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Chef Brad Long: Art of Canadian Cuisine

Writer Mirella Radman
Photographer Sergei Yahchybekov

Anyone walking by the corner of Jane and Bloor over the weekend the Ukrainian festival took over Bloor West Village would have been too busy elbowing the crowd and working their way through the mass of floats and makeshift stages bustling with revelers and hawkers, to have noticed that just down the street, on the northwest corner to be precise, a new culinary attraction had recently opened its doors.

The establishment in question, My Place Pub, occupies the premise where Billy Bob’s Bistro & Saloon and The Fan had stood until very recently.  Since its closure, Bloor West Village has been buzzing with anticipation as to what would re-open in its place and excitement began to build as rumours swirled that famed Chef Brad Long would be taking over and opening up a pub that celebrated the art of ‘Canadian Cuisine.’
Known to many in the industry for his dynamic and fascinating method of combining the best of seasonal produce and complementing it with game and fish dishes, Brad Long has had a very successful and evolving career – moving comfortably from his days at the CN Tower’s revolving 360 restaurant, to Executive Chef at King East’s Veritas and recurring guest and critic on Restaurant Makeover.  In between, he has had time to drop by St. Lawrence Market and offer culinary know-how and expertise at Market Kitchen and is also busy raising a family of five. Some might wonder how he has the time to take on a new restaurant considering all he has to juggle on his plate at the moment.

I caught up with Chef Long to find him doing exactly that – juggling plates and directing the kitchen staff on what was sure to become an extremely busy night.  Chef Long did not keep me waiting for very long, and his youthful appearance was peppered with a quirky sense of humour and a knack for camaraderie I hadn’t really expected.  He was a man with a plan, and I quickly discovered that sitting down and chatting with Chef Long was a real pleasure.  Here was a man who didn’t respond to scripted questions, instead he opened up and was quite forthright and frank about his reasons for opening up yet another pub in the bustling Bloor West Village neighbourhood.
ed the gastronomic climax team Dead Sexy had been waiting for.  This was the Chili Maple Barbeque Bison Ribs served with house style baked beans.

Well, what to say. The meat was so succulent and tender that it fell right off the bone, and suffice to say that if you have never managed to taste tenderized bison ribs anywhere else in the city, seek no further.  The warm, wood-burning scent of the chili maple provided the perfect accompaniment to ribs that had more flavor than seemed humanly possible and melted in the mouth upon first touch. 

Just when we thought it was all over, we couldn’t help but notice the Cheese Boutique’s Fresh Cream Cheese Cheesecake with Niagara peach preserves in the ‘Sweets'  section of the menu.  We declined the first time the hostess asked, but soon realized how weak we were as curiosity caved and got the better of us. Thankfully, this was one of those rare occasions where curiosity and gluttony paid off because this was a cheesecake experience that would put any other to shame.  The key was the cheese itself, which was purchased just that morning at former Bloor West Village’s famed Cheese Boutique emporium now located off the Kingsway.  Tantalizingly served with melted peach preserves that were so succulent and sweet, this dessert was worth the barrage of torture I know I will face when my fitness instructor reads this review.
Leaving My Place Pub I wondered if the revelers gearing up for the Ukrainian festival had any idea of what was unfolding on the southwest corner of Jane and Bloor.  As far as dining experiences go, Chef Brad Long has managed to weave together a mosaic of Canadian inspired seasonal dishes in an atmosphere that is warm, inviting and natural. Nothing you encounter on the menu will fail to awe, from the most simplest of dishes to the unexpected, and the talent and genius of Chef Brad Long is surely poised to out dazzle the Bloor West restaurant scene and offer neighbourhood diners an experience they will not soon forget – or want to!

2448 Bloor Street West
My Place Pub
Bloor West Village actually chose us, my team and I were looking all over the city and I had heard about this place, went over to see it and ultimately just felt that it was the perfect fit.  If you really look at it, we are located at the center of three distinct areas – Bloor West Village, Swansea and the Kingsway,” said Chef Long.  With respect to the clientele, “We have a little bit of everybody coming in; there are those who really come in looking for pub food and then we see diners who want a real neighbourhood dining experience. We also see a lot of business people, family, a little bit of everything and a real range.”

