Jenny and I make no secret of the fact we love Toronto’s Drake Hotel. It’s a great place to see a band, or meet friends for a couple of drinks, or go for a great brunch (I could eat their southern-fried chicken and waffles every day if not for the fact it would probably eventually stop my heart), or for dinner. Aside from the talented staff behind the bar and in the kitchen, the Drake has a vibe that just makes it a special place.
We’ve always loved the look and feel of their dining room. So it came as a surprise a couple months ago when they announced they were going to rip out the current dining room and start from scratch. The trigger for this drastic change was the Drake Hotel’s Dining Road Show, a series of here-and-then-gone concepts that are scheduled to be introduced throughout the rest of 2011.
I was lucky to get an invite to a preview dinner this week, where the Drake unveiled its first stop on the Dining Road Show: Summer School Dining Hall. The concept, which in true summer school fashion will run from now until September, saw the dining room completely transformed. Tables are made from old bowling alley lanes, walls are lined with old bookshelves, school photos, trophies and other academia memorabilia. I was too busy focusing on the food (and having camera issues), so I didn’t get any good interior shots, but check out this review for a look at the new digs.
Both the food and drink menus have been revamped as well. Chef Anthony Rose designed the new food offerings to remind diners of some of the food they may have eaten in the school cafeteria, but he’s presenting the dishes in the “grown-up comfort food” style he’s mastered over the years. We were served a rather shocking amount of food (I’ve actually left photos of a few dishes we tasted out of this post), and there were some definite must-order items: the rather-phallic-yet-delicious veal footlong dog pictured above; a lobster roll full of big chunks of lobster meat and substantial enough to share between two or more people; meaty dungeness crab cakes that are big on flavour and low on filler; and an insanely good 32-oz cowboy steak from Cumbrae’s that’s meant for two but easily able to feed at least double that.
Chef Anthony Rose’s 1 lb. lobster roll. Awesome, if maybe a bit heavy on the mayo.
Drake’s crab cakes, full of dungeness crab meat. Yum.
One piece of the massive 32-oz Cumbrae’s cowboy steak being served at the Drake Hotel’s Summer School Dining Hall. Check out that line of delicious, delicious fat. To paraphrase one famous cowboy, I wish I knew how to quit you, awesome steak.
The Drake’s talented mixology team has introduced a number of new drinks to fit the Summer School theme, from spiked juice boxes to something called The Nurse’s Office, a combination of Famous Grouse, Laphroaig and ginger honey syrup that blew my socks off and made me reconsider my “good scotch doesn’t belong in a cocktail” pretense.
This is one Nurse’s Office I’d like to visit on a regular basis.
Once September hits and the kids go back to real school, the Drake’s grown-up summer school session ends and the Dining Road Show’s next stop – Chinatown, 1940s L.A. style – moves in. Until then, check out the great grub being served in their Summer School Dining Hall.
Tomato alphabet soup. No amount of letters could fix my hatred of tomato soup as a kid, but this one (served tableside out of an old-school thermos) may have changed my mind.