Monday, March 28, 2011

Toronto's Bier Markt - Neat Spot, But Your Wallet Will Hate You For It.

Though my usual haunts in KW generally give me a good opportunity to try local/imported brews at decent prices, to really get a better feel for what's available in Ontario, one really must make a sojourn to the Centre of the Universe.  Toronto has some truly excellent brewpubs and beer bars to choose from - I've spoken very favorably of C'est What in the past - which have some great tap selections, although they can be a deal pricier than what we see out in the sticks. 

One of the spots I was hoping to check out - among many others - is the Bier Markt on Esplanade, a few blocks east of the ACC and just off the Gardiners at Jarvis.  A great location, to be sure.  Those who have mentioned the Markt rave about its massive tap and bottle selection - it's website certainly does so as well.   A good location and a large draught and bottled beer selection?  I'm game! 

A chance trip to T.O. this weekend gave me the opportunity to check the place out, and generally speaking I was happy with the experience, but with some strong reservations.

The bar was easy to find, and there is ample parking in adjacent lots nearby. Though it was dinnertime on a Sunday, the place was relatively busy.  It certainly had more than the minimum-required quorum of pretentious, suited-up Toronto business douchebags (anyone from "out West" would have had a field day with this slice of T.O. culture), but they generally kept to themselves.  The staff were helpful almost to a fault. We were welcomed in with gusto, and were brought to a good seat in full view of the bar.  Our waitress in particular was very friendly, patient (two of our party needed a good ten minutes to whittle down a beer selection, and I wasn't much better), and her descriptions of some of the more unknown brews on the bottle list were spot on.  She and the bartender were sure to pour every pint into its proper glass (it seemed like every brew on the menu came with its own branded glassware - cool!), and poured every bottle into an appropriate equivalent.  Our waitress's pouring skills were first-rate, as she made sure to swirl the bottles at the end to get the sweet sediment within.  Nice to know that the staff care a great deal about their beer, as they should!

The restaurant/bar is pretty large, dark, with stone walls and dark wood accents. Random kegs are found in piles here and there, probably as a decoration.  Some Bruegel-style paintings adorn the wall, with medieval characters imbibing ancient Flemish ales and generally looking pleased with themselves.  With the lighting and music, it felt more like a club than a biergarden, but it was still fairly nice.  We left just before the live music began.

The staff was great and the place looked good enough. However, I'd rate this place higher if even just one of the three following things had been better:

1) Beer selection: This place does indeed have a very large draught selection, far better than most places I've seen in the province, but there wasn't a lot there that really wowed me. All but a few brews on the list are available in regular rotation at the LCBO, and although it was nice to see them on draught, they were pretty standard fare - there just happens to be a lot of them.  Their draught lineup was very foreign lager- heavy, although there were some nice rarer brews to be found in the mix, and there was a healthy contingent of German wheat beers as well.  I had Spaten Munchner Helles and De Koninck Amber on tap that night, while Fuller's ESB and Denison's Hefeweizen were also tasty options I had considered.  The local brews were unfortunately wanting: just Steam Whistle, Denison's and Welly Dark, possibly an Amsterdam blonde in the mix.  Despite being surrounded by craft breweries, there was nothing from Mill Street, Granite, Duggan, Black Oak or beyond.  C'est What is just down the road, and is a lot better for this.  However, I'd have been be happier with the selection this if it weren't for...

'Verboden Frucht' ("forbidden fruit") is brewed by the same
 folks who make Hoegaarden.  This was a very tasty,
strong Belgian dark ale. The nose on this was brilliant:
figs, raisins, black currant and sherry. 
A perfect dessert beer.

2) The Price: Now to make one thing clear, I know Toronto beer is more expensive than other places, and I'm certainly not above paying a bit more for location and beer diversity, but this was pretty rough.   Even the pints on 'special' were pushing 8 bucks before tax/tip.  Bier Markt has a massive selection of single bottle selections that was so tempting, but were about 10 bucks a pop, usually more.  I splurged and had a bottle of Hoegaarden Verboden Vrucht, which was excellent, but still was about $9.50.  It was also my third bottle choice, as the previous two were out.  The prices made it really difficult to really sample the fare - I felt I really could have only have one or two before my wallet gave out.   Yes the selection is big, but you can get a lot of these brews elsewhere for far less.

3) The Food.  Holy mother, this menu is pricy.  I mean ridiculously pricy.  My wife ordered a cheese platter to accompany our sampling, and for $17 dollars we got three small wedges, barely enough to share, with a few grapes and some crackers.  Yes, cheese is expensive, but come on... Everything else on the menu was ludicrously expensive, so we took our hungry stomachs next door to a pseudo Irish pub (Fionn McCools) and ate there. 

The Bier Markt is certainly worth visiting every so often, especially if you've got a hankering for a rare foreign brew that would otherwise require a trip to Belgium to acquire.  But if the prices were more reasonable, if the food was better-priced and more diverse, or if the beer selection was more unique, this would have been a truly exceptional beer destination.  As it stands, my beer hankerings will probably take me to other places in the area.  My wallet and inner beer geek will probably thank me...

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