One area where the restaurant clearly differs is in its unique approach to pub food as evidenced by the menu.  I made a point of explaining to Chef Long that as a visual person, I appreciated the fact that small icons located next to the description of the dishes clearly marked the dish by category – game, fish, poultry, etc.  Another aspect of the menu that was clearly noticeable was the use of fresh seasonal produce to complement the very best of Canadian beef, poultry and seafood dishes that Chef Long had pragmatically chosen to set My Place Pub apart from the others on the Bloor West crawl. 
We could hardly contain our delight as Chef Long brought out the Vegetarian Grilled Tortilla, the one dish he acknowledged was increasingly advancing to become the most popular choice among recent diners.  Slightly toasted and stuffed with garlic and bean purée as well as including marinated eggplant, zucchini, sweet and sour red onions, and topped with fresh basil and melted Canadian cheese, this was one of the most flavourful tortillas I had ever bitten into.  The vegetables oozed with flavour and marinated eggplant never tasted so heavenly. 

I wondered what was next and was soon to discover Chef Long was about to excite me with a dish I had been ogling on the menu as he was giving us a tour of the basement renovations – the Steamed PEI Mussels & Manila Clams.  You the reader may think I am stretching the truth a bit when I state that this was probably the best steamed mussel dish I have had in a Canadian restaurant in many a decade, but that won’t take away from the fact that it really was. The version that Chef Long had put together provided the perfect blend of ‘old world meets new world,’ and he did an incredible job of securing the essence and aroma of the mussels and clams by combining them with grilled baby tomatoes, which brought out the zest of the tomatoes, especially when combined with double smoked Berkshire belly, scallions and served with crusty bread.

It was interesting to note that both the Great Lakes Perch
As he explained it, the reasons for this were simple. “Southern Ontario offers a real mosaic and collage of seasonal fruits and vegetables, and I love to showcase this and really try my best to make use of high quality produce and organic food, because it provides me with a blank palette to work with.  A lot of the stuff I have on the menu comes in from local distributors - farmers, foragers, even mom and pop places.  I don’t want to change things around every week, but I really do want to focus more on the season and adapt the menu using a seasonal approach.  For me defining ‘Canadian food’ is really about understanding that Canada offers a multicultural approach to cuisine and you can see that on the menu and in the tactic we have used to put it together.”

This tactic was soon put to the test as team Dead Sexy was given a tasting menu of five dishes that were all unique, and each of which proved utterly unbelievable in tempting the palette. 

The first dish to arrive was the Great Lakes Perch Po’ Boys,  homage to Chef Long’s roots and hometown of Port Dover, Ontario.  This dish was exceptional because it highlighted the versatility of this truly Canadian fresh water fish that was gently grilled and served with chopped pickle mayo on a toasted soft roll.  The fish went down well with a glass of Muskoka Cream Ale and team Dead Sexy waited in eager anticipation for the next dish to arrive. 
Chef Brad Long
Great Lakes Perch Po’ Boys
Vegetarian Grilled Tortilla
Steamed PEI Mussels & Manila Clams
Chili Maple Barbeque Bison Ribs
Po’ Boys and Vegetarian Grilled Tortilla dish were not  considered appetizers, rather they were grouped under the heading ‘Sandwiches, Singles, Sides & Stuff.’  Chef Long explained that he wanted to define My Place Pub by approaching the build-out of the menu from a completely different vantage point.  “There are no appetizers here, instead these are full meals unto themselves and this is a completely different take from what everyone else is doing.  I really wanted to redefine the way people look at pub food. At My Place Pub we wanted to do something different, something unique. We plan on having live acts here and diners can still come over to watch a game. We’re also looking at offering a real home-cooked meal here probably one day a week, and by doing this I want people to think back to Sunday lunch or dinner and come here knowing that the experience will be the same.  None of the restaurants in Toronto want to do this anymore and it’s a real shame. When I think back to some of the best dining experiences I have had, it was always about family and sitting down over a great meal, breaking bread together, talking, laughing, telling stories - that’s where the love comes in.  Let me tell you something, for me, food is about three things - fuel, medicine and love. What you eat really impacts the way you feel, and I truly feel that food is the best medicine.”

I couldn’t argue with that last point, and nowhere was the ‘love’ more evident than in the final tasting dish that provid-