself with the best players, like the New York Yankees do.” This is why he has hand selected some of the city’s most skilled food and beverage professionals and ventured east to source his seafood from all the best locations. “It is about the food, room, cocktail program and the service. If you bring all pieces together, you have a proven winner,” says Pettit.
Distinctive features of the space will include a taxidermy wall, 1930’s bars left from Shanghai Cowgirl (which originally came from a diner down the street), custom lighting sourced from Georgian Bay, a custom kitchen that patrons can catch peeks of through vertical pieces of timber, and an eye-catching wall mural inspired by “an old school anchor tattoo” that greets guests on the front right wall. Pettit’s father was putting the final stages on the artwork during a recent media event and is also responsible for the 10×10 ft lobster mural at the Ossington location.
Keeping with the trend of Toronto, and especially Queen West, many of the dishes are designed for sharing, with appetizers like the Lobster Deviled Eggs or the Digby Scallops. The scallops were delicious by even the pickiest scallop eater’s standard, seared in oil and butter with a mint green pea puree to add a nice contrast in temperature. Simple, yet addictive, Pettit says that the Lobster Deviled Eggs changed his life and naturally had to be served during the media event. The dish caught the attention of a publisher from Random House Canada when Pettit served it at a pop-up at the Canadian Cookbook Awards. The publisher’s encounter with the dish resulted in Pettit creating what he calls “a lobster 101 book,” which will be a “grassroots, urban level of cookbook that is all lobster inspired” and “very bad ass.” Pettit stresses that we should celebrate seafood and the book attempts to make seafood more approachable, as it is typically either really expensive or really cheap a la Red Lobster style. It is set to publish in Fall 2014 by Appetite Books, an imprint of Random House.
In terms if the menu at the Queen location, Pettit stresses that many of the main dishes are designed to be messy and not to be eaten with a knife or fork. If you’re hungry, the massive Surf and Turf burger features the best upper cuts from St. Lawrence Market with a butter poached lobster on top in a memorable garlic mayo. When it comes to things like the Old Fashioned Crab Boil or the Steam Whistle Steampot, Pettit says, “it’s family sharing, you’re going to have to let loose and get dirty.” The Steam Whistle Steamed Pot is “designed to create memorable experiences with friends” and “is as east coast as it gets.” It features lobster, shrimp, clams, sausage, mussels, sweet corn and baby red potatoes. Other menu highlights include seafood towers, where people can build their own towers with the raw bar, and guilty pleasure desserts, like the famous Rock Lobster cookies (you must try the red velvet).
The cocktail list will play on traditional cocktails, which have made a huge comeback in the past few years. This means things like a Manhattan that has been aging in a barrel since October, changed up with grappa-style sweet vermouth, barrel-aged margaritas (available by the pitcher) or a spin on the Barbados favourite Dark and Stormy, mixed with a spiced chai syrup made in house. Added bar touches include things like drunken cherries that have been soaked in scotch for three months, maple bark bitters and homemade juices and bitters. The location will also be the first place in the city to have Tromsterdam beer, which is oak-aged for one full year in barrels that are each 220 years old. You can also opt for a Sam Adams Utopia; some parts of the beer come from 1993 and it contains 29 per cent alcohol. Still a beer (though an expensive and rare one), it is designed to be sipped like a cognac. For the tequila lovers, the location will feature the overnight Canadian favourite Tequila Tromba.
The new Rock Lobster location will allow guests to take a bit of the deliciousness home with them with the seafood retail counter, where they can purchase things like lobster bisque, seafood sauce and seafood.
It’s bound to be a sure date night, weekend brunch, or “just because” option of choice for Toronto YPs; the restaurant is set to open in mid-June.