First Look: Mad Crush Wine Bar a sign of College Street's renewed popularity


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Image: Yvonne Tsui

Since places like Bar Raval and Dai Lo have become anchors for a cooler College Street, restaurateurs are now eyeing the bar and patio-lined strip as an alternative to their exorbitant Queen and King West counterparts.

Jamieson Kerr is a seasoned restaurateur and the former owner of Crush Wine Bar (now closed) on King West set his sights on the ex-Bar-Italia space on College Street for Mad Crush Wine Bar. 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

The name is a nod to both his King West venture as well as a book called The Mad Crush that tells the story of the crazy and improbable conditions during the 1995 harvest season at one California winery.

Even though most of his recent ownership experience has been with gastropubs (The Oxley, Queen & Beaver and Wickson Social), Kerr saw the opportunity to build a “temple for wine” in Toronto. As the menu says, Mad Crush is the unwine bar, so that you can unwind with wine. “I wanted it to be very relaxed, almost like a pub,” he says.

Julie Garton is the wine director and is in charge of overseeing and sourcing bottles for the 120-plus-wine list — most of which are available by the glass thanks to an enomatic system. “If it isn’t delicious we’re not putting it on the wine list; it doesn’t matter where it’s made or who makes it,” says Garton.

The wine list is laid out by flavour profile and is “a global wine list, highlighting and showcasing the best of the world,” she adds.

Mad Crush aims to be a place where one can try “disconcerting wines” and be educated, but in a fun way. Fizzy but not necessarily champagne, reds cavorting as whites and meaty, beefy, big & bouncy are just a few of the categories of wines to choose from.

There’s a Mystery Wine program that Garton hopes will “excite people outside their comfort zone.” In terms of accessibility, there is also a good mix of prices and there is a reserve list in the works. Though perhaps one of the more exciting things to expect is the “try and buy” initiative in collaboration with Gargoyle, an app that lets users scan the barcode from the wine list, pay for the bottle and have it shipped to them within 72 hours.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

Andrew Carter, Kerr’s business partner and executive chef along with chef de cuisine Ryan Barclay (formerly of the Fifth and Splendido) are dishing up a “contemporary menu with global influences.” They put together a list of sharing plates with dishes that are “harmonious with wine.”

Their selection of charcuterie features Kintoa pork from Aldudes, France from a producer who helped save this breed from near extinction. There’s also a healthy selection of cheeses such as Le Douanier, a Morbier doppelganger out of Quebec.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

Moving from finger foods to ones where utensils are required, there’s an escabeche of braised Ontario rabbit and seared quail with saffron and coriander or the Albacore tuna with a kale salsa verde and heirloom new potatoes. 

A sneak peek at the upstairs dining room while it was under renovations revealed a wall full of maps of the various wine-making regions of the world, such as Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley. 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

The 110-seat ground floor bar and restaurant has a communal table in the prime spot with a lengthy bar lined with rows of wine glasses, so the theme is obvious.

While the marble bar top remains from the Bar Italia days, almost everything else has changed. There’s the colourful mural behind the bar by tattoo artist Daniel Innes as well as accent wallpaper – a peacock at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the private dining room where one is greeted by a ram on the wall. Banquettes of plush velvet emerald and a chit rail from Nella with dimmed lighting bring warmth to the expansive space.

The side of the enomatic system bears a poster that came out of a call for submissions to the Etobicoke School of Arts that ties all the elements together.

Mad Crush Wine Bar, 582 College St., 647-350-8111


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

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Yvonne lives to eat. She’s known to her friends as the “Ask Alexa” for the best restaurants in cities all over North America. When she's not doing on-the-ground, scrappy PR for TouchBistro, she's a freelance food and drink writer and tells the origin stories, struggles, and successes of restaurateurs – veteran and new.

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