Many years ago, back when dinosaurs walked the earth and I was a young hippie, I was an occasional part of a back-to-the-land commune in Vermont, where the emphasis (as was de rigueur in these situations) was on producing what we ate. One time, we killed the pig. (There was hardly ever more than one of anything, since of course we weren’t real farmers.) Having killed the pig, we had to butcher it. By nightfall we were still at it. It’s possible that intoxicants may have been involved.
To me fell the task of cleaning out the intestines so they could become sausage casing. Why me? Because I was the least squeamish, as the one who ate anything. In the service of our first sausage-production adventure, I spent five or six hours in the dark, in Vermont in November, hosing out the inside of a pig’s intestines. And wondering to myself how much pig crap would end up in our sausages.
These days, everybody and their mother is making sausages. And most of them seem to know how to do it, sans intestinal challenges. At Ossington’s hottest new resto, The Saint, they’re even doing it with bacon! Bacon and duck sausage mixes breakfast and dinner charmingly. Garnishing it with individually deep-fried Brussels sprout leaves and quick (as in, to order) pickled tomato shreds is akin to putting diamonds on Julia Roberts. Similarly breakfasty – but not all the way – is lobster and corned-beef hash. Small cubes of corned beef and red peppers in a fry-up do not need the overcooked lobster chunks, but are very given a grand flavour uptick by impeccable tarragon-scented béarnaise sauce on perfectly poached duck eggs.
The Saint has the look and feel of an old-school tavern, charmingly replicated like they do in Paris, with bevelled windows and little white tiles at the front, a long zinc bar and big roomy banquettes for the dining (as opposed to grazing) crowd. The two TVs over the bar and the dishtowel napkins telegraph a purposeful absence of pretension, a theme the food continues.
What could be more French-country casual than roasted marrowbone served with char-grilled toast and sea salt in a Mason jar? Or ungreasy salt-cod fritters (really, deep-fried brandade de morue) with little potato chunks and a side of frisee vinaigrette? Or the excellent salade Niçoise with a generous roof of barely charred fresh tuna?
The clever calibration of the food and the unassuming loveliness of the place are clearly the work of professionals: The Saint’s owners are Peter Tsebelis and Gus Giazitzidis, who own Buca and Jacobs & Co. They’re pretty clear on how to feed and water the hipsters – who are usually pretty happy with hearty. Hence The Saint’s huge portions and emphasis on meat. The daily special pot pie comes in a cast-iron frying pan and is big enough for two. My fave is the braised lamb with carrots and a thin roof of whisky-and-cheddar-inflected pastry. They also do a very credible cheeseburger with impeccable frites (but who doesn’t these days?), and damn fine browned pierogies stuffed with cabbage, pork belly and a judicious hint of smoked cheddar, with sautéed onion and big bacon chunks on top.
So we’re surprised at the ham-handedness of quite over-cooked Southern fried chicken served with white gravy, which may be traditional, but this rendition has all the charm of a watery béchamel. We are equally disappointed by old school New York style cheesecake.
With so much going right, and the Ossington people already flocking to The Saint, I am bemused by the appalling chicken and cheesecake. Maybe when you get three restaurants it’s too much trouble to taste everything the chef proposes serving. And maybe that’s a mistake. The devil is in the details.
They say it's not over till the fat lady sings – well, this review is her singing. This column marks my last restaurant review for The Globe after 38 years as restaurant critic. But it doesn't exactly end here: I shall say a proper goodbye to you, my readers. Please look for my swan song next Saturday.