If you read my last post, you might be under the impression that by this time, we would be looking at daffodils and tulips sprouting in Hamilton. Well, Mother Nature really does now how to rain on our parade. Freezing rain to be precise! While we sit and lament the spring that was, much of southern Ontario is covered in a blanket of ice and we retreat into our warm homes or venture out, looking for a cozy spot and ignore the weather. If you are in need of great conversation, amazing dishes and fantastic selection of spirits, I’m sure either of these places will fit the bill.
The Capitol Bar
The Capitol Bar is a cozy and welcoming experience. Located on King Street East, it is slowly and steadily growing roots and has become the gem in the neighbourhood. Behind the bar, Derek is always chatting with patrons and making menu
recommendations as well as mixing up his cocktail creations. He has an interesting and growing selection of single malt whiskeys and nice variety of my favourite spirit, bourbon. They also offer a pretty nice list of craft beers and wines. Derek is always on the lookout for interesting whiskeys and has provided helpful info on what local stores carry particularly hard to find whiskey.
As for the plates, for a small kitchen, they put out some amazing dishes. Their pickles and mustards are housemade and the dishes are freshly prepared. They have some great app selections as well as a weekly oyster offering and a regular “burger and pint” night. Sundays are traditional Sunday dinner, reminiscent of home cooked roast beef, mashed potatoes and veg. The kitchen also runs a few features that aren’t on the menu regularly, including some apps and a nightly dinner feature.
One evening when I stopped in, they had a bacon wrapped pork terrine, served with fresh greens, those delicious housemade pickles, mustards and crostini. (Wha? you had me at bacon!!). The rustic terrine was moist and delicate, yet hearty and the added flavour of the bacon was delicious. The richness of the terrine was rich was well balanced by the pickles and freshly dressed greens. The terrine also held up well against the Four Roses Single Barrel 100 proof bourbon I was drinking. A rich dish paired with a higher proof spirit can cut through the burn and really bring out different flavour notes in the pour. I felt certain this plate was something I would have been served in a farmhouse in the south of France. So good.
The rest of the menu has some some great shareable apps including cheese boards, charcuterie, stuffed mushrooms and croquettes. Nothing typical on this menu. A little culinary adventure is a good thing and the Capitol Bar checks all the boxes. Sometimes you just need a couple of small plates to graze on. Oh hey, did I mention the live music? Usually acoustic and somehow they manage to play at just the right level so you can still have a conversation and enjoy the music. When there is no live music, Derek is spinning vinyl and playing classic tunes from a wide range of genres. I think if you ask nicely, he might even take requests. A really warm, welcoming vibe in this east end neighbour bar.
I stumbled across L’Etranger last summer during Art Crawl. It was packed with people of all age groups, which was nice to see. It’s a great stop on James Street before dinner or a concert or even to sit and stay for the evening. The staff are welcoming and friendly and impressively remembered conversations we had on previous visits.
I originally thought of them as a wine bar, but they have a fantastic whiskey collection, some select craft beers on tap and a cocktail menu that John prepares with artistic care. Despite not having an actual kitchen to work out of, the small plates created by Chef Mitchell Gatschuff are impressive. He even took a moment to breakdown how he makes his pickled grapes, which I fell in love with on a earlier visit. Have a question about the menu items?
Chef Mitchell is happy to describe the ingredients and thoughts behind each plate and you can tell he does this with passion, care and attention to detail. His chicken liver mousse is set on sour dough toast and topped with those pickled grapes that offer that tart tang that complement the richness of the chicken liver mousse. I’ve also had the mousse served with crostini and either way, it is a delicious shareable plate. He has come up with a new spring menu that I am eager to try, including an asparagus, proscuitto and burata dish served with housemade habanero marmalade that looks and sounds divine. Tourtiere, duck croissant, croque monsieur are also some of the items on the new menu.
They have a weekly oyster special, serving fresh malpaque oysters supplied by the good folks at Tide & Vine and served with housemade sauces. A great price point for these super fresh oysters.
They host an open mic night, have an evening of salsa dancing and have had local writers share their work. Local artwork is
displayed on the walls as well as large painted murals depicting images based on the novel by Albert Camus and the bar’s namesake, L’Etranger. Interesting conversation starter for sure. Whether you arrive with a group, a friend, or on your own, you will quickly find that there are definitely no strangers here.
Stay tuned as we explore more local spots and share our empty plates and glasses, while we live in hope for spring to arrive with open patios and spring blossoms. Cheers!!