First Look: John & Sons Oyster House, a new midtown restaurant from the Rodney’s by Bay team
By David Ort
Heroes in a half shell (Images: David Ort)
The crowded strip near Yonge and St. Clair now has its first spot dedicated to oysters: John & Sons Oyster House. Co-owner John Belknap, who also co-owns Rodney’s by Bay, took over the space on the southwest corner of Yonge and Balmoral earlier this summer and opened the highly-anticipated restaurant about a week ago.
Belknap licenses the name for Rodney’s by Bay from the owners of Toronto seafood institution Rodney’s, but he’s careful to note that the affiliation ends there. John & Sons is about “creating my own brand,” he says, “and also something for the future of my kids.”
Raw bar manager Mark Moore (Rodney’s by Bay, Fishbar) oversees an oyster selection that will change throughout the year. For the next few months, East Coast oysters are coming into the height of their season.
During opening week, the chalkboard featured Colville Bay oysters from P.E.I., Pemaquid oysters from Maine and French Kiss oysters from New Brunswick, among others. There’s no minimum order, and creating a sampling from the day’s selection is encouraged. Prices range from $3 to $4.50 per oyster, and a reduced-price oyster happy hour is in the works. Check John & Sons’ tumblr page for details on promotions and each day’s oyster list.
Oyster trays come with Tabasco, Lea & Perrins and house-made sauces that could include a mignonette, a spicy Asian pear concoction or a traditional cocktail sauce,.
Taking care of the kitchen and the cooked food is co-owner and chef Sonia Potichnyj (Rodney’s by Bay). She covers a lot of ground (ocean, really) with traditional hot appetizers like New England clam chowder ($8 cup or a $12 bowl) and grilled calamari ($15), along with cold starter options like tuna tartare ($18). Three salads, such as the house-smoked Steelhead trout with greens ($14), and five seafood mains — ranging from Creemore-battered, wild-caught haddock fish and chips ($19) to seared diver scallops ($25) — anchor the right side of the card.
Smoked trout salad, $14
For those less keen on seafood, there are options like a short rib poutine ($19) and Korean fried chicken ($21).
Cocktails, wine and beer all play a role in the drink program. From the list of wines that is dominated by California, Europe and New Zealand, nine are available by the glass ($8-$13). The cocktail selection ranges from mainstream classics like the Manhattan ($12) to the James Bond-inspired Vesper Lynd ($15).
Beers on tap (all $6) slant to locals like Creemore and Steam Whistle, but are augmented with oyster-pairing standby Guinness.
The casual but clean design for the restaurant was created by Brad Denton of Pencil Design. The 100-seat space previously housed Terroni for years, then briefly Divino. It now features an oyster bar, and it has kept the corner patio. A renovated back room is now available for meetings and private functions.
John & Sons is open for lunch and dinner six days a week and for brunch on weekends. Reservations can be made by phone or through OpenTable.
John & Sons Oyster House, 1 Balmoral Ave., 416-515-0551