If you thought the only differences between Canadian football and the American type were one down, 10 yards and a couple cool billion in player salaries, you forgot one of the biggest differences: we don't much tailgate here. In Canada we pack into bars and restaurants before the game instead of parking lots, and never more than on Grey Cup day. What'll it be, though? Cheap and cheerful wings and lagers or something more refined than that? And how do you navigate the choices when you're just visiting town for the game? Here's the Globe's Toronto food critic Chris Nuttall-Smith, with a guide to put you right.
Best spot for pregame beers
You'll have no trouble finding somewhere to sidle up to a Molson near the stadium if that's your speed. But if you care for something a little more crafty, Bar Volo (587 Yonge St., 416-928-0008) has one of Canada's best lists of rare, local and one-off beers, plus plenty of cask ales. Bellwoods Brewery (124 Ossington Ave., 416-535-4586), meantime, makes some of the city's most brilliant microbrews. These aren't your usual game-day suds, mind; the alcohol on Bellwoods's Belgian-style sour clocks in at 10 per cent. A couple of those bad boys and it won't matter which team wins or loses, guaranteed.
Best alternatives to soggy, overpriced stadium pizza
Duff's Famous Wings(558 College St. W., 416-963-4446) is an outpost of the Buffalo, N.Y. –based chain. The beer is cold, the fries are crisp and the wings are simple, but effective, which is to say the place is pretty much perfect. If you want something less conventional, Banh Mi Boys (392 Queen St. W., 416-363-0588) does deliciously messy tacos, steam buns and sandwiches stuffed with anything from braised beef cheek to hoisin-soaked meatballs, lemongrass tofu and squid. And if it really is pizza you're after, go to Pizzeria Libretto (221 Ossington Ave., 416-532-8000) for top-shelf Neapolitan stuff. They don't take reservations; get there as soon as it opens at 4 p.m.
The only place better than the 55-yard line on game day
Real Sports(15 York St., 416-815-7325) might just be the greatest sports bar in North America. From its nachos, salads and Cajun lime salt riblets to the 67-oz ribeye called "The Hail Mary," the food is way better than you expect out of sports bars, and the beer list goes long and wide. But it's the 200-odd TVs that make the place – the largest being the two-storey, 39-foot screen at the front of the room. There are even televisions at every urinal, in fact. And about that ribeye: It's free if you eat it all in an hour (with two lbs of fixings), or $75 otherwise. The price shoots up to $150, the menu warns, if you "get grandma to carry you over the finish line."
Where to celebrate a win
If it's beefy, booze-soaked indulgence you're after, you won't do much better than Jacobs & Co. (12 Brant St., 416-366-0200), a downtown steakhouse that's old-fashioned in every way, except that it sources excellent beef. There are steaks from Alberta, Ontario, Nebraska and New Zealand at present (pick of the lot: the 40 oz, 45-day aged, $400 porterhouse), plus lobster, caviar and all the other usuals, nicely done. And expect to be in brawny company: The place is a clubhouse of sorts for pro athletes. If you want a more varied menu, go to Buca (604 King St. W., 416-865-1600) Jacobs's sister restaurant. It ain't cheap, but to my mind it's the country's best Italian joint. And if you blew your budget on game tickets, the Asian-style fast food at New York superchef David Chang's Momofuku Noodle Bar (190 University Ave.) is delicious, cheap and cheerful.
You dragged your spouse here for a lousy football game and now you owe, big:
Get yourself to Scaramouche (1 Benvenuto Pl., 416-961-8011), and on the double. Set on the escarpment overlooking Toronto, this is one of the city's most romantic restaurants. The service is excellent, the seafood is superb, the sky is the wine list's limit. Score!
Where to drown your sorrows
Calgary, obviously. But barring a flight immediately postgame, you're going to need some place to cry. If you're young (ish) and adventuresome, check out 416 Snack Bar (181 Bathurst St., 416-364-9320), a friendly late-night nibbles and booze pit (it's open 'til 2 a.m.) that's popular with the city's chefs. The Queen and Beaver Public House (35 Elm St., 647-347-2712) is also a great choice. It's a proper English pub with comfortable seating, an English chef and English beer (in addition to plenty of local ones). The place also happens to be football-themed, even if it is English-style football. They'll get it – they'll be sorry for your anti-victory. And there's no shortage of loss-sharpened wisdom in an English footie fan.
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