Harbord House
By YP Contributor

Canadian Comfort Food

Harbord House owner John Oakes has worked in restaurants in the Annex since his days as a University of Toronto undergraduate more than two decades ago. In fact, he launched his food industry career as a busboy at the Duke of York pub, a neighbourhood stronghold.

While there's some contention as to whether his Harbord Street gastropub, Harbord House, can be considered an official “Annex establishment” (residents of the surrounding area call it Harbord Village, though it's “South Annex” in real estate speak), the Harbord strip shares its northern neighbour's warm community appeal.

“I wanted a neighbourhood establishment that served great, homemade Canadian comfort food, great craft beers, and a focused wine list that's centred on Canadian wines, but not entirely Canadian,” says John. The extensive food menu features two-handed burgers, formidable poutine, and a lamb sausage made in house.

About 70 per cent of the menu has been consistent since the eatery first opened in 2008; the restaurant's chef has also been there since day one. Whenever new items do make it onto the Harbord House roster, they’re tested out as specials first. The eatery's fig and goat cheese salad, for instance, was added to the menu on the recommendation of one of the server's mothers.
“Now it's one of our biggest sellers,” John laughs.

I wanted a neighbourhood establishment that served great, homemade Canadian comfort food, great craft beers and a focused wine list. - John Oakes, owner
Harbord House - Brunch, lunch, dinner

A Family-Friendly Vibe

While Toronto certainly has its share of craft beer halls that foster an atmosphere of well-lubricated rowdiness, John points out that Harbord House is a little bit different. It's a neighbourhood spot, and one that's accordingly mellow.

“The idea is that it's a place where you can come and get comfortable, have a glass of wine if you want with a nice meal, I can have a craft beer, and the kids can get looked after too,” he says.

Despite their tendency toward mellowness in behaviour, his clientele's tastes have noticeably expanded.

“People are way more adventurous than when we opened!” says John. The biggest difference he's observed is in beer drinking habits. Harbord House visitors tend to drink less than they used to but, when they do, they go for bolder brews.

Harbord House - Brunch, lunch, dinner

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Beyond the tasty food and drink, John credits the restaurant's comfortable vibe to its small and closely-knit staff. He's proud to announce that Harbord House has very little staff turnover; his chef and servers are all people that he's known from the industry for years.

“I want people to feel like it's a family place,” he says. “A little bit like Cheers. People recognize you; they know what you might want to have to drink. And the staff are a big part of that.”

Harbord House - Brunch, lunch, dinner
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