The County General
By Caroline Aksich

From White Tablecloths to Whiskey and Sandwiches

Toronto’s food bloggers were abuzz back in 2011 when news broke that Splendido co-owners Victor Barry and Carlo Catallo were planning to bring their five-star dining cred to Queen West.

The duo, two of the city’s most lauded restauranteurs, weren’t keen on opening another valet-serviced, white tablecloth spot. Instead, they dreamed up County General, a rugged gem that would serve top-notch nosh with zero pretention. “Fine dining places were dropping like flies,” says Carlo, reflecting on the city’s changing dining culture.

Carlo, a self-avowed punk at heart, had grown tired of hoity-toity restaurants. He names a three-star Michelin restaurant in California and says, “I remember sitting there and thinking ‘this is so boring; everything is so contrived.'" After some reflection, he decided that what he really wanted to open was a rock ‘n’ roll spot that would serve up sandwiches, rum and whiskey.

I don’t like to be pigeonholed, which is maybe why County General is always changing. - Carlo Catallo, owner
County General is an unfussy restaurant serving globally inspired, locally sourced food for brunch, lunch and dinner. An impressive drink card with heaps of local beers, ciders and wines.
County General is an unfussy restaurant serving globally inspired, locally sourced food for brunch, lunch and dinner. An impressive drink card with heaps of local beers, ciders and wines.

Globally Inspired, Locally Sourced Comfort Food

The menu has changed over the years, reflecting whomever is helming the kitchen, but the underlying theme is always the same: globally inspired, locally sourced comfort food. The globe-spanning menu includes dishes from India (pakoras), Spain (patatas bravas), China (pork steamed buns), and beyond. Many plates borrow from multiple cuisines. A plate of PEI mussels, for example, blends Asian (lemon grass-infused toasted coconut curry) and European (chorizo) flavours; the brunch menu boasts South American and Middle Eastern influences.

“I don’t like to be pigeonholed, which is maybe why County General is always changing,” says Carlo, then admitting that there are a few menu stalwarts that never get bumped off the card.

“The burger and the chicken sandwich aren’t going anywhere – they’re our signature dishes,” he explains. It’s no surprise that the fried chicken thigh on a cloud-light Thuet bun has become crowd favourite. After being brined overnight, the chicken thigh is cooked sous-vide in buttermilk, dredged in cornmeal and tossed in the deep fryer. The resulting bird is enviously moist with a perfectly crunchy skin.

County General is an unfussy restaurant serving globally inspired, locally sourced food for brunch, lunch and dinner. An impressive drink card with heaps of local beers, ciders and wines.
County General is an unfussy restaurant serving globally inspired, locally sourced food for brunch, lunch and dinner. An impressive drink card with heaps of local beers, ciders and wines.

Local Pride Shines at this Queen West Gem

Although the menu might have serious international cred, the emphasis is on Ontario-grown products. The local ethos is reflected in the restaurant’s name: the “county” bit actually refers to the counties of southern Ontario that Carlo likes to source from, while “general” riffs on the idea of a local general store that you’d find in a rural town. A wall-sized map of Hogtown from 1876 engulfs the front half of the 25-seat restaurant, reminding customers that this is a proud Toronto establishment.

A year before opening a second location in Toronto’s Riverdale neighbourhood, Carlo took over as the restaurant’s sole proprietor. County General had always been his passion project. Well, that and wine. He is, after all, a full sommelier. When County General opened, its focus was on liquor and cocktails, but since, Carlo has expanded the wine, beer and cider offerings considerably, many of which are also from Ontario (although, the odd and completely exceptional Australian shiraz will make an appearance, too).

County General is an unfussy restaurant serving globally inspired, locally sourced food for brunch, lunch and dinner. An impressive drink card with heaps of local beers, ciders and wines.
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